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April 16, 2008

Susan Sexton:Annual conferences ñ do them properly

Clients are normally vaguely aware of the objectives of their annual conference, after all it's about sharing information from the last year and looking forward to the next. They rarely have the time to do it properly themselves, thus projecting the professional image they aspire to.

Conferences, as a framework are necessary to understand position within the marketplace, to move forward with a sense of direction, and to focus on the key issues of customers and markets and of the skills needed to deliver to those customers and markets.

Organisations cannot know where they are going without such a forum, and to do this 'live' under one roof creates a spirit of partnership and unity.

Don’t let it become a habit
Of course there is always the risk that the annual 'bash' can become merely a habit, which it why it can be a good idea to bring in the experts with an objective view, and an innovative flair which can be demonstrated in every aspect of the event, from the communication to the conference production itself, and through to every detail of the logistics management.

Purpose and urgency are key with a consistent brand message that both staff and customers can identify with. You need to be addressing issues, such as:
• Where are we now and how did we get here?
• What did we do well, or badly, to arrive at our current position?
• Will we need to change our business?
• What factors will or can have a telling impact on what we do in the future?
• Where do we want to be?

Break down the barriers

Team activity/participation helps people to 'bond', get to know each other, assess competitiveness and generally 'mix'! Themed events (fancy dress), whether you like it or not, break down ALL the social barriers of the normal trappings that come with money, and 'dress power' – distinctions can simply not be made.

Set/stage production also sets the scene depending upon whether you want formal/informal messages to go out. Choice of speakers – their persona, charisma and humour – also affect the message and culture of the company.

Finally the actual choice of location is extremely important, and the power of the environment, luxury properties and, dare I say it, decent weather, can make a real difference – simply said, you will get out what you put in!

In my view, strategy is very much about making time for people to make a contribution in a face-to-face, interactive, personal way. Creative treatment of this medium inspires commitment.

Tailor the messages

It's very important when setting the scene for a company conference to, first, assess the audience and ensure that the messages appertain to the right profile in order to avoid tedium. For example, the HR guys aren't going to want to go through the entire sales and marketing strategy and the IT team won't want to listen to chapter and verse on the latest European employment regulations.

The most inspiring (and personal) way to reinforce visions and values in such a case, is to splinter off into separate seminars for the specifics, and then to 'top and tail' with the 'Company news' and 'drive' en masse, to ensure every employee walks away as a real brand ambassador.

Susan Sexton is sales director at P&MM

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