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I present and train at corporate offsite events and meetings of all sizes, and I’ve seen many that could have been improved. To prevent you from making the same mistakes, this is the second half of my two-part article on improving your annual corporate offsite meeting. According to Harvard Business Review, “a successful off-site can align executives, galvanize corporate performance, and strengthen the company’s position in its industry.” So you want to ensure yours is a good one.

Last week, I gave advice for the executives who will be speaking at your event. Today, I’ll talk about how organizers can structure, schedule and program an annual corporate offsite that will improve productivity long after the event is over. Be sure to avoid these mistakes:

Failing to Get Specific About Conference Goals

As I mentioned in last week’s post, the internal speakers should first list their goals for their talk. That’s true for planning the offsite, too. What outcomes would make this conference a success? What are the most important takeaways?

Your answers to those questions will dictate your conference agenda. For example, let’s say you aim to increase camaraderie among employees at different branches. Your goal is for everyone to collaborate more effectively and thus improve productivity. To meet that goal, give employees plenty of activities where they can socialize and get to know each other. Maybe the VP of HR can facilitate or lead a “connection” exercise (for help with this, check out the Conference Ripple by my friend Steve Harper.)

Underestimating Presentations and Training Sessions

Your speakers are the single most important factor in whether your conference meets your goals.

As a conference organizer, you’ll probably be planning a couple of types of sessions:

  • Presentations convey information. They should also motivate and inspire. They are typically 90 minutes or less in length.
  • Training sessions transfer knowledge and offer specific learning objectives. Because they go into greater depth, they may run longer than a presentation.

Don’t underestimate how much extra work creating either of these will be required for an internal staffer to squeeze in around his or her regular duties (in addition to the dangers of putting an inexperienced speaker in front of your team). For a training session especially, you may find it worthwhile to hire professionals to conduct these sessions. In my experience at these events, I find that a more general talk by a subject-matter expert can be a refreshing addition to a day or more full of technical, industry-specific content. It is important for the team to hear from the leadership, and vice-versa, but this interaction may be better suited to more informal breakout sessions.

Delivering Boring Talks

If you hire professional speakers and trainers carefully, you increase the chances that your attendees will be engaged and that the conference will deliver results.

But you may not have the budget for a full slate of professional speakers, or just not enough time for a lot of outside content.

In that case, I suggest that you keep the sessions delivered by nonprofessional internal  speakers to 20 minutes or less. If a session really needs to go longer than that, pair these speakers with co-presenters. This can help make their talks more interesting for the audience.

You can also consider creating guidelines for your internal speakers. You can pass along tips like my advice on visuals from last week’s article. And you can provide details such as the size of the room where they’ll be speaking (which can affect their presentation content and style).

Dampening Attendees’ Energy Levels

Finally, keep in mind that the same things that help your employees improve productivity on a typical workday will also help them have a more productive conference. Give them some breaks to synthesize all the information and ideas they’re taking in. Serve healthy meals and snacks. Rich or sugary fare will leave your attendees sluggish by afternoon sessions. Encourage them to take notes on paper instead of their devices. This will ease the temptation to answer email and help them give their full attention to the sessions.

Your annual corporate offsite is likely a large annual expense. For more tips on improving its effectiveness, feel free to reach out. (I’m happy to discuss it with you, even if you’re not hiring outside speakers. My advice is always free.)