Increasing Your ROI on Conferences and Meetings

I'm regularly asked for ideas on how to improve the value of conferences. As you probably know these are a huge investment for everyone in a franchise system. Because I've just returned from an excellent client conference, I'm feeling a little inspired to share some thoughts. These are based extensive experience with hundreds of conferences as well as feedback we’ve collected from thousands of franchisees over the years on what they say works for them.

Firstly, be clear on what you want to achieve. A simple way to determine this is to ask "How will we know if the conference has been a success?" Only when the "what" is established, should planning of the "how" begin. Logistics, location and programming must serve the strategy, not the other way around. If your conference organiser is planning the program without linking everything back to your purpose, your conference is likely to be an enjoyable junket, but not a lot more.

How to create an effective learning culture

Let's now address room set up. Keep your room light and use round tables with no more than eight to a table. This means people can see each other and won't feel crammed in like sardines, which is the effect frequently created from theatre style seating. Also move people around randomly at least once each day so they form new relationships, rather than just sticking with those they already know. While some might groan a little, the majority will be thanking you because it means they are going to meet new people.

With regard to the program, make it as interactive as possible. Presenters should combine relevant business content with facilitated discussion as this significantly multiplies enjoyment and learning. Your MC should also summarise and link each session back to your conference objectives.

Keep the mornings for learning and the afternoons for recreation. If you continue the program after lunch, try to finish by 3.30pm, especially if you are at a holiday destination. By following the advice above, the learning and discussions will naturally keep going over meals, by the pool and in the bar. And here's a little tip from evolutionary psychology on how you'll know if you've created a positive learning culture. People who don't know each other will raise their eyebrows slightly with a nod and a smile during breaks.

If there is a lot of change in your network, get any contentious issues out the way early. There are some robust processes for maintaining effective and constructive two-way communication, which is essential for building commitment. Don't kid yourself you can get buy-in by just using flash presentations and videos. And make sure you finish the conference with a strong, inspirational session. I've seen great work undone at conferences because the contentious issues were left till last and handled badly.

All sessions should be directly relevant to franchisees and their needs. This would include sharing the big picture strategy as well as tips on how to increase profitability, improve the customer experience and enjoy the business more. Because the most useful insights will come from franchisees talking to each other, leave detailed operational and marketing slide presentations to regional meetings and webinars. Getting everyone together face to face and then locking them up in a dark room showing them slides is a wasted investment and a recipe for frustration.

Be sure to involve your franchisor team. They need to be clear on how to add value during the conference and how they will follow up with franchisees afterwards to encourage ideas and insights to be implemented. Also distribute summaries of session tips in the weeks afterwards to motivate and remind people of important points.

In summary, the most successful conferences emerge from clear objectives supported by a relevant, interactive program where people have plenty of opportunity to talk to each other. If you want some assistance in designing a winning conference program give us a call because this an area we are experienced and passionate about. You can also click here for another 33 free tips based on solid experience and research into what works.

Engaged conference attendees means better learning

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