Written by Mike Lepis, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Vignette
Have you ever attended a memorable corporate event? Something where they just ‘got everything right’? Where experience, content, culture, and community all come together. The venue was great, the location was inspirational, speakers were focused and passionate, your guest speaker not only entertained but blew your mind. You learned a great deal of things and left feeling focused and energized? You probably need a day or two to recover and then you’ll start sharing the experience with your team. You will probably hear a lot of, ‘aw man, I wish I could have been there.’
Now imagine what it takes to put on an event like that. We’ve been doing employee events with one of our large retail brand clients since 2008. At the end of this most recent event we were paid one of the nicest compliments by a senior executive when they described Vignette as their creative partner who ‘knows us so well, they finish our sentences for us.’.
Employee events are a shot in the arm to company culture, alignment to purpose, and employee engagement
We know events are hard, and sometimes mysterious for clients who don’t do them all the time. But events are an amazing opportunity to strengthen your company culture bonds that are being eroded by the evolution of business and workplace changes. Events help combat the realities of today’s workplace challenges: teams are dispersed, corporate direction shifts, people drift from your purpose, new leaders come in, and people don’t know who they are.
Fresh off this event, I’d like to share five insights that put corporate employee events in perspective from both a planning and ROI standpoint.
#1 – It takes a team
Don’t try to do it all on your own. First, there is the technical expertise you need from venue selection and management, audio and visual, and content management. A good event planner can pay for themselves negotiating with hotels and transportation partners. And a good team is so valuable for two reasons,
- You still have your job to do. Just because you are putting on an event, it does not mean your core job responsibilities stop.
- Hire Event specialists as they are professionals and know how to put a show on. You wouldn’t negotiate a big contract without the help of an attorney so don’t try and put on a show without a show runner. Planners, producers, designers, etc. can take your event to the next level and save you the ulcer.
#2 – Tell your story from the attendee’s perspective
Nancy Duarte has a great perspective on presentations. She asks, ‘who is the hero of your presentation?’. Guess what? It’s not the presenter; it is the audience. Don’t forget them when creating and planning your event program. Great events and great presentations don’t overlook that the audience is the hero. Be thoughtful about the amount of content, the length of breaks, flow from one location to the next, and time needed to stay connected to their own offices and workload. The event is for them and don’t forget it.
#3 – Guest speakers are great but employees want to hear from your leaders
When Seth Godin is your guest speaker you might think, ‘we got this, we don’t have to do much else.’ You’re wrong. Seth did an amazing job at this last event. Notes were taken, laughs were abundant, minds were blown. It was a success. But seeing the CEO, President, SVP, Regional VPs and HR executives take stage was just as powerful and probably more meaningful. Leadership messaging was honest, transparent and detailed. The highlight was a Q & A with their CEO, called ‘Unscripted.’ He was interviewed onstage by an HR executive, and the exchange was authentic, personal, and delivered in his own words. If you can convince your most senior leader to embrace this approach, I strongly encourage it.
#4 – Build Culture
I’ve seen corporate events that are just a roadshow of new programs, company direction, and an excuse to get out of the office. This is more of a ‘field trip’ and not a memorable event. Business content does need to be addressed but how do you build culture and make it have impact on employees’ lives? What I love about this event we just wrapped is that the client brought culture into every message throughout the entire event. Here are a few highlights of how an event can enhance your corporate culture.
- Through social events such as receptions, cocktail hours, and group activities employees were able to make new connections and strengthen current relationships.
- Group workouts and healthy food choices promote balance and well-being.
- An event App empowers attendees to share their experiences with their teams who are still in the field keeping the business running.
- Make employee recognition personal and thoughtful through a series of smaller receptions hosted by individual business units. This cut down on the length of the program and gave attendees more time to connect and enjoy themselves.
#5 Plan, rehearse and rehearse some more
One of my favorite quotes is from a Hollywood director of photography. It was awhile ago but it went something like this, “On the set, we plan extensively so we can have the opportunity to improvise.”. There are so many challenges, changes, moving parts and unknowns at an event, that is a given. If your plan is solid and you have rehearsed you can handle almost anything. Maybe a presenter runs long, a presenter runs short, and someone wants to turn their demo into a Q&A, something happens with the business that needs to be addressed. With a good plan and plenty of rehearsal, you’ll be confident to handle almost anything to everything.
Events Drive The Employee and Customer Experience
If you are planning or have been tasked with your next employee event, remember that it takes a village. A successful event leaves your employees feeling inspired engaged and eager to share their experience with their team.
In Seth Godin’s keynote message he shared the following insight, “with industrialization and growth comes uniformity and sameness. While we used to go the tailor and have custom clothes made now, all clothes look pretty much the same. You can buy a t-shirt online or in a brick and mortar store. So what is that sets that t-shirt apart? It’s the experience consumers have when they buy it. People want to connect and feel special. Opening an Amazon box is not the same as a thoughtful salesperson who takes the time to style you and provides great customer service.”.
The same can be said for events. You can go to a stodgy hotel, give a boring schwag bag, handout some mundane agenda, and serve rubber chicken. Can you send out a pack of information to your team and call it good? Can you host a webinar or share a video? Sure you can. But if you tout ‘experience’, ‘culture’, and ‘community’ it is best to lead by example and create memorable experiences. Because you know what? Those who attend that event are now engaged and motivated to go out and recreate those experiences for their employees and ultimately, your customers.
And isn’t a warm smile and a great brand experience better than a paper cut from an Amazon box?