Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Association and Corporate Staff As The Secret Weapon For Conference Success

If your organization is hosting a conference or trade show you need to ensure that your staff members are fully participating.  If your people are corralled in the back of the room or in a side office, then you are missing out on the real value long-term the event can bring.

Sure, someone has to work the check-in table and take care of other house-keeping issues (and emergencies), but too often the association staff or company employees are not part of the community that is created when we bring people together.  Worse, sometimes the executives or sales staff get to mingle with the attendees, while everyone else has their face pressed to the window looking inward.  Meanwhile others are back at the office and not even present.  These official lines of demarcation can not only alienate team members, but also is opportunity lost to make connections and gain feedback.

Often I see staffs that do not feel "equal" to the VIP's who are attending your event.  It is clear in how they behave that they see themselves as many rungs down the ladder.  Why do they feel this way?  Because that is the message that the management and board are sending.  While wearing matching logoed shirts is a good idea to help attendees identify who works for the organization, those colorful polos and oxfords should not come with a label of second class status.  In fact, it should be just the opposite.

But why should your team be engaged and mingling side by side with your clients and vendors?  Because their participation brings stronger relationships to the overall organization and a boat load of first hand data on how people are experiencing the conference.  People cannot have a relationship with a company or association, they have those feelings for people.  But knowing someone by an email address is not the same as personal interactions.  When your constituency knows your staff personally they feel a stronger connections to the whole group.

And never forget: conference, trade show, convention or seminar is not really as much about the content as many mistakenly believe.  Oh yes, I know ... your "CONTENT IS KING" mantra is ringing in your head... but the reality is that if content were the real purpose then sending a White Paper would be a more cost effective delivery mechanism.

Bringing dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people together for a meeting is expensive.  But that does not mean there is not value (quick, someone tell the US Government this, as they are trying to pass laws that will hurt the $263 Billion industry that employs over 1.7 million people!).  No online webinar can replace the meaningful human-to-human connections and the powerful learning that happens in a face-to-face environment.  People are experiential beings and meetings have the power to anchor their feelings to the experience.

Sending your team into the crowd as an equal participant in the meeting is invaluable.  I have facilitated round-table conversation sessions at major conferences for companies and associations.   Those that have their properly trained staff at all the tables get the most value from these interactive sessions.  Those who do not get their people engaged miss out on the give and take in conversations that lead to meaningful connections.  Do not waste the chance to create bonds.

On occasion a hosting organization will worry if their team is professionally experienced enough to mingle with their members or clients.  YIKES.  You should not hire anyone who cannot converse with your target audience.  Besides, if given the opportunity and the right level of briefing, your team do great.  Do not sell them short!

I witnessed one association who recently had their people embedded in the crowd at one of their annual  conferences and the feedback from the staff and the attendees was all positive.  They had never tried this before because their previous leader had seemingly looked down on the staff.  The new CEO had a different opinion and the results were strong.  Give your people a chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with your VIP's and everyone will benefit from the interactions.

Your staff can be the secret weapon that makes your event spectacular.  Both the experience for all involved and the information you can collect will bring long-term rewards.

Is your staff involved in your event or are they standing off on the side?

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.

1 comment:

Jason Hensel said...

Thom, this is great, and I completely agree with everything you wrote. I've always felt that conference staffs should be more visible and involved with the attendee experience.

Thank you for writing this.