Of all the meetings top executives go to in a year, none is more important than the strategy off-site, where the most essential conversations for the future of the business occur. Yet it is the rare management team that can say its strategy off-site truly changed the way the business is run. At best, participants do some vague direction setting and work on team-building skills; at worst, they write off the retreat as a waste of time and resources. It needn’t be like that.
Most leadership conferences are a waste of time and money. But they don’t have to be.
Most leadership conferences or summits, which virtually all large and midsize companies hold for their top employees at least once a year, are the same. They begin with a numbing sequence of platform presentations from a parade of C-level executives. Later sessions address topics that concern only a portion of the people in the room. Perhaps a motivational speaker adds a bit of entertainment, while some breakout sessions and monotonous open-mic Q&As pass for an exchange of ideas.
There’s a better way. Genuine and productive conversations can be had with hundreds of people at once. With the right approach and practices, attendees can engage in dialogue with top executives and their peers in a structured way that encourages creative responses. C-level leaders leave the meeting understanding the opinions of their frontline executives, and participants leave with unambiguous messages that they can turn into actions.
A leadership conference’s success is largely determined by what happens before it convenes. At the onset, a conference planning team is established to oversee meeting preparation and ensure the meeting runs effectively. Once the team is in place, a clear set of objectives for the conference is defined in consultation with other meeting stakeholders. These objectives serve as a ‘north star’ when developing the agenda. Each and every topic helps accomplish the objectives and deliver a compelling story that will resonate with attendees.
To minimize monotonous in-room presentations, the conference’s attendees are engaged weeks before the meeting actually convenes: opinions on select topics are gathered to help the planning team optimize the agenda, and a consumable, targeted pre-read is distributed a week before the meeting (often leveraging videos and other media).
Once the conference begins, the pace and rhythm of the meeting are controlled and adjusted when necessary, ensuring all participants are actively involved. Innovative frameworks and tools are leveraged to both improve the effectiveness of top-down and bottom-up communication and optimize collaboration among attendees. Following the conference, a meeting summary is distributed to attendees, which ensures that all commitments made during the session – up, down and across the organization – are kept and the conversation continues.
To learn more about our expertise read our Harvard Business Review article “Leadership Summits That Work.”
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As the pandemic eases and we resume gathering in person, hybrid meetings will become a permanent part of how organizations function. These meetings bring added complexity at the same time that our collective Covid-driven year of meeting virtually raised expectations for remote participation. We share eight best practices to help make your hybrid meetings more effective.