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Creating a Conference ‘Idea Factory’

March 30, 2007

By Ed Bernacki

A few years ago I was asked to be the fifth speaker of five at an innovation summit. It occurred to me, “What can I add that they have already heard?” As I speak on ‘turning your organization into an idea factory’ I asked the organizers if I could scrap my keynote and organize an ‘idea factory’, a type of brain storm session.

The key to brainstorming with large groups is to focus everyone on the same challenge or problem. Define it in writing. In this case, I used research that listed 10 factors for shaping a more innovative organization. I wanted ideas that any company could use to enhance these 10 factors.

You can use the same model and take 60 minutes of your agenda to capture hundreds of ideas from your audience. Here’s how:

Use round tables for 7 to 10 people. Define what you want people to brainstorm in writing. Then create a ‘table top’ brainstorming leaders kit with two pages in it:

1.      An ‘instructions’ page for a table leader that outlines the process.

2.      A ‘challenge’ page that defines the issue you want people to focus. Leave room for the leader to write ideas on it as it will be collected.

Open this session with a 10 minute ‘mini keynote’ to discuss the issue you want to brainstorm. This provides clarification and context. Be clear. Ask for ideas, not opinions.

Have groups pick a table leader who reads the written challenge. They start the discussion for 30 minutes and summarize the 3 to 5 main ideas that are generated. Encourage leaders to expand each idea to a full sentence or two. Collect these pages and recognize your leaders by reading a few of the ideas to close the event. 

In my case, I assigned one of the 10 factors to each table. About 250 ideas from 38 tables were collected. The organizers decided to publish a booklet that summarized the innovation summit. Two months later participants received a copy with all of the ideas in it.

The paradox is that if I have spoken in the traditional way, nothing new would have been created. This approach led to a great deal of value and who knows, perhaps some participants used to these ideas to turn their own organizations into an idea factory!

Harness the Brains at Your Conference

March 28, 2007

By Ed Bernacki

Somewhere in conference folklore is the idea that conferences are for learning. I missed that lesson. I believe you should harness their brains of your audience to storm through an important  challenge at least once a conference. The key to brainstorming with large groups is to focus everyone on the same challenge or goal. Define it in writing. Here are five things you could a challenge an audience to consider:

·   What questions: what would you ask our CEO, Board, etc. if you could?

·   What’s your opinion: what’s good or what’s not good about something.

·   What ideas: how could we improve, fix or enhance some aspect of our business?

·   What problems: what problems should we address?

·   What challenges: what are your big challenge facing you this year?

People want to contribute to the success of their organization and industry. Harness their feedback in ways that create value.

Generating Great Ideas at Conferences

March 26, 2007

By Ed Bernacki

As a speaker on innovative thinking, I often see many ideas left on the conference floor because no one asked for them.  Any conference can be an ‘idea factory’. Here are the basics to get high quality participation:

·   Know what you are asking for. If you want opinions, ask “What makes it hard to contribute your best to your job?” If you want ideas, ask “How can we make this a better organization to work for?”

·   Give people a clear and concise written ‘challenge’ to explain what you want people to do. 

·   Know what you will do with these ideas after the event.

·   Never ask for ideas if you are not prepared to do something with them.

Word your question or challenge to ensure that it is easily understood. You want everyone focused on the same creative challenge. Collect the ideas and recognize the effort people invested to contribute them.   

Say No to Sedentary Lifestyles!

March 23, 2007

By Sam Guiragossian

Obesity is on the rise due to poor dieting and sedentary lifestyles.  Exercise is a great way to help combat this problem.  Staying fit while on the road can be a daunting task for travelers.  Hotels are coming to the aid of road warriors by offering state-of-the-art fitness centers as well as healthier food and beverage options for guests.  Westin Hotels & Resorts have implemented Westin WORKOUT® facilities powered by Reebok which offer top-of-the line exercise equipment.   These modern clubs feature Life Fitness treadmills, Elliptical trainers, recumbent/upright bikes and a complete line of strength training machines. 

In addition, The Westin Chicago River North offers a No Excuse Workout regime where the hotel provides freshly laundered work out clothes (t-shirts, shorts and even sneakers) for guests who ‘forgot’ to pack their workout gear.  This No Excuse Workout is perfect for travelers looking to pack light, but still wanting to stay fit while on vacation.  Everything is provided including a free personal training session with me or one of the other on-property certified personal trainers.

Remember that any form of physical activity is better than nothing.  If you’re crunched for time, a quick set (or two) of good old fashioned push-ups or squats is a great way to increase the heart rate while strengthening the lower body muscles.  Skip the elevator/escalator and take the stairs to improve cardiovascular endurance.  Always remember to use caution when doing any form of exercise and pay close attention to what your body is telling you.  For some, you may need to consult with your physician before beginning any form of physical activity.

After your daily physical routine, try the Posterior Shoulder Stretch.  Gently pull on your elbow with the opposite hand across the front part of your body until you feel a stretch in your shoulders.  Hold this position for 0 – 15 seconds and repeat three times.

Start Each Day with the Proper Nutrients

March 21, 2007

By Sam Guiragossian

Eating a well-balanced meal is extremely important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In conjunction with regular physical activity, nutrition plays a key role in not only losing weight, but also in how we feel.   Starting each day with the proper nutrients is vital. 

For most people breakfast is probably the last thing on their mind, but studies have proven that it is the most important meal of the day.  Not only does it refuel your body, but it also jumpstarts your metabolism for the day.  Eating a healthy breakfast leads to a lifetime of health benefits, for example:

1.) Having greater strength and endurance.
2.) Enhancing the body’s ability to consume more essential vitamins and minerals, and in turn, decreasing fat and bad cholesterol.
3.) Improving mental concentration and productivity.
4.) Weight control.
5.)  Reducing the risk of heart disease by reducing cholesterol.

A healthy breakfast should consist of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and small amounts of fat.  Breakfast options should consist of one food item from each of the following food groups: fresh fruits and vegetables; grains such as whole grain cereals, low fat bran muffins, whole grain bagels, wheat/grain toast; dairy consisting of low-fat or skim milk, low fat yogurts, cottage cheese; and protein including protein powder, hard boiled eggs, lean meats, and poultry, salmon, peanut butter or tuna.

Keep in mind that by skipping breakfast you will feel ravenous by lunchtime and set yourself up to over eat in the afternoon.  Bypassing a well-balanced breakfast could cause you to over indulge in some high-fat mid-morning treats.  So remember to keep it simple and stay away from oversized breakfast sandwiches, sugary cereals and sodium-laced processed foods.

A mid-morning stretch is also a great way to begin your day.  Try the Lower Cervical/Upper Thoracic stretch.  Clasp both hands together in front of your body with arms fully extended.  Gently pull shoulder blades apart and bend your head forward.  Hold this position for 10 – 15 seconds and repeat three times.  As with all techniques, remember to stretch in a passive manner to achieve a mild and comfortable stretch.

How Stretching Can Increase Flexibility

March 19, 2007

By Sam Guiragossian

With the rise of today’s sedentary population it is vital that we incorporate some form of physical activity into our busy lifestyle.  There are many benefits to stretching properly as it helps reduce aches and pains often caused by sitting for long periods of time.  Some specific benefits of how stretching can increase flexibility and offer a better quality of life are:

1.) Reducing the tension in muscles while helping muscles relax.  Studies have shown that increased flexibility can significantly reduce aches throughout the body.
2.) Improving flow of oxygen and intake of essential nutrients. Stretching allows the muscle to relax, tense muscles cut off their own circulation, which can result in lack of oxygen and nutrients. 
3.) Helps reduce and manage stress.  Flexibility significantly reduces tension and stress in your body, which is essential as stress is a leading cause of many different ailments.
4.) Improves posture.  Stretching your lower back, shoulders, and chest properly helps to align your back and improve posture.  This is crucial because many jobs today confine people to their desks or have them standing and leaning much of the day. 
5.) Providing better blood circulation.  Stretching increases blood supply to the muscles and joints, and improves blood circulation to the entire body.

A quick and simple stretch to try at your desk is the Seated Low Back Stretch.  While sitting in a chair spread your feet apart about shoulder width and bend forward at the waist towards the floor.  You should feel a comfortable stretch in the lower back area.  Hold this position for 10 – 15 seconds and repeat three times.  When stretching pay attention to how the stretch feels as it should not be painful.  If you experience any pain immediately stop.  Breathing is vital to stretching properly so remember to inhale and exhale naturally.

What You Should Expect From Your Speaker

March 16, 2007

By Warren Greshes, CPAE

As a Meeting Professional, you know the performance of an outside speaker can make or break your meeting.  Outside of the decision making process, which becomes a little easier if you follow the advice in my first blog entry on choosing the right topics, once the speaker is hired, there are many things he or she can do to insure an outstanding performance. 

• Preprogram questionnaires are great, but nothing beats the personal touch.  Preprogram questionnaires are great, but only if used in addition to phone intake and needs analysis sessions (If the speaker is local, a face to face intake session would be perfect).  In my experience there are way too many things I can’t learn about a company from a preprogram questionnaire; plus a piece of paper can’t answer any questions I might have that come from the answers I’m reading.  With many clients, it could take more than one phone conversation. 

In the case of a sales meeting, while I will speak to the meeting planner, I find equally, if not more important to speak to a sales executive or two, in order to get deeper insight into the group, allowing me to customize my talk more effectively .

• Attend the function the night before.  I prefer flying in the day before my speech (I don’t trust the airlines that much), allowing me to attend any receptions and dinners clients might have.  Believe me; I’m not doing it for the hotel food.  I find it gives me a great opportunity to meet and get a feel for my audience.  If nothing else, it helps me find the good sports I can poke fun of, which is a great way to connect with the audience. 

• Attend any sessions going on before the talk.  If there are breakout sessions going on I’ll cruise in and out of them in order to learn more about the issues the audience face and what’s going on in their company, industry and with their clients.  I especially like to sit in on talks given by top executives that outline where the company’s been, where they are now and where they’re going in the future.  There is always something I hear in these sessions that I can use.

• Understand the Meeting Planner has enough to worry about.  Since a Meeting Planner’s job is all about putting out fires, while making sure nobody notices they’re happening, one of the speaker’s responsibilities is to make the Meeting Planner’s life easier.  Speakers should:

o Call just as soon as they check in, to let the Meeting Planner know they’ve arrived. 
o Check out the room where they’ll be speaking in the night before, to avoid any last minute set-up changes.
o Be down early the next morning to test the microphone and AV equipment making sure everything is in perfect working order. 

The way I figure it, the easiest way to get invited back, is to be a great guest.

Keep Your Audience Engaged and the Energy High

March 14, 2007

By Warren Greshes, CPAE

So much of what will determine a salesperson’s success is based on their attitude, commitment, enthusiasm and energy.  The way they feel about themselves, the company, the clients and the products and services they sell.  If they don’t believe in who they are and what they do; don’t expect the customers to believe it. 

Because of that, a killer sales meeting should be bursting with energy and enthusiasm.  Now, I know that’s hard to do; especially when people are cooped up in a hotel or conference center going from one session and meeting room to another, but there are certain little things a great meeting professional can do to keep that energy and enthusiasm at a high level.

• Make sure the room fits the audience.  The wrong size breakout or general session room can absolutely suck the energy right out of your audience.  Have you ever been to a sporting event where the stadium or arena was packed vs. being only half full?  The difference in energy both on the field and in the stands is staggering. 

As a speaker, I would rather speak in a room that’s too small for the audience and is bursting at the seams, rather a room big enough to seat 600 for a crowd of 300.  Your speakers and presenters feed off the energy of the audience and visa versa.   

• Put your speakers in the right time slot.  High energy speakers to open, close and in the dreaded right-after-lunch spot.  After dinner speakers should be light and humorous.  I am a high energy speaker.  While I use a lot of humor and consider myself a good story teller, I should not be put in the after dinner slot because of the content level of my talks.  I am not the light and airy type, yet I’ve had many companies who’ve wanted me in that slot (to answer your question, I either turn it down or convince them to put me in another slot).

In addition, watch where you place the afternoon break.  I’ve found that while audiences have less energy near the end of the day than at the beginning, their lowest energy level is right after lunch.  Try to place the afternoon break closer to the end of lunch than the end of the day.  Give your attendees a chance to get their second wind sooner rather than later.

• Don’t let the presentation materials become the presentation.  While Powerpoint is a great presentation tool, too many presenters use it as a crutch, rather than as an enhancement to their presentation.  Making a room full of salespeople read slides is pretty much the same thing as slipping knock-out drops into their water glasses.

• Motivation and inspiration is great; but motivation and inspiration with content is even better.  While salespeople want to be motivated, inspired and entertained; they also want to be informed.  Most salespeople are bottom line people.  They want to know “What 2 or 3 good ideas are you going to give me today, that I can implement tomorrow in order to start growing my business by the day after that.”

Creating Killer Sales Meetings

March 12, 2007

By Warren Greshes, CPAE

As someone who has been a keynote speaker at sales meetings on a local, regional, national and international level for twenty-one years, I am aware of the challenges faced by meeting professionals in planning and delivering a sales meeting that your audience will still be talking about by the time the next meeting rolls around.

It’s not just a matter of finding the best venue that fits the budget, coming up with activities that everyone will enjoy, or picking the right presenters and speakers.  To me, a big key to pulling off a memorable sales meeting, is the meeting planner’s ability to pick topics, themes and subject matter that meets the audience’s needs, while also hitting on the biggest issues and obstacles they face on an everyday basis.

If you really want to know what an audience of salespeople wants and needs, act like a salesperson and treat them as a client, because, after all, your audience is your client. 

Talk to them; find out what they do, how they do it and who they do it to.  You could send out surveys and questionnaires, but remember: these are salespeople.  The biggest reason they became salespeople was; they didn’t like to do homework in school and paperwork is not their favorite thing. 

The chances of you getting back a sufficient number of surveys and questionnaires are not very good.  Make the survey a part of your research mix, but also add some “High-touch.”  Here are three more things you can do to get the information you need to put on that killer sales meeting.

• Spend a day with a salesperson.  Go out with one of your salespeople on their sales calls for a day.  This will give you a tremendous feel, understanding and appreciation for what they do.  You’ll share the highs and the lows salespeople encounter on a daily basis.  See the emotional side of selling and find out how personal rejection can be.
• Spend a day with a Sales Manager.  As opposed to salespeople, being a good sales manager requires an entirely different set of skills.  What better way to understand those differences than to spend a day with a sales manager.  Pay attention to the interaction between the salesperson and sales manager.  Pick the sales manager’s brain about the strengths and weaknesses of his or her sales force.
• Attend a local sales meeting.  Most local, district or regional sales managers hold weekly or monthly meetings with their 5 to 10 salespeople.  Attend one or two of these meetings.  Listen for the issues that seem to be the most important.  These meetings can also be a good place to find in-house speakers.

None of these suggestions will be difficult to implement and I’ll guarantee the sales force will be impressed with your commitment to making their sales meeting memorable.         

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine (Holes)

March 09, 2007

By Rob Carey

Many meeting planners think of golf as an activity that necessarily eats up most of an entire day on the agenda. But that does not have to be the case.

In fact, half a traditional round—nine holes of golf—can be the perfect activity for when a group needs an early-morning or late-afternoon teambuilding activity, or simply a long lunch break. Because if you are going to bring a group to a resort, it is counterproductive to force attendees to look longingly out the meeting room windows, fretting that they have no time to stroll that beautiful golf course just a few steps away.

Starting the meeting at 7:30 and ending for the day at 3:00 allows about three hours for folks to play nine holes and still get to a reception and dinner. What’s more, the resort will love that you are sending golfers out at a time of day when the course is usually empty.

At least one resort that has created a specific plan for quick group jaunts onto the links. Omni ChampionsGate Resort in Orlando offers the “9 at 9” and “Sunset Swing” golf packages for meeting groups; “9 at 9” includes breakfast, nine holes of golf, and a roving teaching pro to give players tips as they move along the course. The “Sunset Swing” package offers lunch before the round, or a casual dinner after the round, in addition to the same golf amenities.

Other resorts would surely be amenable to creating a similar program if a planner requests.

Besides being able to satisfy your attendees’ golf cravings in fewer than three hours, a half-round of golf has the advantage of being a little more than half the cost of a full round.

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