We hear this a lot from clients--especially lately. A lot of companies are returning to events and they want something different and fresh. It's more difficult to justify a large, in-person event--so it can't be the same-ol'-same-ol'.
And yet, companies still fall into the trap of producing stagnant, stale, unengaging events. The following three phrases are red flags that signal business as usual (and not in a good way):
There's an old anecdote about making a pot roast. Before he makes a pot roast in the oven, John always cuts the meat in half and cooks the two pieces separately. He has his mother over for dinner, and she sees him cutting the roast. She asks him why he cooks it this way. He responds that it was the way that SHE always cooked it. "Oh," his mother replies with a smile, "I only did that because I never had a big enough pan for the whole roast."
"We've always done it this way."
We recently asked a client why they scheduled a certain speaker at a certain time in their agenda. There response was: because they had always done it that way. Never mind that it wasn't the most strategic place to put that speaker.
Be wary of the trap of doing things as we've always done them for the sake of comfort or because it's kinda-sorta worked in the past. Unless events are re-imagined, they become traps for mediocrity.
The biggest culprit here tends to be the structure of the agenda. Before consulting on a 3 day event, we can almost lay money down on the proposed agenda: Cocktail hour the first night. First day: Corporate speakers the first morning. Breakouts in the afternoon. Second day: Motivational speaker in the morning. Breakouts or general session info. Team building in the afternoon. Third day: Panel discussion in the morning. Regional breakouts. . . The problem with routines like this is that attendees go into autopilot and their experience is automatically passive instead of active. It then takes work to get them into an interactive, engaged state.
There's nothing wrong with repeating an element or structure from year to year--but it should have a distinct purpose outside of "how it's always done". Thought should be put into constructing every element of the event to make it the most effective experience for the attendees.
"Our president needs 90 minutes to speak... The VP of marketing must present after him..."
There is a certain amount of political sensitivity that creeps into an event. X position speaker should go before Y position speaker. Z speaker needs at least 45 minutes, lest they feel slighted. While we understand the need to be sensitive to corporate culture and politics, arranging event elements based on politics instead of necessary content is doing a disservice to the audience.
From the perspective of the audience--and being in thousands of corporate events--there's nothing that lowers the expectations of an event more than seeing a whole day lineup of corporate speakers...one after another... Sometimes it's best to space these corporate presentations out over the days and in between other content--not only to add variety, but to give the audience a better chance to absorb the messaging.
Sometimes the number of corporate speakers can be reduced. Often times A, B and C department all get to present because D department is speaking and we can't leave out the others. However, sometimes A, B and C departments don't have anything new or relevant to present at that time. It's not respectful of an audience to have a speaker present just for the sake of having an equal presence onstage. If it's exposure that is needed, there are more creative ways to go about this throughout an event.
And finally: If you give a speaker 10 minutes of time, they will talk for 10 minutes (and sometimes go a bit over or under, as non-professional speakers are wont to do). If you give that same speaker with the same content 60 minutes, they will talk for 60 minutes. People will, generally, fill the time that they are given with *something*--whether that information is relevant or not. Ask people about their content first--and then determine their speaking time--instead of the other way around.
"We don't have much time, so we want to get the most out of it..."
This isn't a bad thing in and of itself. The issue here is that "getting the most" out of an event typically means putting as much information as possible into an event. Oftentimes, the opposite of what is intended is what ends up happening. Cramming a lot of information into a little amount of time is a recipe for learning disaster. By having too much content--instead of a key points being remembered, there is a far greater chance that nothing will be remembered. The brain becomes saturated and cannot process new information without first digesting the old information and working with it in some practical way. To use an old metaphor--it's like "drinking from a fire hose".
This is certainly NOT getting the most out of an event.
Does this mean that events cannot be meaningful experiences with effective learning moments? Not at all. The key is to be selective and strategic. Build in time for brain-breaks, interaction and activities. Be very selective; separating what's nice to know from what attendees NEED to know--and only bringing the latter to the event.
What do you do with all that extra content you wanted to cover? The event isn't just the three days everyone is together. Have additional resources before and after the event, continue following up with participants, and give them the ability to discover and work with additional information long after they fly home to keep the momentum of the successful event going.