Kick-off conference season is fast approaching and as part of our project planning we reached out to our client, Abigail Davey, Executive Assistant from Allied Milling and Baking, to understand their key objectives for the forthcoming event that we’re working on with them…
“For us a kick-off conference is an opportunity for us to bring divisions together within the company who don’t engage with each other on a day-to-day basis to ensure the business has one strategic vision for the year ahead. We’ll bring in our executive team to report on the previous year, celebrate any successes and identify our priorities for the forthcoming year. We value each and every one of our employees and it’s only right that we get them involved as the business progresses. They need to understand their role they need to partake to ensure we continue successes year on year and to feel empowered!”
With these key objectives in mind – employees needing to feel empowered and here at Venues and Events International, we’ve discussed with Abigail the different stages behind a kick-off conference, understand where employee engagement plays a crucial part, and how we can work on these elements to deliver the ‘perfect’ kick-off conference.
Here, Abigail and Steve Schwarz, Account Director at Venues and Events International, reveal their steps when planning the perfect kick-off conference.
Abigail: Make it personal – Is there anything you can do to personalise the conference/meeting to make sure it’s different each year? For example, personalised cakes during the break, branded note pads, welcome gifts in the room.
Steve: Change the name of your event each year – Continuing with the personalisation theme, consider the name of your event and personalising the event itself. Calling your event a ‘kick-off conference’ or ‘annual conference’ isn’t all that inspiring and won’t necessarily motivate and engage employees at the outset. By changing the name of your conference each year and theming your communications around this title, will give employees an insight into what they can expect and help them plan for the meeting. If employees feel like they’re going to be able to have an impact at the meeting, they’re more likely to actively listen and take part, rather than sit back and sip their coffee.
Abigail: Time to breath – In order for the meeting to be productive ensure there is time to breath/check emails and take some fresh air throughout the day. It’s good for mental health to process the content and reset for the next section.
Steve: Choose the right environment – Understanding your audience and objectives of the day will play a key part in the venue-find solution for your event. The environment plays an important role in setting the scene and allowing ample opportunity for networking and as Abigail says, allowing people to have some breathing space to check those emails and have some downtime.
You’ll also need to understand the technology requirements. Perhaps you have employees skyping in from overseas or different parts of the country where they’ll need to feel part of the event so the technology will play an important role to ensure this engagement is there.
Abigail: Windows are a must have – Steve’s right, environment is a key focus and for us it’s important that if the team are in a meeting all day, they need windows/outside space to ensure they don’t feel trapped inside the meeting room. It allows them to be more productive and feel like they have space to think.
Steve: Keep the content relevant – When writing your agenda, understand the different levels of your audience to ensure they all leave with the right information that’s relevant to them. Death by PowerPoint is not the way to engage your employees. This might mean you split your day up into different sessions with a big-picture, high level overview of the company strategy in the morning followed by breakout sessions with specific tasks relevant to different groups. This will ensure there is clarity and excitement by creating enthusiasm and understanding about the vision and goals of their work.
Abigail: Mix up the content – It’s important that the meeting isn’t “death by PowerPoint”. By having interactive sessions, opportunities for discussion and hands on learning, the content will become more interesting and not stagnant.
Steve: Make it interactive – It’s likely that your employees are going to roll into this meeting expecting to have to sit still for an hour or so and listen to the CEO. Chances are, most people are already checked out mentally before the meeting has begun. So switch it up and get them engaged from the outset! Icebreakers or some form of team building is a great way of getting the audience relaxed before the formalities begin. It’ll wake them up and energise them, ready for a day of learning.
Don’t forget – it’s also important to consider your audience demographic when considering energisers and that they are appropriate for the diversity of the people in the room.
Abigail: Joining instructions – Ensure clear joining instructions are sent out prior to the event. If employees are new to the group or it’s in a completely different location, it’s important that the team know where they are going, the timings and feel prepared for the meeting.
Steve: Add an element of surprise – Try not to give away too much when sharing the agenda with your employees and leave room to build the anticipation of more to come. This could be a guest motivational speaker, some form of incentive prize or even just a surprise themed party at the end of the conference. Whatever you decide you can create teasers on the build up to your event and by understanding your attendee’s mindset, will allow you to plan for that full-on effect that you’re after.
Abigail: Seating plan – Mix people up on the tables. It’s a great networking opportunity and allows you to meet new people, have more diverse discussions and broaden your network.
Steve: Create a networking mixer – Consider what technology you have the budget for and use this effectively at your event by creating ways in which people need to interact and engage with one another. Gamification is a great way to promote networking and team building so make sure you plan something into the agenda at some point during the day. It also breaks up the ‘learning’ element of the event and is likely to keep your employees engaged for longer.
By creating different elements to your event, will make your event more memorable – another key factor for a successful event.
Abigail: Food – Food is always on our feedback forms! Make sure that the food has healthy options as we want the team to be well nourished and alert for the afternoon session. Make sure there is enough food too!
Steve: Ensure you have your next steps ready – There’s nothing worse than sharing all your great ideas and not following them up. Now that everyone involved knows what they need to do, reiterate what you’re expecting and note upcoming deadlines and the first milestone you’re expecting. You can empower team members by giving clear directions for next steps, and a simple way to begin using their project management tools.
The kick-off conference, or whatever you decide to call it, gives employees a chance to know each other, understand the business vision, and it sets a tone for success. Getting your teams, stakeholders and company leadership excited to begin with, to share perceptions and a common vision, will serve you well as you start the new year ahead.