Strategic events are often one of a company’s largest, annual recurring investments as part of their broader engagement programs. And of course, the global pandemic has changed the stakes and expectations for such events as organizations pivot to engage employees, customers and partners in a virtual setting, using the opportunity to reinforce key brand messages, strategies and experiences.

But, what exactly do we mean by “strategic events?” Events can range from annual sales conferences to investor days to customer appreciation events to events with a shared goal of shifting the beliefs and behaviors of the attendees to the desired state of engagement and alignment.

Yet, far too often the desired outcome isn’t achieved by one, standalone event, which means the price tag of it usually outweighs the benefits. And measuring ROI? Don’t even think about it—especially when buy-in, attention and attendance are hindered in a virtual environment. A day out of the office at an offsite location? Why not. Step away from your job demands to be on Zoom for 8 hours straight? A harder sell.

5 Principles for Increased Success at Customer & Employee Engagement Events

But that doesn’t have to be the case. Companies that follow the five essential steps outlined below are much more likely to come out of a strategic event with more engaged employees, customers and partners. We’ve found that these five principles lead to the strongest levels of employee engagement and ROI at events:

1) Build a digital program, not a digital event

Events have a shelf life. They can generate short-term enthusiasm, but often not sustained engagement. To combat this, companies should design events that connect to a broader virtual engagement program. In shifting perceptions and behaviors, people evolve along a curve of hearing, understanding, believing and living. It is difficult, if not impossible, to go through each of these phases in a single event. Long-term programs, on the other hand, employ a steady drumbeat of communications and experiences that reinforce core messages and behaviors of the event over time.

2) Start with insights

Too often, we see organizations use events to communicate to an audience based on what they want to tell them. Just like customer research before launching a new product or service, it is vital to find out what’s on the mind of the target audience and shape the content and experience based on that insight. What is most important to them right now?  What questions and concerns do they have? What type of experience are they expecting? Go on a listening tour of your audience, and even take them through the early stages of the content and event plan to get their feedback.

3) Define the core idea and story arc

Most events are like an all-you-can-eat buffet of ideas and messages. Content, more so as we work remotely, gets developed in silos and, at best, may be connected together by talented speakers. But more often than not, the audience is left having to piece together the messages and determine the universal takeaway themselves. Instead, companies should start with a well-defined idea or belief and integrate it throughout the virtual event, from the messages of individual speakers to the event experiences. This core idea is more than a high-level event theme. It is a through thread that creates a compelling story arc and breaks down silos so everyone can hear, understand and apply the main point of the strategic event.

4) Modulate the experience

Many events overly fixate on the “main stage” talks. These are great for inspiration but fall short on application. It has been proven that adults learn best when they are given multiple ways to access the content. The best-structured events do not rely on a single format like the main stage; they create experiences with multiple formats. This could be smaller “Zoom breakout” group labs or workshops, small group experiences, or an exposition where attendees can interact more intimately with experts or artifacts – like a live Q&A. The bottom line is, mix it up. Create a diverse experience that stimulates the audience in various ways and strengthens customer and employee engagement.

5) Put culture at the center

Employees, customers and other stakeholders are increasingly attracted to organizations with a clear purpose and strong culture. However, too many companies still treat strategic events strictly as a “business meeting.” At Prophet, we have found that core messages and desired behaviors are more easily retained when the company’s culture is reflected at events. This means keeping things light, having moments of fun, surprise and recognition and celebrating heritage. Just like the story arc, spend time crafting the emotional arc of a strategic event and figure out when, where, and how to infuse signature stories, recognition and fun into the agenda.

Final Thoughts

These are the core principles we start with when working alongside clients to design strategic events in the post-COVID landscape. Put them to work at your upcoming sales conference or as part of your employee engagement program, and you’ll see more engagement and higher retention levels.

Interested in planning an event to drive growth within your organization? Reach out today.