5 tips for reinventing the annual conference

Taking delegates out of their comfort zone is just one of the ways corporate planners can reinvent their annual conference, according to brand speakers at C&IT's Corporate Forum.

Panel with event planners from Clarks, Barclays and L'Oreal at Corporate Forum
Panel with event planners from Clarks, Barclays and L'Oreal at Corporate Forum

Speaking at a panel session at The Grand, Brighton, this morning, Alison Williams, head of events at L'Oreal, Lucy Hagen, group conference & events Manager at C&J Clarks International, and Emma Stoker, vice president of personal and corporate banking events, PCB Events at Barclays, shared advice on planning a great annual conference.

1. Challenge expectations

"For us, being a financial company, we don’t want to lose our history but we also want to show how we can be innovative too. So we use lots of blank canvas venues now to try and challenge perceptions of financial events."

"At one of our recent conferences, we completely changed the seating plan and moved away from the typical theatre-style," said Stoker. "Instead we put the stage in the middle of the room with everyone sat around it, so both the speakers and the audience had to engage in a very different way.

2. Keep entertainment simple 

Hagen said: "I believe that simple is key. Of course, when choosing entertainment it depends on type of event we’re having. For an awards event, we might choose a band which is big, loud and celebratory, but if it’s an annual conference that might not be appropriate. We try and have presenters from within the company and who already understand audience; in a big company there are always people to choose from. I find they can really engage with the audience and even get away with jokes others couldn’t."

3. Use technology wisely

Williams commented: "Using new technology can be great at events, but there’s also a cost. Virtual reality for example is really expensive, so you have to ask yourself if it’s helping you deliver your message? I get excited to play with new technology, but I won’t use it for the sake of it." 

4. Take delegates out of their comfort zone

" I worked on a very interactive event for our Mortgage team once," said Stoker. "Where groups had to move through a house and in each area experience a different part of the mortgage journey from a customer’s point of view. Through this they were also able to learn their colleagues’ roles in that journey. They weren’t just sat in a room being talked to, instead they were engaging in the experience and seeing things in a different way, which worked very well. 

5. Remember the ‘before and after’

"If you want brand loyalty, start putting across the messages before the event, and continue with them after the event," said Stoker. "We record our events and put the videos up on the company intranet, so those who weren’t there can share in what happened too."  

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C&IT's Corporate Forum kicks off today at The Grand Brighton

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