How to Ensure that Your Next Conference Will Be a Big Success
If you have a big conference coming up and want to make sure it is has major impact, Idea Champions can help. We design and facilitate conferences that make a big difference -- memorable events that are totally engaging, enjoyable, and radically increase the odds of your conference outcomes sustaining over time. Here's how we do it:
1. VISION CLARIFICATION: First things first. If you are going to invest a bunch of time and money into a company offsite, it makes sense to get completely clear about your hoped for outcomes -- and how you will measure success. Which is why our conference services begin with an in-depth conversation with you. You share your vision with us. You share your concerns, too -- along with the pros and cons of past conferences. We listen, address your concerns, and explain how we can help you turn your vision into reality.
2. NEEDS ASSESSMENT: After we get your input, we'll connect with a cross-section of conference attendees. Yes, we want to know what you think, but we also want to know what they think -- especially since they are the majority. Towards that end, we'll interview and poll selected attendees (and customers, too) -- providing you with a crystal clear picture of the forces at work and how they are likely to impact your conference design.
3. LEARNING PLANS: Will there be chicken at your conference? Muffins? Nametags? Yes, there will be. But there will also be too many people just taking up space, assuming their role is to be spoon fed by presenters. Not a good idea. If you want your offsite to really make a difference, you've got to change the game and create a learner-directed approach. Towards that end, long before your conference begins, attendees will commit to three things they want to learn at your event, three people they want to learn it from, and three things they can teach. All of this will be summarized in a Conference Playbook that everyone will receive -- a simple way to ensure meaningful, real-time, peer-to-peer learning.
4. AGENDA DESIGN: Most corporate conferences are like American cities. Sprawl rules the day. Someone speaks too long. Then someone else speaks too long. Slides are shown. Maybe there's a cheesy icebreaker. And then people enter into a trance state. No matter what the particulars of your event, there's one thing you can definitely count on -- people will be sneaking peeks at their smart phones under the table and wondering what's for lunch. The missing piece? A well-crafted conference design that ensures maximum engagement, teamwork, creativity, networking, commitment, fun, and follow-up. Hint: We know how to do this.
5. STORYTELLING: We know there's a lot of bright spots in your company — best practices, lessons learned, and past successes. That's the good news. The not-so-good news? Too few of these bright spots are known. That's why the conferences we design include a healthy dose of storytelling -- not just from our presenters to your attendees, but from your attendees to each other. Months before your event, we'll identify a mix of in-house successes and coach selected attendees how to present these successes, in story form, from the main stage.
6. PROJECT MANAGEMENT: Every conference has a lot of moving parts. Usually, your conference planner is responsible for these moving parts. But when Idea Champions gets into the mix, there will be other moving parts your conference planner will not be familiar with -- conference elements that will need to be managed by someone, and that someone is us. Our Project Manager will work closely with your conference team to make sure that all of the puzzle pieces fit together and that nothing falls through the cracks. And if a crack opens up, we'll fill it fast.
7. COPYWRITING: Let's assume, for the moment, that you are totally clear about the purpose and process of your conference. Congratulations. But even if you are clear, there's a good chance that the rest of your organization is not. Why? Because, historically, your pre-conference communications have been an odd mix of unclear, uninteresting, and unread. That's why our conference services include our world-class copywriting and editorial services. We can help you -- oh over-committed future client of ours -- get the word out in a painless, elegant way.
8. FACILITATION: You know the old expression "If a tree falls in a forest and there's no one around to hear, did it make a sound?" Well, there's a modern day correlative to that: "If a conference happens and no one is listening, was your money well spent?" The answer is a resounding NO, but we can fix that. On site, the Idea Champions team will do everything possible to ensure that participant engagement is at an all-time high. Based on your need and budget, we can do any or all of the following: MC, facilitate icebreakers, deliver keynote presentations, lead team building challenges, get people out of the box, spark idea generation, facilitate breakout sessions, stage manage, create slide shows on the fly, and work closely with your team to adapt the agenda, as needed.
9. TAKEAWAYS: When attendees leave your conference, you want them to leave with more than a t-shirt, hat, and water bottle. You want them to leave with the kind of takeaways that will help them continue to live the spirit of your event. Guess what? That's what we provide -- decks of innovation-sparking cards, decks of team building cards, books that foster a culture of innovation, booklets that spark idea generation, and a selection of more than 50 handouts on innovation, change, leadership. storytelling, and creative thinking. Plus, we create a private page for your organization on our website with links to more than 20 videos and articles that will keep your people on top of their game long after your event is over.
10. FOLLOW-UP PLANNING: One of the biggest complaints we hear from our clients is that, no matter how good their conferences may be, meaningful follow-up rarely happens. Sound familiar? This is why we will work closely with you and your design team, on the front end, to strategize an easy-to-implement follow-up plan that will significantly increase the odds of conference outcomes sustaining over time. You're not the only one who wants results. We do, too.
Business Casual Conferences from the Future? Dress Code Optional.
Idea Champions has just launched a new conference design and facilitation service. If you have a big conference coming up and you want it to have major impact, we're your resource -- savvy conference designers, team builders, keynote speakers, facilitators, innovation catalysts, edutainers, and big meeting guides.April 04, 2017
When You Want Your Next Big Conference to Be a Breakthrough
Nine months ago, I received an intriguing email from Rich Nugent, CEO of a fast-growing and forward thinking commercial roofing company, Nations Roof. "I need a breakthrough" read the subject line.
The next day Rich and I talked about his desire to make sure his annual conference made a big difference in the trajectory of his organization. Rich not only wanted to establish more unified commitment among his 20+ business units, he wanted to launch a new initiative that would jump start his vision for Nation's Roof to become the "Mercedes of Customer Service" in his industry.
But for that to happen, Rich knew that something needed to shift, especially given the fact that there were so many sub-cultures in his organization. Long story short, Idea Champions worked with Rich and his team (staring nine months before the conference) to get all quacking ducks in (an out) of row. Then one of us (Mitch) made his way to Costa Rica to facilitate the process.
Below is the first wave of comments Idea Champions has received from some of the 61 conference participants.
COMMENTS FROM CONFERENCE PARTICIPANTS
"As the CEO of a company with offices and sales professionals throughout the USA, it's a very difficult cultural environment. The value of collaboration to our own growth and profitability is obviously enormous, but to our customers it's immeasurable. After several annual meetings where we did our best to communicate a unified message, we thought it was time to get help. So we made the decision to bring in Mitch Ditkoff of Idea Champions to facilitate the communication of urgency and opportunity to our organization. It was the right decision. I never saw our people so engaged. I have been told by the majority of attendees how much they got out of this meeting. They have expressed that they get it now and feel not only a greater commitment to the company, but to each other. Mitch and Idea Champions will be a part of our future growth and ability to provide high quality services to our customers." -- Rich Nugent, CEO, Nations Roof
"Mitch Ditkoff's facilitation of our 2017 conference showed us how authentic, interactive storytelling can spark creativity and improve company culture." - Jill Tackett, Director of Strategic Initiatives
"The biggest impact made by Idea Champions at our annual meeting was helping Nations Roof and it's many business units change the way we look at things. Because, as you know, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. We took a great step forward in our evolution, as a company, thanks to Mitch." - Larry Morgan, President, National Sales
"Great job of facilitating our annual meeting! You kept it lively and interesting, while guiding us to apply the ideas and business principles that we were discussing. The stories and plans we generated at the conference will drive our strategic plans for years to come. And thanks, also, for the many new ideas you helped us generate. I can't wait to get started on them." - John Geary, Chief Marketing Officer
"The Storytelling approach you used at our corporate conference brought our extremely diverse group together like no one or nothing ever has." - Doug Ingle, Regional VP of Sales
"This past week, in Costa Rica, Mitch lead our group of 61 employees to a place of unified commitment. His ability to build a "one-team" mentality brought our people much closer together, helped us work better as a team, and clarified our goals. Mitch's group process and facilitation style opened our eyes to areas we need to focus on in order to meet our goal of providing extraordinary service to our customers." - Nick Little, National Service Manager
"I enjoyed your presentation very much. It was interactive and engaging rather than numbers and charts." - Dave Hinkley, President, North
"The last few annual events we struggled to bring a group together that interacts more or less once a year to accomplish something constructive. But this year's meeting was different. I really enjoyed your facilitation. You kept me engaged and I really believe that all of us benefited from your process. The River Crossing activity was very insightful. It hit the nail on the head for us." - Steve Miller, EVP, Carolina
"I enjoyed our three sessions with Mitch. He kept things lively and thought provoking. He focused our group on obtaining the goal of crossing the goal line together in our company's quest to be the best in service to our customers." - Bruce McCrory, Operations Manager, Gold Coast
"I enjoyed our time together immensely. Now back to the salt mine." - Mike Johannes, President, East
"Thank you for a great conference in Costa Rica. Your presence and coaching really made it a great experience." - Doug Duncan
"Thanks for the opportunity to think in creative ways to improve our business." - Kent Tolley, President, MountainJanuary 03, 2017
What I Learned from Being Heckled at a Keynote Presentation
Every person who has ever had a job has experienced at least one "moment of truth" in their life -- a time when all the chips were on the table and the decision of whether to go "all in" or not had to be made.
One such moment happened to me a few years ago when I was facilitating a creative thinking session for 110 of Lucent Technology's "best and brightest" -- a room full of brilliant computer scientists with more PhDs than most politicians have excuses.
There I was, on stage, introducing the day with a slide show of quotes from legendary innovators, when a man in the 10th row stands up and screams, "You are totally wrong! I used to work with that guy and he never would have said anything like that! If you can't get your quotes right, why should I believe anything you're about to tell us?"
If this was the Wild West, I had just been challenged to a duel at High Noon, armed only with a remote and a blueberry muffin.
Standing as I was in the epicenter of the optic fiber universe, I had only a nanosecond to assess the situation. There was no time for a strategic plan, no time for deliberation, no time to call my coach. This was Defcon 7, me face-to-face with one very angry man.
"Well..." I began (stalling for as much time as a single word would allow), "it is possible that you're right. The slides I'm showing today were just finalized yesterday and my assistant may have made an incorrect attribution. I will check with her when I get back to the office. That being said, I invite you to focus on the good stuff that's here for you today, not the possible flaws."
Logical? Yes. Effective? No. My comments only made him angrier, his face growing redder by the moment.
I now had a choice to make -- whether to further engage my corporate heckler in a heroic attempt to win him over or continue with the reason why I'd been hired in the first place -- to help seriously left-brained scientists tap into their lesser-used right brain.
Choosing the latter, I proceeded to teach a powerful mind-opening technique based on the thinking styles of Albert Einstein and Garry Kasparov (a former Soviet Union Grand Chess Master).
Technique taught, I walked to the side of the stage and observed.
For the next five minutes, everything went smoothly. Everyone in the audience was focused and doing the work.
Then, without warning, Mr. You-Got-Your-Slides-All-Wrong stood up and, with great velocity, began approaching the stage. On a scale of 1-10, with "1" being walking and "10" being storming, he was a 9.8.
The faster he walked, the quieter the room got as I took my stance and readied myself for whatever was next.
Two feet from me, my fast approaching inquisitor stopped dead in his tracks, looked at me fiercely, eyes on fire, and exclaimed, "This is amazing!"
"What is amazing?" I replied.
"The technique you taught," he said. "I just had an incredible breakthrough about a problem I've been struggling with for years."
Happy for him and greatly relieved, I asked if he'd like to share his breakthrough with the group -- a task that would require the two of us to change roles for a few minutes, him taking center stage as teacher, me taking his seat, as student.
Which is exactly what we did.
The man was on a roll, inspired, lucid, and highly expressive. I couldn't have asked for a better spokesperson to convey the message I was trying to communicate that day -- a message about the innate ability all people have to go beyond their limiting assumptions and tap into a realm where breakthrough insights abide.
The dramatic and very visible shift my "heckler" had made from left-brained naysayer to right-brained savant was the embodiment of a teaching I couldn't have scripted in a hundred years. This had never been about me putting this man in his place or him putting me in mine. It was about changing places and seeing the world and ourselves through new eyes.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
None of us know when the moment of truth will come. None of us know what it will look like and how we will respond.
But we do know this: If we are awake and engaged in our work, it will come. There is no escape. The more we are already "all in", the easier it will be for us to respond to whatever comes our way. The more we are able to flex to the moment and make wise choices that serve the greater good, the more powerful the outcomes will be.
My moment of confrontation, at Lucent, did not allow me the luxury of deep deliberation. I had to trust myself, be in the moment, and go with the flow. But even more than that, I had to be willing to reframe what seemed to be a problem into an opportunity. I had to make lemonade out of lemons, on the spot, and not squirt anything in the eyes of the people I was there to serve.
My task was not to find fault with the fault finder (an easy thing to do), but to transform the moment into deeper understanding.
On the front lines of business, it is extremely easy to find fault in others. Even on a good day, most of us are woefully imperfect -- filled with a lifetime's worth of quirks, projections, fears, habits, and routines -- the kind of stuff that bugs even our closest friends. Throw in the X factor of stress, heavy workloads, and constantly changing priorities and you have a formula for... well... major heckling.
Your mission, should you choose to accept this assignment, is not to take it personally.
The person who is heckling you (at work, on the street, or in your home) is most likely having a bad day, week, month, quarter, year, or life. If Jesus, himself, was to make a sudden appearance, your heckler would probably find fault with his hair, clothes, or accent.
If you react with the same negativity that is coming your way, all you'll end up doing is throwing fuel on the fire. If you hate being judged, but then judge the judgers for judging, you will only end up in a fun house hall of mirrors with no exit.
PS: At lunch, after the high drama Lucent session, my client informed me of three things: 1) The man who heckled me does the same thing to every outside speaker no matter how much coaching he's received; 2) The exchange between the heckler and me was the perfect embodiment of one of Lucent's core values at the time -- allowing creative dissonance -- a value they had been trying, unsuccessfully, to embed it their culture for years and; 3) As a result of the positive impact my session had, Lucent was going to license my company's creative thinking training. Lemons hadn't just turned into lemonade, they turned into some major cash flow, too.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: Think of a moment of truth you've had in the past year -- a surprise encounter that demanded an intuitive, in-the-moment response from you. What was that like for you? What did you do? What did you learn from the experience? And if, perchance, you did not respond in a way that worked, what might you do differently next time?
October 09, 2016
The story above is excerpted from my forthcoming book: WISDOM AT WORK: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of Life
SNEAK PREVIEW: A Bold, New Way to Do Corporate Conferences
Idea Champions is thrilled to announce it will soon be launching a bold new service to transform the way it's clients plan for, design, facilitate, and follow-up their company's conferences. Why? Three simple reasons: 1) Most corporate conferences severely under-deliver; 2) The time for incremental improvement is over; 3) The "moment of truth", for most organizations, demands that a critical mass of forward-thinking people are in the same room at the same time and prepared to go beyond the status quo. The time for chatter, chirping, and hotel chicken is over. It's time for change. And real change is not a function of pep talks, carrots, and sticks. It's a function of intention, intrinsic motivation, and the willingness to do something different -- real time. The question, or course, is HOW?
This is not a new endeavor for us. We've been designing innovative conferences since 1987 (see below for testimonials). What's different is the times we are living in. Same old, same old doesn't work any more. It's time for breakthrough! And the odds of breakthrough actually happening can be significantly increased with the right mix of intention, preparation, vision, collaboration, and the savvy facilitation of group process. That's where we come in.
Breakthrough Summits is what we are calling our new service. Just as soon as we put the finishing touches on our new website, we will post the link here for your review.
In the meantime, if you have a conference coming up within the next year or so and want to explore the possibilities with us, click this link. One of our conference mavens will get back to you ASAP. Maybe sooner.
WHAT OUR CLIENTS SAY ABOUT OUR CONFERENCE SERVICES
"We were looking for a miracle and then we found Idea Champions."
-- Paulette Esposito, Manager, Training and Development, Champion International
"Idea Champions made our annual conference on innovation a huge success. They not only expertly facilitated the process, but ensured that our company developed a culture that will foster innovation from here on in." -- Rick Yockelson, SVP of People and Administration, Hudson Group
"Idea Champions brings an infectious enthusiasm that will win over even the most cynical person in your organization!" -- Kevin Reilly, President, NBC Universal
"What a wonderful Innovation event Idea Champions put together for us! Talk about out of the box thinking, it was out of this world!" -- Eric Birnbaum, Sr. Packaging Engineer, Kraft Foods
"Idea Champions innovation keynote at our 2014 Developer's Conference was an energetic and engaging opening to our event. Thanks to the pre-work they did with us, their themes were perfectly synchronized with the objectives of the conference -- increase innovative problem-solving and increase global knowledge sharing. Idea Champions got our people thinking and prepared to tackle the interactive objectives of the meeting. After their part of the conference, it was 'Game On!'" -- Andy Billings, VP, Profitable Creativity, Electronic Arts
"Thank you very much for your recent program presented at our Worldwide Financial Manager's Meeting. Participants found the session fun and a great learning experience." -- John Stromberg, NCR Corporation
"Thank you for waking up a company to the opportunities created through the power of a unified team." -- Richard Nugent, CEO, generalRoofing
"I was highly impressed with the role Idea Champions played at our recent offsite. They worked very diligently to understand our goals, and more importantly, thoughtfully craft a customized agenda and format to help us to attain those goals. Their tone, demeanor, and presentation style were spot on and created an open, supportive atmosphere that allowed us to maximize our brainstorming efforts. I would highly recommend Idea Champions to any company." -- Rich Battista. President, Fox National Cable Networks
"Idea Champions is creative in their approach, experienced, willing to share their expertise readily, easy to work with, and delivers exactly what they promise." -- Peter Clist, Head of Management Institute, Allianz
"Idea Champions' keynote presentation was both entertaining and informative. Over 1,030 Merck employees attended and rated the session a 4.8 out of 5.0. In just two hours, participants not only "out of the cave" and generated a wide range of innovative and powerful ideas, they also finally understood what it takes to establish a sustainable culture of innovation within our organization." -- Jim Aubele, Associate Director of Organizational Learning, Merck