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Events: ten ideas to make them better

October 2010

As the corporate responsibility conference season moves into full swing, EP suggests ways that event organisers could improve the overall experience

Make more use of the ‘chat show’ format
The on-stage interview – in which a senior practitioner or journalist puts questions to a key figure in the field – nearly always works well, and has been employed with particular success at the annual Business for Social Responsibility conference in the US. As long as the interviewer is up to scratch, the format helps on two fronts: by making sure the interviewee addresses pertinent questions, and by creating a more relaxed, personal setting in which corporate speak is kept at bay.

If you’re going to use expert panels, keep them small
There’s nothing wrong with having a panel of experts, but they become unwieldy and less-than-useful when there are more than three people on them. EP has often witnessed the wasteful spectacle of interesting speakers, flown half way around the world, being restricted to a five minute presentation and answering two questions because they are on a six-person panel that leaves no time for anything more. Quality, not quantity, is the key here.

Make the coffee breaks longer
Adjournments for lunch and coffee are where the real talking gets done – and are often the most useful parts of any conference day. Too many event organisers fail to recognize this, not allowing enough breaks, or enough time for each one. How often have you been in a really useful coffee-time conversation, only to have it broken up prematurely as you are ushered forcefully back into the main plenary hall to hear another
long-winded and disappointingly empty speech?

Avoid chief executives as speakers
Some of them are good, but especially at CSR conferences their value is limited. Few, if any, are going to stray from the corporate line and most are unlikely to know as much about corporate responsibility as those in their company who control that brief. Let’s hear more from CSR practitioners and less from their bosses.

Answer questions one at a time
It’s difficult to see any logic in taking a batch of questions from the floor and then getting a speaker or panel to answer them – yet it happens so frequently. The usual consequence is that none of the questions are answered properly, with most of them forgotten, ignored or lost in the general confusion. Much better to take a query at a time and make sure each is answered.

Ensure speakers keep to time
Very basic, but often ignored. This is especially a problem at conferences dominated by big name talking heads, or at those where speakers are required to pay to appear. It’s unacceptable to be 45 minutes behind by lunch on the first day, yet this is a common occurrence.

Encourage more presentations on research results
The annual Eabis conference is awash with presentations on new research in the field – and is interesting as a consequence. Not many other events have sessions where new research is presented, and they could benefit from doing so. But a word of warning: most research presentations focus too much on background and methodology, invariably leaving little time for the results themselves. Presenters should be encouraged to cut to the chase.

Make sure speakers keep to their brief
This is perhaps the biggest problem with most conferences in the field. EP recently went to an international event where a session promised to look at how companies might get more people to read CSR reports – yet not a single presentation, or any of the questions afterwards, were related to the topic. Primarily this is the fault of those who chair the sessions, but it is also down to speakers who come with their own agenda and wilfully ignore the title of the session so they can talk about what their organization is doing. It appears that session titles are often only chosen so there is something to put in the event programme.

Allow workshop sessions to be repeated
In parallel sessions there’s usually too much on offer rather than too little, meaning that delegates have two or three sessions they would like to go to, but end up having to pick only one. So why not run all the sessions again at the same event, so that delegates can at least have a second bite of the cherry?

Try to keep the Powerpoint culture in check
Over-reliance on computer screen presentations tends to make speakers lazy – and invariably renders it more difficult for delegates to concentrate on what is actually being said. Why not place restrictions on technology and see if the quality improves?




Business for Social Responsibility | Global | CSR

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