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One question that can help any conference organizer.

Have you ever been to a conference and felt like it was a complete and total waste of time? Have you ever organized an event and felt a little scattered? Have you ever wondered, "Why do we do these meetings every year?" And the big question ... "Are we wasting our money?"

As a professional speaker for over 15 years, I have had the honour of attending and presenting at literally hundreds of conferences all across Canada, the United States and, recently, the Philippines.

Many have said, "The success of the speaker can largely determine the success of the event." Whether you agree or disagree with this statement, there are obviously other considerations. Did the meeting planners do their job? Were the facilities appropriate, the proper size and at the correct location?

There is an obvious step before the venue is chosen--before the meeting planners work their magic--before the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus are finalized. Management, or the people footing the bill for the conference, have to answer one SIMPLE question ... before all else.

You may have already guessed the question that I am alluding to. Just in case you haven't, allow me to share a true story from my experience. I'll change the names to protect the "not so innocent."

"Brenda," the meeting planner called from a large U.S. firm and said, "Barry, we've heard about you from a couple of sources. You made them laugh. You made them cry. And you sent them home with content they can use." After a brief discussion about the theme of the conference and on rates. Brenda said, "We would like to tentatively book you."

"Thank you so much!" I said. "May I ask you one question Brenda?"

"Sho' Nough!" replied Brenda. (Her answer might give you a tiny hint as to where she's from.)

"Brenda, what would you like to be different when I am done?"

After a brief silence, she stammered out, "P-P-Pardon me?"

"What would you like to be different when I am done?" I repeated.

"Jeepers--I don't rightly know," she said, somewhat embarrassed. "Barry, in all my years as a meeting planner, no one has ever asked me that question."

"How do you plan your conferences and your speakers?" I asked.

"Well, we just start with our theme and work from there. If our theme is CHANGE, we ask if the speaker can talk about change. It usually works out," Brenda said "UN"--confidently.

"What do you mean usually? Do you mean that sometimes the speaker goes off topic?

Or do you mean that sometimes the conference isn't perfect?" I asked.

"Truthfully, a little bit of both," she said. "Do you mind if I take this back to my planning committee?" she asked.

Two days later, she called back. "Your question created quite a stir in our planning meeting," she said. "Some of the team got into minor disagreements about the answer to the question. But honestly Barry, most of us felt slightly embarrassed that we did not have a specific answer to the question. One guy was actually mad at YOU for asking it. Then, after much discussion, we all realized, even though it's a simple question, it is a very valuable question. By the way, they want you for our conference. You're hired!"



It is not exactly the same question as, "What are our objectives?" The answers to that question are usually, "Increase sales, productivity, client satisfaction and staff satisfaction."

The question--WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE DIFFERENT WHEN WE ARE DONE? has a followup question: What is preventing that froam happening now?

Every segment of the conference from keynote speakers, to breakout meetings, to "off campus" activities, to meals and to the "goodbyes," should answer the magic question. Every delegate should answer the same question before they leave for the conference and at every session they attend.

To ensure your conference budget is well spent and you and your delegates are happy, simply answer the question. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE DIFFERENT WHEN WE ARE DONE?

A simple question? YES. Simple answers--maybe not.

Have a great conference!

Barry Spilchuk is from North Bay and he is co-author of A Cup of Chicken Soup for the Soul and Founder of the Everyday Heroes Foundation.
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Author:Spilchuk, Barry
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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