I leave today for our annual meeting. It’s an event I’ve had the privilege to work on for many years. It’s a small, intimate gathering with about 4,000 members of the Chick-fil-A organization. How do you prepare for big events? Here are some of the keys I’ve found helpful over the years.
Clarify the goal – This may sound obvious, but it isn’t always obvious or easy. You have at least two things to clarify: the generic purpose and the specific desired result. Both are critical. Is the event a training event or a cultural event? Is it intended to be a catalytic event or an educational event? Certainly these are not mutually exclusive but getting agreement on this is often challenging. Then, you get to the specific outcomes. What do you want to be different as a result of the event? A problem well defined is half solved. If you can determine the goal up front, your chances of a successful event increase exponentially!
Enlist talented experts – To create a compelling event for thousands of people requires a special skill set. We’re blessed to have men and women on our team who’ve done this work with excellence for years. However, ever since the event grew beyond a few hundred attendees, we’ve always supplemented our team with outside talent to ensure great events. I wrote about one of our new vendors in a post entitled The Value of Fresh Eyes. Talent really does make a difference.
Challenge the process – Have you ever stopped to think about how easy it is to get in a rut? If something works, there’s a tendency to repeat it. That makes senses – to a point. However, the good can be the enemy of the best. We’ve found our events in a huge rut from time to time, and we’ve had to make changes. This is never easy: remember, every thing you want to change is the way it is today, because somebody had a great idea in the past… you’re messing with their work! Proceed with caution and resolve. It was Andy Stanley who I first heard say, “Progress is always preceded by change.” He is correct.
Seek feedback – We’ve always done a fairly good job of this. But sometimes the people giving the feedback can get into a rut as well. Over time, you’ll probably need a different process for soliciting feedback. Sometimes, you need different questions. This year, we’re re-writing our post-event evaluation. Better questions should stimulate better feedback. The point here is to listen to your audience and your stakeholders.
This year’s event is a departure in many ways from what we’ve done historically (See Challenge the Process above). However, I’m not worried – only because we’ve done the other three items I mentioned. If we’ve done our job well, this next week will be a catalytic milestone in the history of the organization. If it doesn’t work out that way, we’ll repeat the process and try again next year.
Your big event may not have thousands of participants, maybe only a hundred. My last bit of advice is the same regardless of the size of your event: trust the process. Because we’ve worked hard on the items I mentioned above, I’m counting on a big win for the organization this week. I’ll give a full report in a future post.[GLS_Shield]