Guest author Brett Duncan is a founding partner of Strategic Choice Partners, a consulting firm completely dedicated to working with direct selling companies. Brett refers to himself as a “transitionist,” specializing in helping companies determine their best next steps towards success. Brett specializes in strategic planning, marketing, communications and digital marketing. He served as the head of marketing at AdvoCare and Mannatech during his career prior to launching his consulting business.
Guest Post by Brett Duncan
4 Critical Questions That Determine Your Convention’s Success
There are many things that direct selling companies share in common, but probably nothing more than the national convention. If we’re being honest, our businesses are truly driven by what occurs leading up to our national conventions, and what happens after them. Whether you have a single conference once a year, or several throughout the year, as you work at the home office of a direct selling company, you know too well how these events essentially dictate just about everything else you do.
I often joke that, no matter what your title may be at your company, all direct selling corporate staffers could work as event planners at other companies. And to be clear, that in no way belittles what our event planners do; it’s amazing what the real pros are capable of. It just means that, come convention time, we all toss our titles aside and take on a slice of managing an event. It’s a fun and action-packed part of the job.
Given the importance of events, and conventions in particular, to the success of our businesses, I’m often surprised how poorly we plan for these events. While our execution is incomparable, I see so many companies scrambling to make it all happen, waiting until the last minute to make critical decisions that can impact the entire event.
More importantly, I find it interesting how often we aren’t actually clear on what we want these conventions to accomplish, from a strategic perspective. Are they just something we always do, or is their a clear purpose and vision for each event?
Strategic From the Start
A few years ago, I started walking my clients through a four-part planning process to help them streamline their convention planning and ensure it was aligning with clear company objectives. I personally had struggled with doing this when I was a corporate executive, and had witnessed many others do the same. It was always so easy to jump into the weeds of the planning, and inadvertently skip the strategic thinking. What speaker should train on this topic? How much time do we carve out for recognition? How long will General Session 2 be? Who is our keynote speaker? What print materials do we need to hand out? What does the registration packet consist of? What time will we end on the last day?
These are all very important questions. They just aren’t important questions at the beginning of your planning process.
Listed here are four critical questions you must answer in the early stages of your convention planning to ensure your event is successful, not just in terms of execution, but also in terms of results. I suggest setting aside two to three hours with a team of 4-10 people to work through this. It’s typically best to have this meeting at least six months prior to your convention. That said, if a six-month lead time is out of the question for your company (as I know it seems to be for many, for better or for worse), still have the meeting as quickly as you can. This is not a meeting that should be skipped.
In addition, if you have strategic objectives in place for the company, make sure those are clear and available to reference. Ultimately, the event should support those strategic objectives. So remind yourself of what they are and allow them to impact your convention planning (and not the other way around).
Question #1 = What Do You Want Them to Do AFTER the Event?
Think about what you want your Distributors to do once they leave your event. I like to think of it in terms of one month, three months and six months. In other words, if your convention is in July, what do I want them to do immediately going into August? What do I want them to do and focus on through October? And then what do I want them accomplish through January?
Your answers to this question could be very high-level, as well as extremely detailed. Just brain dump it all and capture it all in one place. Don’t worry about prioritizing any of it yet.
- Earn a spot on the incentive trip we just launched.
- Host 6 shows by the end of August.
- Register for our next event.
- Sell $X of our newest product.
- Use our new tool every day.
- Sponsor three new Distributors by January.
This list can be long and quite varied, and that’s OK. You may also have different actions for different groups of Distributors. Capture all of the stuff you could possibly want them to do once they leave the event. Ultimately, all the inspiration and production and planning of these events are done to help your Distributors do something more or different. Make sure you’re clear on what those actions need to be.
Once you complete your list, circle the 3-5 things that seem to be the most important, those items that will impact both their lives and your corporate objectives the most.
Now, with new clarity for what you want them to do when they leave the convention, you can begin constructing an event that makes that possible. Otherwise, your event would dictate what happens, instead of the other way around.
Question #2 = What Do You Want Them to EXPERIENCE at the Event?
Let’s face it: our conventions are something that must be experienced to fully appreciate.
Sometimes executives can get so focused on results that can be objectively measured that they lose sight of some of the more subjective components. But make no mistake: these subjective, hard-to-measure components of your convention are probably more important and more impactful than anything else.
I’ve often referred to this as the “holy crap” moment, and I feel like it’s a universal objective for any direct selling convention. For the Distributor who is attending a convention for the first time, I want them to have that moment where they think, “Holy crap! I had no idea just how amazing this company was.” When that happens, you’ve achieved a level of commitment and ambition that really nothing else can duplicate.
So, for us to get to that point, what are the touch points that must be in place to make it happen? Reflecting on what we want them to do once they leave the event (question #1), what needs to occur at the event to make that all likely? To help them feel that affinity for our company, what needs to happen onsite?
Events are experiences. In a world where so much is digitized and live-streamed and available on video, we must embrace the concept that, more than ever, people come to our events to experience something they can’t experience otherwise. It’s not just training (if it was, they would just watch videos online). It’s not just launches. It’s an entire experience that they are seeking. We must make sure we give them that.
Think through the different kinds of experiences you want them to enjoy while they’re at your event. You may have a few themes that drive the overall experience, and then you may think about specific aspects of the event, from the registration desk to the main stage to the product store to the leadership meeting.
You may think in terms of parties, recognition, executive access, and training. Production plays into this a lot, too.
Think deeply on this question, though. Don’t just settle for the obvious thoughts of “excited, inspired, motivated, confident.” Those are important, and I would daresay every direct selling convention is seeking to leave their Distributors feeling this way. So what’s a deeper experience you can think of, that can make this event special? How does it connect with your brand, your position? How does it impact your timing for general sessions, or breakouts? How does it affect recognition? Is it time to mix that up a little bit? How does it dictate how you use video?
More than anything, look for ways to make every interaction an experience, something that won’t be easily forgotten, and that forms a connection that runs deep for every attendee.
Question #3 = What Are You Launching or Announcing?
This is the easy question for us direct sellers. I often say “we’re professional launchers.” We tend to think of our conventions in terms of new products, new tools, new trips, new programs, new everything.
For that reason, this is often the first question we try to answer in our planning. But without the clarity of what you want them to do when they leave, and what you want them to experience while they’re there, letting all the “new stuff” dictate the direction of your convention from the start can have some seriously negative impact.
Regardless, we all have something that we need to launch from stage. So use this part of your planning meeting to list it all out. Again, don’t worry about importance or priority yet. Just capture it all in one place. I’ve often discovered things that one department was working hard to launch something that the rest of the company didn’t even know about. So this can be a very helpful, if not timely, meeting.
As you look at everything that needs to be launched or announced, step back and ask if it’s too much. We all like new stuff, but too much of it can be overwhelming. Be clear on what the real drivers of success will be, and don’t let any of the other announcements get in their way. You may find it’s actually best to NOT launch something so that it gives a little breathing room for other more important things you are launching to take root.
Then revisit questions #1 and #2 in light of these announcements. What do you want your Distributors to do with this new thing? How do you want them to experience its launch at the event?
With your thinking clear on not only what you’re launching, but also how you want to launch it, you can easily begin mapping out the specific agenda items later in your planning phases.
Question #4 = What Have We Already Promised?
Let’s call it like it is: we direct selling execs have a hard time not announcing what is coming. Maybe at your last convention, you promised to launch in a new country by the next convention. Maybe you committed to a new website, or back office. Maybe you promised to launch a new product line at a recent leadership meeting. Or maybe you’ve even pinpointed some specifics just in how you’ve promoted the event itself.
Wherever, whenever and however it happened, it’s important to document all of those promises and make sure you address them in some form or fashion. Or at least be prepared to do so.
For the promises you’ve kept and will be delivering on, this is easy.
However, inevitably there are items that won’t be ready in time. That website design is taking a lot longer than you planned. That country launch is getting stuck in approvals and bureaucracy. That product formula isn’t quite ready to make it to the public.
Regardless of how it happens, we know it does happen. And your Distributors aren’t going to forget it, either. So be prepared to address all of it. For some items, it makes sense to address them from the main stage, in front of everyone. Other items may make more sense in a leadership meeting setting. In other situations, you may not schedule any time to address it at all, but you need to make sure you and your team are prepared to speak to it when asked.
As a general rule, if you made a commitment publicly, then it’s best to address it publicly. That can be difficult, but it at least communicates trust and integrity.
In some cases, you may need to communicate before your convention. If some people are coming to the event with certain expectations, you owe it to them to let them know upfront how things will be different than what they are expecting (as long as those expectations are based on promises you made).
So with these four questions thoroughly answered, you’re now in a position to begin planning your convention at a deeper level. I typically have three more stages of meetings, leading to the final agenda being produced in the final stage. Changes will no doubt occur, but what you want are changes occurring in the details of the production and agenda, not in the core content. By taking this methodical and strategic approach upfront, it can help limit those big changes dramatically, and help you execute with excellence.
What questions do you think should be added to this stage of the process? What tips can you share that have had a dramatic effect on your own convention planning?