When COVID halted in-person activities, business leaders forced to move gatherings online yearned for the day when they could go back to holding large-scale events the way they did before the pandemic. Sales kick-offs, product launches, and quarterly meetings just weren’t the same on screen as in real life.
While some companies found ways to host virtual meetings successfully, others stopped altogether. Now that most companies are bringing people back together again, it’s time to accept a hard truth: the way large-scale events were done before just wasn’t that great.
Whether your next large-scale event will be fully in-person, fully remote, or a hybrid, here are six things not to do if you want it to be a success.
- Don’t copy and paste last year’s agenda, and then fill it in with some updated information. Today is different from yesterday. Your goals and challenges have changed. You’ve introduced new products and services. Maybe even a new strategy. Your event should be different too. Build it around where you are now and where you’re going this year, not on what worked last year.
- Don’t hire a big name band to boost morale. It’s an enormous expense and the kind of forced fun where few people actually have fun. In person, most attendees won’t pay attention. Virtually, you’re likely to lose your audience altogether. The better alternative? Get creative and tap into the (possibly hidden) talents of your audience. Chances are you’ve got musicians or DJs among you already; use them.
- Don’t default to hiring a high-profile speaker. You no doubt have some compelling speakers in your audience with a passion for their topics who can motivate better than any celebrity. Let them give the keynote address (yes, there’s a theme developing here). If you do bring in an outsider, hire for the message, not the name. Make sure the message is on point. Celebrity speakers generally have no idea what the audience does and deliver the same speech over and over. An Olympic speed skater talking about their training regimen won’t inform or inspire your people (unless you’re in the business of coaching speed skaters).
- Don’t pack your agenda so tightly there’s no space for reflection. We’ve all had the experience: bouncing between speeches and roundtables and workshops—taking voluminous notes—and then returning to our everyday work with no idea how to apply what we learned. When building your event’s agenda, schedule ample time for thought and reflection. That’s important during in-person events. Even more so for virtual gatherings. A 90-minute presentation followed by a 15-minute break? That won’t do it. Time the breaks based on how much the brain can absorb before people become overwhelmed and tune out.
- Don’t make it a one-way conversation. If you position your people as passive recipients of wisdom from the top, you’ll quickly lose their attention. Eventually, you’ll lose them. Build in opportunities for everyone to share their insights and ideas and help set the direction for the company. The leadership will gain buy-in for their ideas—and maybe uncover some even better ideas.
- Don’t schedule mandatory networking slots without assigning tasks to complete (finding a new hire you can mentor, a team selling resource you want to learn more about, etc.). In-person, individuals left to mingle without a purpose tend to coalesce into clumps of co-workers they deal with every day. In a virtual room, the conversation will be dominated by a few extroverts, leaving everyone else feeling unheard. This does not promote engagement or inclusivity. Also, don’t call it “networking”—a word guaranteed to inspire dread.
Bonus virtual-only tip: Don’t try to recreate the face-to-face experience by sending Uber Eats and swag bags to people’s homes. This only reinforces the notion that remote gatherings are a second-rate alternative to in-person events. And whatever you do, no Zoom cocktail hours.
Hosting engaging large-scale events will never be easy. However, by making sure you know what not to do, you can equip and inspire your team to be successful. Whether you’re launching a new product, kicking off a new quarter, or setting sales goals that will help your organization reach its next billion-dollar target, leverage these tips to help your organization kick things off with the right foot forward.