5 Reasons Conferences Should be Longer Than a Day
As the New Year looms it’s time once again to tackle the Annual General Meeting (AGM). Months in the planning, an AGM is the culmination of your company’s year and an opportunity to share in the successes of the entire organisation.
Assuming they are well executed, if you lose sight of your objectives – to engage and excite your colleagues – it quickly descends into stress and a room full of people covertly (although not really) checking their Facebook feed.
That lack of engagement can result in early finishes and a day of ‘hurry up and wait’, deepening the already glum mood and provoking a sharp rise in the number of people trying to log on to the venues WiFi.
Lacklustre engagement is sadly a typical characteristic of any conference or AGM comprising of an eight hour, one-way conversation punctuated by the occasional coffee break and an equally lacklustre buffet lunch.
This guarantees one thing: your speaker will be met with a sea of glazed over, uninterested faces that will not listen, gain nothing, and leave with a worse perception of your business than they went in with.
This is why you should not try to cram an entire conference into a single day. It results in high levels of stress for you, low levels of engagement for your delegates and ultimately a lot of wasted time and money. Hardly the outcome you want for your AGM or conference.
If your business holds AGMs or company-wide meetings on a regular basis, you will know how much there is to get through. An event of this type can communicate everything from business goals and strategy, to results comparisons to previous years.
Each of these things could be a one day event in itself and needs to not only be explained clearly and accurately, but also received and understood by the rest of your business. Asking a speaker(s) to get through a business-worth of information in one day is a big ask. Asking your employees to sit through it all and like it is unforgivable.
According to ‘The Art of Keynoting’, the average attention span for someone to ‘sit and listen’ is between 18 and 20 minutes, so asking your delegates to sit and listen for 8 hours in 1 day (albeit with a couple of breaks) will be a complete waste of time after the first half hour. You will have lost your audience to their mental to do lists, weekend plans and the latest water cooler gossip.
Allowing your delegates to sit and think about the information you give them is an important part of the learning process.
You and your speakers will have had a chance to digest things like the sales and revenue numbers and your goals for the next quarter, so give your delegates time to do this too.
Instead of limiting them to a 30 minute lunch break half way through the day, allow them breaks between subjects to decompress think about the information and discuss it with their peers.
This will enable them to retain the information effectively, think about how this will impact them and how their influence can help work towards the business’s goals. It will feel much less like you are speaking at them and more like you are involving them in the process.
Although company conferences are primarily to deliver a key objective be it end of year figures or a new methodology, they should also be about gaining feedback.
It is a rare and precious opportunity to get a measure of how your colleagues think and feel away from their desks and the usual pressures, politics and burgeoning inbox of the everyday.
Allowing colleagues to feedback and have an input on the content will highlight areas of improvement you had no idea existed. It also makes them feel valued.
After all, your delegates are the ones speaking to your customers, managing projects and dealing with other parts of the business day-to-day so understanding their pain points might allow you to explore different ways of reaching your goals.
It is very easy to become so focused on results that gathering feedback can seem like an obstruction but in practise it encourages innovation, allows you to better understand your colleague’s challenges, and allows them to become part of the business’ success.
4.Split Your Topics Up Into a Logical Sequence
Often times the obvious answers are the ones staring us in the face.
If trying to fit everything you need to communicate into a single day feels like an impossible task the obvious answer is to not do it.
Your colleagues aren’t idiots and they don’t want to feel herded, they will notice that the schedule is bloated and the presentations are rushed. Moreover they will struggle to retain the information and become frustrated and bored.
Instead, split your topics into bite size, logical sections and allow your audience to discuss these before moving onto the next. Again, this will allow your conferences to become more collaborative and will prevent the classic ‘sit and listen’ culture many businesses follow.
It isn’t the fault of your colleagues if they don’t engage with content written and delivered by others for their consumption. This is also covered in our Get The Most From Your Venue page.
5.Make it Enjoyable
Lastly, but most importantly, make your conferences or AGM enjoyable. Making your conference something to look forward to will ensure your attendees turn up willing to contribute. Ask yourself, if you were being made to attend the event, would you look forward to it?
If the answer is no then something has gone badly wrong.
Granted, enjoyment is relative and you can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time, but treating them like trusted colleagues – after all they work for you for a reason – rather than unruly school children is a positive first step.
Allow them the freedom to be individuals and colleagues, trusted and valued. Give them the opportunity to impress you, not assume they’ll let you down. All of the above can be achieved by giving your delegates plenty of ‘down-time’ and unfettered access to the venue’s bar and restaurants.
Or reward their attendance and commitment with a team activity in the evening. Proving it’s their idea of fun rather than the company’s, that level of engagement can make world of difference to team cohesion. It also fosters an environment in which colleagues can talk about the information they have been given in a relaxed environment, making them even more collaborative.
The value of splitting your conference across multiple days is evident. Your colleagues will feel more valued, be more engaged, and be far more willing to learn. It also gives them the chance to bond outside of the usual day-to-day - especially if the event is residential.
Of course, this would bank on you choosing a venue with the right facilities…
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