7 key steps for a successful conference brainstorm

Andy Green
Managing Director
Intellego Group Limited
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Creativity and flexible thinking skills expert, Andy Green, provides seven key tips to help your work conferences go without a hitch.

Staff conferences are a great and sometimes rare opportunity to bring your wider team together, address common issues and even brainstorm en masse – to create new ideas, build energy and get commitment to new outcomes.

If done well they can create a great time-efficient boost to galvanise your troops. Yet, if done badly, these conferences can fail to address key issues and even be counter-productive. So how can you make sure your staff conference brainstorm events are successful?

"Events don’t just happen. You need an event director who's responsible for sensible housekeeping and effective event management to keep the shows on track."

1. What do you want to achieve?

It is amazing the number of people who decide to have a staff conference but have no clear goal of what they want to achieve.
Is the objective for the event to be a forum for information briefing, providing a one-way flow of information? Or is it to use for consultation to both give information and receive feedback? Alternatively, you could use the event for a brainstorm to get the creative input of your team to create and contribute new ideas to shape their future in some way.
Decide what you want from the event, use appropriate channels to deliver and secure your outcomes, and make your objectives as specific as possible to provide you with measurements for evaluating the success or failure of the event.

 

2. How does the event fit into your communications strategy?

What channels do you currently use to engage, inform and get feedback from? How can these channels be incorporated pre and post event?
What new opportunities are presented by having a staff conference, with the facility for face-to-face communication in one location?
Is the communications top down – being directed by senior management or do you want to take advantage of opportunities presented by conference brainstorming for bottom-up communications, where the agenda and outcomes can be shaped at a grass roots level?

3. Be mindful of the cost

Aside of the extra event costs for staging the conference getting your people to an event is costly. What is the perception of the cost for the event? There can be a significant opportunity cost; of staff or your team members not doing their regular work.
 
Do a calculation of the salary cost of everyone attending the event? What it is costing?
A staff conference by definition is something out-of-the-ordinary. Some sceptical members of your team will be hyper-critical with the event inadvertently being a further trigger for resentment.
By being mindful of the cost this can focus minds on responsibility making sure the event is successful and makes full use of a rare opportunity to get your team together.
One example I recall is of a government department away-day where they were seriously considering having a general knowledge quiz after lunch, reasoning people might need something ‘to liven things up after lunch’. 
A good facilitator can manage the energy flows - and even use the quiz idea, but with questions focused on your business issues.
 

4. Manage your top players– and remember that people can only remember three things from a presentation

It may be important to get your top person to endorse, and by their very presence, confirm the significance of the information and the event.

If your lead manager however, is not a natural communicator or lacks charisma, you can still manage their participation by limiting their role to leading the talk and handing over to a more able communicator.
People can only remember three things from a presentation – what are the three things you want them to remember and take away with them to tell their other colleagues?
Think about different communication tools for different tasks. Detailed information for example, might be best suited for a printed handout rather than packed into a PowerPoint slide, resulting in a boring, tedious presentation.

5. Ensure good time management

Events don’t just happen. You need an event director who is responsible for sensible housekeeping and effective event management to keep the show on track. It is their job to keep to the schedule, ensure all elements of the event flow as planned, and be in charge of any catch up should the schedule slip.
The staff conference is not an island. Far too often, little use is made of giving people advance information, so they can better prepare their potential engagement on the day. Also capitalise on post-conference contact. Delegates will generate many ideas, and these tend to be more profound and better thought-through following the event.
 

6. You can’t pleased all the people all the time

Be mindful of the ‘psychotoxics’ the really negative people in your team. You can’t please all the people all the time. Any gathering will contain a diverse range of people, with differing degrees of enthusiasm and commitment to the business. The event can provide a lightning rod for bringing these views out into the open, including the psychotoxics’ negativity.

Far too often managers can let isolated extreme views detract from the success of an event, even defining their view, despite the context of a positive response from the majority.
 

7. Ensure there is adequate resource for the follow-through

The conference brainstorm event is just the half-way point of the process. Any ideas generated on the day need to be captured, further developed, with key, strategic themes identified and actions identified to translate the ideas into reality.

Far too often people do a staff event, fail to resource the follow-through and sadly some great new ideas and insights gather dust.
Having a staff conference works both as a great signal that you are serious about engaging with and communicating with your people as well as providing you with a great chance to use the occasion to create a better joint future together with your team.
By using these seven key tips you can make the most of this great, precious opportunity.

Andy Green is a leading author, international conference speaker, trainer, facilitator and expert on creativity and communications. His work improves creative and flexible thinking skills – to help people achieve more with less, spot more opportunities and create great new ideas. Find out more at www.creativityatwork.co.uk

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