you go somewhere exotic and participate in amazing teambuilding events,
most conferences are relatively routine and forgettable. Often what
is memorable are things like the time Barb put bubble bath in the
spa hot tub, or when Norm got thrown out of the hotel after too much “networking.”
It is too often the case that the annual corporate
conference ends up being little more than a lark. “It’s just an annual
piss-up,” is how one executive put it. In these days of cutbacks
and frugality, most corporations simply cannot afford to throw money
away on an expensive wine and cheese party sleep-over. The answer,
however, is not to cancel such events! The answer is learn how to
conduct them better. The more we communicate un-humanly through email
and teleconferencing, the more we need a positive and constructive
face-to-face experience. There is no better way to create a working
sense of the whole team and where individuals fit into it.
I have been speaking at conferences around the
world for over thirty years. That includes groups from children’s
hospitals in Canada to paint manufacturers in the UK to cattlemen
in the US. From audiences
of twenty people to ten thousand people. Regardless of the conference
size, venue or purpose, three major principles seem essential for
creating corporate events that are truly and positively life changing.
EVERYTHING IS A METAPHOR.Everything people experience
at a conference is a message about what the organizers (and the
think of them—from pre-conference materials to the conference
gift. For example, how does the message behind the name tag that
simply reads "BOB", differ from the one that reads "Dr.
R.J. Barns, Sr. Vice President, Chemical Spills Division, Western
What is the message behind pre-assigned seating? Or
having anonymous, if not planted, questions being read off of cards
for the President's Q&A session?
What interpretation do people
attach to the fact that the President left right after his speech
while the conference went on for another two days?
It's not a case
of right or wrong, it's what message do you want to send? First decide
on the message of your event, then make sure your methodology or
design matches.If you want people to think, give them a book
not another bag. Bags don’t make you think!One group had a “paint-ball war” between management
and employees. Now there’s a wonderful metaphor for teambuilding!
A GROUP WILL ACT LIKE IT LOOKS. Which room layout would look most engaging,
fun and productive; one where participants are in casual clothes, chairs and
tables scattered with no apparent center of control, or the one where participants
are in business attire, sitting classroom style behind computer generated tent
cards looking up at an elevated lectern? How these two groups will behave is
absolutely predictable. They will behave according to their appearance. This
is a law of nonverbal group behavior.
You can't create a spirit of togetherness by having people widely spread out
in the auditorium with most sitting at the back and the first four rows empty.
Want togetherness? Book a room almost too small for the group. Barring serious
organizational pathology, emotional closeness will follow physical closeness.
Reach emotional closeness and you're not far from creating a spiritual bond – and
it doesn’t get any better than that.
I remember speaking in a room set up in rigid classroom style, everyone
in neat rows facing the front (despite my counsel to the contrary).
The podium was at least five feet above the participant's level and
the lectern was huge. The conference theme? Teambuilding. The executive
who had it set up that way really wanted control over the participants
and he got it. The teamwork theme was just him being politically
correct. The conference was a joke.
PROVIDE LOTS OF ROOM FOR CHOICES. When you give people choice, you
give them power. Choice and power are synonyms. When you give people
power, you give them freedom. When you give them freedom, you give
them back their life and individuality. When people feel truly free
they will usually choose to unify and find purpose. And that is what
you want, isn't it? The only exception to this is when the audience
is angry, and then we are into a whole other topic.
I feel claustrophobic just reading the agenda
from some conferences. Everything is so controlled and so predetermined.
moment is scheduled. The conference ends up being done to people
rather than the people doing the conference. No wonder there is so
little enthusiasm and commitment. One agenda began: "Welcoming
remarks 9:00-9:03." How inviting or real is that? You can tell
there was lots of room for creativity and exploration. One person organizing an event for senior executives
sent out a whole page of instructions on dress, starting with "While traveling
wear comfortable, loose fitting clothes." Somebody needed to
tell these sophisticated people what to wear on the plane? Was this
their first trip?
I know some organizers believe absolute control and structure is
essential. And if you are organizing an event for several thousand,
this is probably the best way to go. My intention with these few
guidelines is to help unify corporate spirit with our logistical,
three dimensional and time-bound needs. The latter needs to change
and become a conduit for the former. Let's start designing events
that let the human spirit out instead of boxing it. Only then will
we see what is truly possible. You will be amazed.
The following quotation
must be printed at the conclusion of each reprinted article:
The Ian Percy Corporation."
Ian Percy is one of North America's most inspirational speakers.
Ian Percy is an international speaker and consultant
and can be reached at www.ianpercy.com