Rarely is everything exactly perfect in company-land going into an event and sometimes there are major, major issues.
It may seem like getting on a plane and traveling to a 3-day conference/meeting/event would be enough to at least shrink those elephants a bit; but the elephants travel with the audience.
The bottom line? If there's a Big Company Issue, it's going to be hanging out in the event room--in the brain space of each and every attendee--until it's addressed. You can't ignore the elephant, and attendees can't move on with the mindset of tackling the future until the past is brought to light.
We're not saying that every concern or complaint or issue has to be addressed head on--especially if they're minor--but large issues (pending mergers, layoffs, product quality issues, delivery issues, management shakeups, etc.) have to be addressed.
Attendees can't move forward until you've addressed the past.Getting everyone pumped up about the coming year and ready to tackle the goals set for the next few quarters is a huge task. It's even harder when morale is low from the previous year. Maybe results were sub-par or maybe the attendees feel they didn't--and still don't--have the tools to be successful. No matter how great the goal looks and how wonderful it will be for all of them to achieve it, if they have the same doubts from the year before plaguing them in the future...you get the same results.
Attendees won't accept promises in the face of unacknowledged shortcomings.We know of NO company that always delivers everything on time or as promised. It's the business of companies to be agile and deal with things as they come. Sometimes this means that a new product isn't ready in time or a new training program that was rolled out has to be scrapped. Acknowledge these shortcomings, provide a brief reason (not excuse) for the shortcomings, and the audience will be more likely to accept that the next deadline is going to be met (if it actually IS--companies also have to be realistic in their goals) or that the next training program really IS going to stick around.
Attendees will disregard beneficial information until their worries have been directly dealt with.You may be giving the attendees the key to the castle, but if they are stuck back at the moat--what good is a key? You have an amazing new product that will increase their sales, but your attendees are worried that a new manager is going to clean house? Their primary concern isn't going to be the features and benefits of that product until the other issue has been addressed.
Attendees will turn an elephant into a mountain if it isn't managed.Occasionally when we bring up getting elephant-type issues out in the open, a client will interject: "But we don't want this to turn into a gripe session!" We don't either. An issue in the general session, however, is much easier to manage than an issue that runs wild (and possibly inaccurately) around the rumor mill/gripe-enabler social hours and networking sessions.
Attendees respect a company that knows where they're coming from--even if they don't agree with the issue.Showing the attendees that you actually know what's going on with them; that you know what their life is like and that it's hard having to deal with a particular issue can go a long way. You may still have to enact the measure, but at least the attendees can get closer to understanding why--and that they were taken into account when the decision was made.
Events are a great opportunity to address Elephant-type issues in a controlled way; you have everyone together, you can carefully pre-frame and support new messaging over a number of days, and you can leave with a team more united and on-board than when they left for the event. Don't miss the opportunity by letting the big things hang out in the corner of the room.