Based on our experience, there are six key steps to creating a successful event content strategy:
While completing all six steps is ideal, do not be deterred if you can only achieve one or two at a time. Each step is meaningful and useful in and of itself for your strategy, so completing one or two is better than completing none at all (read more).
Whether it’s a sales conference, user conference or a one-off event for a major announcement, the keynote address remains a central and often defining element for corporate events. In a bustling event packed with smaller panels and guest speakers, the keynote is meant to be a nexus of cutting-edge ideas and high-profile thinkers that will set the tone for everything to come.
While corporate event keynotes have been a staple of numerous industries for decades, the trends regarding their organization and execution have changed significantly over the years. Setting a prominent industry thought-leader in front of a podium in a packed auditorium may have been standard practice in years past, but media consumption and event attendee habits have all evolved as we enter an information- and content-rich digital culture. Even the most fascinating ideas can be rendered bland and uninspiring if the keynote isn’t tuned in to how audiences prefer to be delivered information.
Even if a certain approach to keynotes has historically been successful, it pays for event organizers to take a fresh and sober look at how they plan, execute and appraise the relative success of their keynote speeches. That in mind, much of the conventional wisdom surrounding putting together a keynote still remains valid. The key is to just ask the following questions that will help you identify what areas to focus on, allowing you to carve out an impressive and memorable keynote.
Who Should Speak?
While speeches from C-suite executives are the heart of user and sales conferences, companies that have reached a comfortable level of success – and have the budget to match – can and should branch out with outside speakers. This decision is tied to the larger concept of a right-sized event. As Entrepreneur contributor Don Mal put it, “Star power is great, of course, but there’s no need to go beyond your means.”
The logic behind this is sound: Companies that haven’t reached household-name status may find that having celebrities or inspirational guests as part of the keynote lineup alongside the CEO and chief marketing officer is distracting, takes up too much of the budget, or doesn’t correctly express the brand image they want to convey. Rather than pouring budget into flashy speakers, consider looking into presenters who represent a unique perspective that will intrigue attendees.
Mal explained that young companies’ user conferences rely on much more than their lineups of speakers to build connections with customers. Interactive sessions and opportunities to converse in more relaxed settings may help prevent the event from feeling like too much of a “commercial” for the company’s services.
What Kind of Format and Content Should Speeches Have?
Representing a true evolution over the past few years, Inc. columnist David Nihill specified that long keynotes have been replaced by short speeches. Taking less time doesn’t diminish the importance of a speaker, or the value of the insight, but instead represents a way to be better attuned to the attention span of the audience.
This is a new approach inspired by the ubiquitous TED Talk series of educational lectures. Nihill even suggested that when there isn’t a set time limit – as is often the case with keynotes – potential speakers should give themselves a maximum speech length to aim for. Short and impactful keynote speeches, from 20 to 30 minutes long, should also be designed for modern audiences – not just in length, but in stylistic flair. That means bringing visual flash to the presentation and potentially using humor or intentionally provocative ideas.
Regardless of content, opting for short, video-friendly speeches is critical for companies seeking to connect with audiences. Even when there’s a lot of information to be delivered, a speech can and should be broken up by topic into “bite-sized” pieces. Consider that, according to AdAge, it is critical that you hook audiences before the two-minute mark in a video or else risk losing them for the remainder. In our media-saturated culture, shorter, catchier bursts of info – packaged into easily digestible portions – can also be repurposed as evergreen content beyond that initial keynote.
Which Next-Level Technologies Will Help Speeches Stand Out?
In addition to video streaming, which has become increasingly common in recent years, the next generation of information technology may inspire even greater changes. For instance, Smart Meetings explained that creating the illusion of an in-person keynote via hologram-style telepresence systems is a rising trend.
The use of virtual and augmented reality systems to add new possibilities to keynote speeches is one of the areas organizers can explore more fully in the years ahead. Combined with innovative on-site technology like projection mapping, the often neglected visual aspect of keynotes is getting a much-needed second look. Whether the goal is to bring an executive around the world virtually to address a far-away crowd or to add an interactive element to a speech, event technologies are poised to keep changing the keynote experience.
While events scheduled for 2018 are well into the planning stages, keynotes are often one of the last elements to fully be locked in. That means there’s still time to make changes to the format or content of keynote speeches. Organizers can consider setting lineups of speakers that will appeal to their audiences, break the content of speeches into manageable pieces and add new technology tools that will transform the experience. Carefully paying attention to attendee preferences and interests leading up to the event will help organizers calibrate keynotes to create something arresting, memorable and – most importantly – resonant with audiences.
2018: Time to think about conference keynote best practices.
Picture it: You’re doing your Q4 wrap-up and looking at the year in review, and all the data is saying the same thing – your company is growing. Whether you see this reflected in impressive revenue, a burgeoning customer base or swelling demand for your products and services, the message is clear that the organization is ready to reach the next level.
After a blockbuster year, it’s natural to think big. The tired old cliche “go big, or go home” comes to mind – a vaguely inspirational business aphorism that is likely being tossed around in executive board rooms at this very moment. It’s a cliche for a reason: part of fostering growth and change is being able to convey to consumers, clients and fellow industry insiders that, yes, your company is making big, bold moves.
When it comes to corporate events, “big” often translates literally. Visions of a huge, convention center-based conference may already be appearing in your mind as you read this.
However, before booking a larger hotel ballroom or convention center, it’s time to consider what “going big” really means. The jump from a small- or medium-sized event space to a larger one certainly has its right place and time, but the goal is to more broadly make a splash. Chief Marketing Officers’ mental calculus has changed dramatically over the years when it comes to event planning, and yours should too. Not only may bigger not be better when it comes to events, the very definition of “bigger” is completely relative to the nature of your business.
“The very definition of ‘bigger’ is completely relative to the nature of your business.”
Smaller halls with big reach
One of the main reasons not to immediately scale up corporate events during growth is the questionable appeal of huge halls and long presentations. Attendees initially wowed by the sheer scale of an enormous venue may soon find the event impersonal and overwhelming. Event Marketer suggests that the TED talk model, designed to encourage snappier and more intimate communications, is having an influence on keynote planning.
Of course, one cornerstone of TED talks is the use of online video content to get ideas to mass audiences. Event organizers who harness the live streaming or on demand model can unlock their own value and not only provide unparalleled flexibility, but also impact how audiences absorb information. No longer are you limited to delivering a message to attendees crammed into an exhibit hall: Your executives could be physically speaking to hundreds of people, with thousands more tuned in on monitors elsewhere around the venue – or around the world.
Finding the right venue and presentation for your company’s remarks could involve staying with the same size venue, or even downsizing. By putting resources towards improving production values and developing an event content distribution strategy, a business can communicate its newly authoritative role in its industry without budgeting for a huge hall rental. Professional-grade tech and visual elements, along with organizational successes such as an ability to keep rigorously on schedule, have the power to impress attendees, even if the venue’s size isn’t an upgrade over past years’ gatherings.
Align company culture with event planning
There is another reason to consider many different physical scales and styles for your next corporate event – maybe your brand simply doesn’t do “huge.” If you’ve built a successful business model on the values of intimacy and directness, jumping to a big, impersonal event center can be jarring. A company losing its recognizable identity can be a serious setback, and an oversized conference that allows the brand’s message and voice to be swallowed up in the noise isn’t likely to win people over.
When your business model thrives on one-on-one connections – especially with high-level executives – a larger, broader list of attendees can be counterproductive. Companies may have more success with a smaller, more exclusive conference, potentially using a relatively high attendance fee and selective invitations to ensure that only serious prospects make the trip.
These small gatherings can even reach an audience beyond the walls of the venue, using the streaming-focused model described above. Executives’ short presentations can become valuable on-demand marketing collateral, having already reached a hand-picked audience in person.
When your organization’s branding and business model thrives on a large scale, however, large events remain a viable option. A company hoping to make an impact on a huge group of professionals or debut a new product with wide appeal may thrive among the flash of a big convention center. That said, if your business decides to go big, it mustn’t lose sight of the need for meticulous planning and high production values. Technical or organizational failures will still be felt at a large venue.
Being true to your base
When corporate event ideas and input come from within, rather than outside your walls, alignment between brand and gathering can remain strong. Business News Daily underlines the importance of polling internal employees to see what type of experience and information the event should spotlight.
When you speak with representatives who talk to clients every day, you get a clear snapshot of the prospect’s mindset. Combining this with perspectives from marketing, sales and product development can give you a target to aim for. The result of these discussions may point to the advantages of a smaller, more contained event for key customer stakeholders.
Being true to your base also means giving them the insight they crave – even if it means bringing in speakers from outside of your company. These could be key customers or thought leaders in the space. Too often, growing companies lean heavily on their own staff when booking event speakers, turning what could have been an opportunity to showcase broader industry relevance into a glorified sales presentation. Audiences tend to reject this kind of self-reflective talent booking, and it can quickly become self-indulgent.
A good rule of thumb is to think long and hard before allowing any employee beyond your CEO, and possibly CTO or Head of Product Development, to see the main stage. While many companies may feel reflexively uncomfortable ceding some of the spotlight to outside parties, this actually goes a long way towards building authority and trust, as well as diffusing the feeling of being “sold to.” If audiences want the sales pitch, they know where to go. More and more, people attending events want to be entertained and enlightened.
Selecting the right partner
Picking a strategic partner for corporate event tasks from overall strategy to production or content distribution is a pivotal driver of success or failure. Here, too, going with a bigger firm may not mean receiving a better result. Big-box organizations may be low on flexibility or unable to execute a strategy closely attuned to your brand’s sensibilities.
When you run the numbers, your company may be a similar size to others in its space, or expanding at an equal rate. That data alone shouldn’t drive how big or small your event should be, because it doesn’t reflect all your firm’s unique qualities. No two organizations are quite the same, so figuring out what type of corporate gathering suits your objectives, positioning and personality can lead to the ideal fit – big, small or just right.
Are you thinking about your 2018 sales meeting? Are you feeling a bit behind in planning? Are you considering just doing the same thing you did last year?
If you answered yes to these questions, it might be time to shake things up.
It’s easier than you think to create a sales meeting that delivers necessary information to your sales team and allows them to enjoy the event at the same time. So how do you do it?
The answer is simple: Plan your sales meeting for your employees the same way you plan an event for your customers.
Your employees are your first customer. They have to believe in your company, your brand, your offering, before anyone else can. Treating them like customers will generate excitement and buzz around your sales meeting. A memorable experience will drive greater retention of information and will keep your sales team looking forward to the annual sales meeting year over year.
To plan a customer-like event for your employees, consider the following: What are your sales team’s needs and challenges? Identifying these will allow you to maximize the value of your content. What are your sales team’s expectations and how can you surpass them? Identifying these will allow you to enhance the experiential qualities of your meeting.
Your sales team’s needs and challenges drive the content of your meeting. Consider the following types of content:
Team-Driven Content: You know you have specific points you want to cover at your sales meeting like forecasts for next year, quota information, sales growth information, and more, but have you also asked your salespeople what they want to talk about?
Execute a quick survey in the months before your sales meeting asking your employees what they’d like to discuss. Implore about questions they have, areas of focus, areas to dive deeper, areas of training, and challenges and successes from the past year. Their responses will give you a good overview of where the team collectively stands on various issues within your organization and ensures the content is relevant and valuable for their needs.
Educational Content: Consider providing content tailored to your sales team that provides education and training around relevant topics. If your salespeople cover one specific product or service, keep content tailored to that offering. If salespeople cover multiple or disparate areas, consider organizing your meeting into tracks and creating breakout sessions that allow for meaningful deep dives into specific topics.
Inspirational Content: Bring in outside speakers to talk about concepts that will work to drive inspiration and excitement within your sales team. Much of your meeting will be focused on topics financial details and goal setting, so provide your sales team with an opportunity to take a step back and think about higher level, more abstract topics like leadership, empowerment, or perseverance from someone outside your organization.
Recognition: In order to feel excited to move forward into the next year’s sales agenda, your salespeople need to feel valued for all their hard work. Create an awards ceremony that your employees can count on by replicating the same award types every year so your employees know what to expect. This ceremony will also embrace and leverage your sales team’s competitive spirit by showing them who leads the pack and what they should strive to accomplish for the following year. Don’t let this part of your meeting be planned at the last minute. Put real thought into the types of awards you will present, how you will present them, and how you will recognize your individual employees for their successes. Seeing how much effort you put into valuing your employees will allow them to reinvest their effort into your company.
Your sales team’s expectations for the annual sales meeting drives the format of the meeting. Consider the following steps to ensure you meet and exceed their needs.
Keep your meeting face-to-face. If you’re thinking of cutting cost by making your sales meeting an online event – don’t.
84% of people say they prefer in-person meetings. 85% of those people say in-person meetings build stronger, more meaningful relationships. 77% of those people say they prefer in-person meetings for the ability to read body language and facial expressions. 75% of those people say they prefer in-person meetings because they allow for social interaction and the ability to bond with co-workers and clients.
Keep your salespeople engaged and connected by keeping your meeting face-to-face.
Reconsider your format. Is your annual sales meeting made up primarily of PowerPoint presentations? Is your C-Suite up on stage, talking to your salespeople about forecasts and goals? Consider this: 91% of people admitted to daydreaming during meetings. Try to find ways to combat this staggering statistic by engaging your salespeople in new ways. Think of different formats to supplement those presentations that engage your employees beyond the typical sales meeting presentations. Consider inspiring keynote-type speakers and roundtable events where employees can connect with one another, panel discussions where they can hear from a breadth of speakers, and training sessions where they can learn about new relevant topics.
Shift your location. Move your event outside of the traditional hotel ballroom setting, or if you can’t get out of the ballroom, think about getting out of the room for at least part of the meeting. Don’t just keep people sitting in chairs all day. Consider planning moments for networking, team building activities, and other exercises that enable people to connect with each other in new, innovative ways. These types of non-traditional, unique experiences will keep your meeting feeling fresh and lively year over year.
Create an opportunity for deep brand immersion. Make your company feel like an exclusive community and your sales meeting feel like an exclusive event by allowing your employees to feel proud to be part of your organization. Brand all elements of your sales meeting, from presentations to breakout room spaces and everything in between to generate excitement about all that your company is and all it has to offer.
Get creative. Even if you do still need to employ the occasional PowerPoint presentation to get your information across, enhance them with dynamic content to keep your employees engaged. Consider creating powerful opening videos, highlight reels, and interactive polls to keep your audience from tuning out and checking out.
If you need support with your 2018 sales meeting strategy or execution, please contact us.
If you’d like to learn more about sales meetings we’ve executed for other clients, please visit our Insperity case study where you’ll hear from our client about how we’ve partnered with them to execute successful sales meetings for the last 6 years.
About OVATION: We create and execute sharable experiences that exceed our clients’ expectations while staying on budget. We pair a robust combination of internal services you might expect from a big box company with the boutique attention and flexibility that you require. Scalability is our specialty. Don’t settle for less… expect more.