How to counter event fatigue

At this time of year many internal communication professionals are up to their ears in annual conference planning. How do you counter event fatigue?

In the latest in my series of guest articles, I’m proud to introduce Oli Howard. He is Acting Director of Communications and Marketing at UK Disability charity Scope, who support disabled people and their families in England and Wales. You can find him on Twitter @howard_oli. Over to  you Oli…

“Didn’t we do this last year?” Countering event fatigue
Oli HowardHave you ever sat in a staff conference and had that eerie feeling of déjà vu -like you sat in exactly the same room, with exactly the same people, listening to exactly the same presentations… exactly a year ago?

Keeping an internal events programme fresh and exciting can feel like a challenge in itself, but in an age of virtual teams and collaborative technologies do large staff events even have a place? And when they are the right option, how do you keep your events programme from feeling too static?

The true cost of events
When a leader suggests running a conference, I often find myself trying to sell the alternatives (facilitated conference calls, team briefings or webinars for instance) not least because, like many IC professionals, I’ve come to understand the true cost of a good event.

They consume a lot of resource in terms of planning, logistics, content development and all of the indirect costs involved in getting people to one place and compensating for their absence at the frontline. But there’s an undeniable power to having people together in one space.

At their best, events can be punctuation marks in an organisation’s story – a day when one way of thinking ends and another begins.

Challenging ourselves
In my current role at Scope these questions have become very relevant recently. We have to justify every penny we spend on anything other than frontline support for disabled people – to ourselves, our customers and our supporters (and quite rightly so).

We’ve really started to question whether we’re getting sufficient value from our cycle of annual events – for managers, service professionals, shop staff, senior leaders and other groups. In particular, we were becoming concerned that the number of events we simply repeat year after year was creating problems.

We were losing focus on our objectives and creating an impression of a static organisation, rather than a vibrant and changing one.

What makes a good event?
QuoteTo get another perspective on the right approach to our events programme, I spoke with Sally Williamson, a former colleague who now runs her own events agency.

“There has to be a real focus on business objectives and delegate experience. When clients don’t have that, there’s a risk that people go through the event unsure of why they are there. Going over old ground only heightens that risk.”

According to Sally, events work best when there’s a strong driver for getting people together: “A good event takes a lot of time and energy to organise, so you have to have a really good reason for doing it. The best events I work on are the ones where the client is very clear about what they want out of the day – then we can work together to shape an event that achieves their goal.”

“Nothing will ever fully replace face-to-face, but it’s expensive so it’s really important to get the most out of it. You have to ask yourself whether an event is really the best way to achieve your aim. If it is, then you have to be prepared to commit time to it – and you need people with the right skills to make it happen.”

Taking it forward
At Scope, we’re now progressing with plans to link the events programme more directly to our business plan. Our key questions will be:

  • What objectives are we trying to achieve?
  • Where can events make a real difference to the achievement of these goals?

From there, we can work out the details. I expect this will give us a set of events that are much more focused on tangible outcomes – whether they are around efficiency, personalisation, income generation or anything else. And if we carry the approach forward, I expect that the 2015/16 programme could look completely different to the 2014/15 one.

Better choices
Scope Managers' Conference 2013 100713 1Our hope is that this will help us to explore the alternatives to events and make better choices about channels; and that the events we do run become more impactful and powerful.

A great event is still a relevant choice if the objective calls for it. They are rich channels, offering opportunities to satisfy all kinds of learning styles, to get your message across in a variety of ways and to invite interaction. But they are also high-cost and low-reach – so we have to challenge ourselves to get the most out of every one we run.

Post author: Oli Howard.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts Oli. You can find out more about Scope via their website, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, G+ and Facebook. Their Pinterest boards are smart and I particularly like their Scope shops care board, books and I Care boards.

What’s your experience of running events? Does your experience match Oli’s? You’re welcome to comment below or tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Got a story to share? See my guest guidelines and let me know if you have an idea for an article.

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