A good story is authentic, makes a connection, inspires and takes an audience on a journey. A successful conference or event must do the same!

All events should have a purpose with a clear story to tell. One of our previous clients, a large financial organisation sought a compelling program that would drive registrations, inform delegates and inspire positive action within the workplace. We were to deliver a one day conference and awards dinner for over 150 EAs (Executive Assistants) and PAs (Personal Assistants).

The initial planning of a conference program is critical to ensure the best results possible. Too often, we’ve come across programs that are defined by a “I want a high profile personality to drive ticket sales” attitude. With this approach there is no clear story being told, no journey for the delegates to take which leads to unclear or mixed messages at the end of the day.  

Define the event and its communication objectives

Stage one of the content design process is to clearly define the event and its communication objectives. We reviewed the target audience by identifying why they would attend, what’s their current mood and how we want influence that? For instance, we’d seek to invigorate a jaded audience with a series of presentations that allow them to be heard, inform them of positive change and prove their value to an organisation or role.  

If there was one thing delegates were to take away, what should it be?

To influence the overall program we worked with our client to distill multiple messages into one by asking, “If there was one thing delegates were to take away, what should it be?” This information led to the theme of the event.

We also attained clarity on the practical aspects of the project by reviewing the budget; understanding the audience size and demographics; venue preference (internal/external); and who has final sign off on all content. Combined, this information forms our measurable communication objectives for the program.

Research other events

We’ve designed programs across a multitude of industry sectors and audience segments. We always do our research! We conducted research into other conferences targeting a similar audience to understand their attendances, formats, timing, key learnings, sponsors, media, venue and industry partners. By working through existing events, we ensured our clients conference had a point of difference to effectively engage with the audience.

With sign off on the objectives, we were ready to develop a program outline and identify possible drawcard speakers as defined by the conference theme. We then grouped the program into sections which is similar to chapters in your favourite novel. For this group, our theme was “Transformation through Collaboration”.

We opened with a corporate overview which was followed by a personal development session that encouraged delegates to ‘speak up’. These sessions reinforced our key message that all had an important voice and role within the industry. After the first break, we programed three aspirational sessions that explored the developing roles of EAs and PAs which included high profile speakers from within the industry.

Following lunch, we shifted the focus to provide delegates with practical information via a series of presentations that outlined tips, solutions and strategies to better manage their day-to-day workload.

In the final session we shook things up (no pun intended) by offering delegates the opportunity to join a perfume or cocktail making workshop. These workshops encouraged delegates to have some fun and to interact with one another on a personal level.

Of course we presented multiple drafts and speaker suggestions to our client before a final program was locked in. However with our measurable objectives, clear messages and a program outline it didn’t take long to finalise.

The coherent program successfully attained and retained the interest of the target audience. The event itself engaged delegates in an affirmative and meaningful way by ensuring they understood the company’s direction whilst acknowledging the importance of their roles. In accordance with our feedback, delegates were ‘blown away by the energy and felt empowered’ by the event.

Getting the mix of quality presenters and topics right was the result of mindful planning. This conference was a great reminder that event producers must become innovative storytellers to deliver memorable experiences.

* The above article was written by our Managing Director, Peta Moore and was featured on Spice News in May 2016. The article has been updated and reposted in January 2022.