One of the many strings that internal comms professionals are required to have to their bow is to advise on and create events. But is there a recipe for success? What makes a good event and what should your approach be?
Jessica Bull is Strategy Communications Officer for Parliamentary ICT, UK Houses of Parliament. She is responsible for engaging IT professionals to deliver the ICT strategy for Parliament and enabling organisational change.
Here she writes for my blog on her nine steps to success. I think her first tip is crucial and have often pushed back if I think something is being done ‘for the sake of it’ without a clear strategic aim. There’s nothing worse than employees perceiving something happening without a purpose, and if there’s no purpose, you have to question why it’s being done and the message that sends. Makes it impossible to measure too!
What do you think of Jessica’s advice? Do you have a different method? You’re welcome to comment below and I’m intrigued to know if you identify with her swan analogy, I’ve certainly felt it.
I remember organising a senior managers’ meeting about five years ago and that morning the whole IT system had collapsed. It was due to be a particularly stats-heavy meeting as the company’s financial results were out, so having the numbers to hand was key. Thankfully I had saved the presentations to a flash drive. I was amused to see senior managers pop their heads in the auditorium and glance at the screen, expecting to see a blank one, then look surprised and take their seats. Always be prepared and have a plan b! Over to Jessica…
Nine steps to delivering a successful staff event
Nothing instills more fear into the heart of an internal communicator than the phrase “annual staff away day”. Although stressful and hard work to organise, staff events can also be exciting and incredibly rewarding. No matter how many channels we have available to us, staff continually cite face to face as their preferred method of communication and any event which raises the visibility of your senior leadership team will be good for your business.
Here are my nine steps to delivering a successful and engaging staff event:
1) Always have a strategic aim. And if you don’t have an aim, don’t do it
2) Every event needs a good theme. Some people will hate your theme and tell you this. It doesn’t matter – the point is they’ve noticed there’s an event going on
3) Create gorgeous publicity material. When people remember the event, the pictures you created for them will spring to mind. Make sure these illustrate your key messages in the simplest possible form
4) It’s not about the event. It’s about the team briefings, the one to ones, the casual chats before and after the event. Getting your director to communicate her vision to senior managers, and getting them to rehearse it so well they can communicate it to staff means (if only for very brief moment) all your leadership team are on message. Of course, your senior team may have a huge falling out before they can agree on what message they want to give. This means you’re driving real change in your organisation. Well done
5) Keep people moving: Ring a bell, try organisational speed dating, set a treasure hunt – provide a reason for your staff to work the room and speak to as many of their colleagues as possible. People enjoy networking but they hate having to talk to new people. Make them
6) Give people somewhere to moan: Create an ideas tree (stick some branches in a vase and ask them to write their hopes, fears & ambitions on tags to create the leaves) or a graffiti wall (using blu tack, a roll of wallpaper and some whiteboard markers). People need an outlet to express their concerns, give them this and you’ll find it easier to engage them in your message
7) Make it social: Find out which social media channels your organisation responds to and use them to build momentum before and after the event. Tweet the details of your speakers as they’re confirmed, film the day and put it on YouTube, create a discussion group around the event on LinkedIn. Make it something exciting that exists outside of the office and you might find people want to join in
8) Measure your success and prove your worth: See step one – if you know what you are trying to achieve, then it’s very easy to ask people if you achieved it. This will come in handy when asked what value internal communications brings to the business
9) Keep calm & carry on: Think of yourself as an elegant swan, gliding serenely through the water while paddling furiously underneath. Projector broken? Speaker cancelled at the last minute? Just take a deep breath, smile and continue as if it was all part of your plan
So what do you think? What steps have you found lead to success in managing employee events within your organisation? Or, perhaps more interestingly, what are the mistakes you’ve seen made that we can all learn from?
Post author: Jessica Bull
Thanks very much Jessica, some sterling advice in there. Do you have some top tips to share with other internal comms professionals? Want to see your thoughts and name featured here?
Have a look at my guest article guidelines and do get in touch with your ideas. Thanks as ever for stopping by, Rachel.
Great advice Jessica! You’re right, having a strategic aim makes things a lot easier. I organise a senior managers meeting once a month and the swan analogy is definitely something I understand. We’ve had microphones fail, air conditioning break, IT failure, sound and presentation issues. However, if you look calm and in control then your CEO and other senior managers let you deal with it. As soon as you start flapping they’ve lost all faith in you!
Below are just some of my ‘making life easier’ tips which help reassure me when I’m organising events:
I always find my plan on a page really useful for bigger events. Not only will it help you to stay in control but it will reassure senior bods. This plan has actions & dates to be completed, key contact numbers, addresses, notes – in fact almost everything I need on one piece of A3 paper
Take couple of hard copies of the presentation just in case the system fails so you can always photocopy some handouts to distribute.
Always get to the venue 30 minutes before people start arriving so you can sort out any issues.
Test the presentation at least once when you get there to make sure all the slides are there. Especially if you’ve combined several presentations into one.
If you’re doing a briefing document, try to get the key messages out within 24 hours if possible – we found that managers are more likely to discuss and cascade whilst it’s still fresh in their mind!
Thanks for your comment, a “plan on a page” sounds really useful. Great tip, I’ll add that as my missing tenth step!
Smart advice ladies, thank you for sharing. I may ask @theICcrowd for their top tips too so we can create an info sheet based on experiences, Rachel
Hi Jessica – love it. I’d just suggest that ‘gorgeous’ can be defined in many different ways. A bit like the session on video at the Melcrum Summit today where Sona Hathis was talking about both the polished glossy whizzy content and the down to earth flip camera stuff (my words) can both be successful. Gorgeous has to be right for the event. So for example for our first ConnectingHR (including IC) conference, I did this:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRlnEk4tiFI. Definitely unglossy, but for the type of event and the venue we were using (a partly renovated warehouse) it did the trick.
Thanks for your comments Jon and link to your film – can see what you mean, it would have been right for the occasion. Been enjoying your reports from the summit today, Rachel
Hi Jon, Yes I would agree ‘gorgeous’ can mean many different things to different audiences.
I’m extremely interested in your idea of building ‘social capital’ (as you outlined in the CIPD report on social media) and applying this thinking when organising events.
My aim is to give employees the tools and the confidence, then to create the opportunities, to make the kind of relationships that lead to real collaboration. Jessica
Great article thanks Rachel. Love the idea of a top tips sheet as we are always looking for new and different ways to improve our employee briefings. Susan