Designing Great In Person Events, Post COVID Style

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By Alexa Ward

What's On My Mind

I've just experienced perfect execution.

I've been at a client conference all week, the first one this important client has had in 2+ years.

It was FANTASTIC.

​Our team had high expectations. Their team had high expectations.

And we blew them all away.

​We had 300+ top business developers and all-star client managers in one room in Orlando.

​Here's the event. I'm the speck on stage.

​Most big events have similar agendas: leadership kick offs, a keynote from an outsider, technical offering updates and connecting time.

But, how this organization handled them was truly unique.

​We not only did all the above, but we also provided the 1.5 days of GrowBIG Training to everyone in the big room, with the rest of the training to be held virtually soon.

​Skill building!

​Focusing on this much skill building at an event like this was truly unique.

And it was a blast for everyone.

​Even better...

The event is going to power their growth for years.

So back to you.

Getting your first post COVID in person event right is REALLY important.

I hope this article can help.

​Here are the strategic decisions that made all the difference this week...

  1. Leadership Context

The event started with context from leadership, as it should.

​What was exceptional about this event is how their leadership struck the perfect balance between the brutal honesty of how challenging the last few years have been (even though they've had great results) and how excited they are for the future.

Takeaway:

​Thinking through The Stockdale Paradox is a great way to frame leadership openers.
​(The basic idea: to be successful, blend confronting the brutally honest facts with an unwavering belief you'll win in the end. Balance both with authenticity and you'll kick your event off perfectly.)

2. Inspirational Keynote

I had a ball designing their keynote.
​It was all consuming because I wanted to create something truly unique, just for this client.​

I spent over 20 hours writing and practicing my 20 minute talk.

​I think the best keynotes like this come from the side, meaning they tell a story that seems to be unrelated, one that has timeless truths embedded in it.

​Then at the end, surprise!

The timeless truths relate to the audience's current situation.

For this event, I shared a story of one of the most challenging setbacks I've ever experienced, and, surprisingly–especially to me–how I ended up better off because of the initial setback.

​Then I covered the three lessons I learned most from that experience, finishing with how they applied to the audience and the conference itself.

Shortly after my talk we were on a break when a 6 foot 3 inch successful business developer towered over me, pierced my eyes with his and said...

Thank you. That's exactly what we needed.

​Wow.

That was my goal, but the emotion in his voice told me those 20+ hours of prep were worth it.

​Takeaway:

​Keynotes matter.

If you're interested in the perfect way to design a keynote (or really, any formal presentation), see my interview with speech coach and guru Pat Quinn here.

​Pat is the top secret speaking advisor to the team at Tony Robbins and Michael Hyatt.

​He's my secret weapon too.

​The talk we recorded in that link is one of the most valuable pieces of content we've ever created!

3. Technical Offering Updates

Every conference needs these, but it's how you design them that matters.

Most companies focus on just the technical updates, but it's better to focus on how you talk about them with prospects and clients.

Our client did a great job of this.

Takeaway:

Integrate skill building into your technical updates.
It's one thing to know stats, steps and success stories for new offerings, but you'll be better off if you also add how to ask questions that will surface aligned, underlying needs (Gravitas Model!), how you compare your new offerings versus the competition (Resolve Objections!), and the tools you can use to create demand (Give To Gets!).

(All those tools are in The Snowball System and covered much more deeply in GrowBIG Training.)

It was hard work to add this important layer, and involved several Teams calls between our teams and theirs, and it was worth every second.

Technical updates alone won't help your people have the conversations you want them to have in the marketplace.

Add these other elements to drive success.

4. Focus On Skill Building

We spent 1.5 days in the big room teaching GrowBIG Training.

It was electric.

People want their companies to invest in them, now more than ever.

​I handled covering science and steps from the main stage. This gave everyone consistency, a common experience.

Then, six of my BIG colleagues each led a pod of about 5 tables. They developed deep relationships with each of their tables, helping with exercises and answering detailed questions. They crushed it.

Having everyone experience GrowBIG Training together in the same room was an incredible bonding experience. Especially today.

This client already has one of the strongest cultures I and our team have ever experienced, and going through GrowBIG together took things to the next level.

So fun!!

Takeaway:

It's been two long years working independently. Back to back calls. Getting things done.

More than ever, professionals want their companies to invest in them and their skills. And to do so in groups. Like, with other human beings in three dimensions.

​And since we've designed GrowBIG Training to be > 50% interactive activities, participants get to bond with each other as they learn.

​Super Pro Tip Takeaway:

We had their leaders go through GrowBIG Leader Training about two weeks before this event, and we grouped the tables by reporting teams, so the leaders could help guide the conversations and help think through implemention.​

So great!

5. Build In Connection Time

We had more breaks than I've ever seen designed in a program, and it was worth it.

​Beforehand, I thought we might have planned for too many breaks. Boy, was I wrong.

​Rule of thumb we used for breaks: we had a 20 minute break for about every 60 minutes of content.

​This is way more than we used to plan for pre COVID, and it was needed since this was the organization's first in person event in years.

​Knowing breaks were coming helped everyone focus during the meaty and fast paced GrowBIG Training segments.

​Then the break times themselves let everyone discuss learnings and connect.

​Our joint teams sweated every detail to provide connection opportunities. We even had everyone stick colored dots on their name tags to represent their HBDI profiles. Little things like that prompted more connections and discussions.

​Takeaway:

​People need more time to connect with each other in person than they did pre COVID.

​They need the spontaneous connections between long time friends and the "oh man, it's so great to finally meet you in person after all those Teams calls!" moments.​

Designing for connectivity was a winning move.

​Writing transition alert!

​Let me pop back up a level and recap.
​This event was one of my favorites among thousands that we've led or been involved with.

​We had fun. We learned. We fueled growth and impact. I'm still on a high from being around such great people, helping them crush their goals.

So let me close with this.

​Everyone wants to get back together again.

It's a great idea.

​But how you design your first post COVID event should look different than what you did before.

​Use the steps above to succeed.

Let's face it.

The last few years have been tough.

Our backs have been up against the wall.

Getting your team together now has more upside than ever.

It's time to come out swinging.

Mo