When clients come to me looking for something different we spend a long time creating just the right bespoke programme that is balanced, not too much fun, is a meaningful experience and one that they will remember for a long time.
When I worked in a university top team we often had to suffer the obligatory away day or dinner event which was not just cringe worthy but set your teeth on edge as well-meaning amateurs tried to tell high level entrepreneurs and developers how they could make a difference in their businesses.
This type of event leaves you cold, wanting no part of further experiences and believing that there is not an experience or event in the world that would suit your company.
We have spent years looking into the balance between experience, specific learning skills and the soft skills that engender empathy, a strong team ethic and make people go away with a smile on their faces knowing that they can take something from the event and plough it back into the workplace.
The secret lies in making sure that the sell is less than the experience and not the other way around. The skills that companies want to develop are at first glance, empathy, leadership and organisational cohesion but on further unpicking when working with the company it becomes clear that it is not really about the skills themselves but about releasing the real people in the company from their shackles.
They want skills to be naturally acquired and not forcibly delivered. We have found that ‘it is not what people take out of the event but what they leave behind’ that is the telling thing.
In our work with Olympic head coaches some of the most important skills are related to difficult conversations, how do you leave someone out of a squad and then tell them.
Working with dancers and artistic persons it is about the way that you play back their kinaesthetic learning styles and ensure that those who are academic learners can continue to thrive in the environment. Thus, it’s all about working with the client until you find out what they really want and then ensuring that you can undersell and over deliver at the event.
In one of our recent Ultimate Grand Prix scenario away days we had the most diverse team ever which included, event managers, top directors, production assistants and even ice skating teachers.
The backgrounds were very diverse but by creating teams of like-minded people to work together to create solutions for four severe challenges at the Singapore Grand Prix we managed to turn a group of individuals into a functioning team on many levels.
So, what are the eight key things to ensure that make a business event work?
- You have to like people. Many people that we work with don’t really like their employees and set out to hold events just to make the staff feel threatened.
- Being empathetic is good, but playing at it is not. You have to feel empathy not just push the sentiment.
- Tune your event to all learning styles to ensure that everyone is comfortable. This is so important to ensure that all attending feel at home.
- Work with the client to find out what they really want and not what they would like you to think that they want.
- Don’t over egg the theory. So many events have long spiels about theory, it’s boring, it turns people off and it’s not needed. A good short exercise can explain what it takes an hour of death by Power Point to do.
- Keynote speakers waste valuable time. What they can say in an hour is worth putting in a ten-minute piece at a crucial time of the day. The best motivators do it in short bursts. For example: Why are TED talks sometimes so short?
- Don’t over-prolong the agony, a short day with lots of exercises, breaks and meaningful networking is better that an eight-hour punishing day which makes people vote to stay away from work for the rest of the week.
- Posh is pants, get them dirty, sweaty and wanting more. Fuck the suit, bugger the tie or dress. All you get from smart is a bunch of people trying not to get too dirty, a recipe for disaster.
Professor Chris Kemp is CEO of Mind over Matter Consultancy and works with world leaders in their fields running Extreme Corporate Away Days for leaders and managers, as well as Executive Education and Team Development programmes.
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