Attendees probably spend a lot more time in breakouts than in any other type of session. Yet, most companies neglect these hours, instead devoting their creativity and professionalism to the general sessions. As a result, breakouts are often painfully mediocre.
Think, for a moment, of your attendees, not as employees, partners, or users, but as customers. You want them to "buy" your training. And the experiences in those rooms has everything to do with their satisfaction and future use of your product.
To vastly improve your breakout sessions, you must insist on quality in three areas. Here's what they are and how to do it.
1. Content Rules What you want your customers to learn is at the heart of every breakout. If the data is inaccurate or the message does not support the goal of your event, it is obvious. Once the credibility of the information is suspect, the entire session is discounted.
How to do it: Conduct a content review of each session, with managers and peers as reviewers. At a minimum, ask these crucial questions: Is this right? Where does it fit? Who cares?
Speakers should submit their presentations in first or second draft form. The point is to catch major errors in content and strategy. I recommend electronic submission of presentations, usually in PowerPoint or Freelance Graphics. No overheads, no paper.
All presenters must be part of this process, not just in-house speakers. (I have seen third parties deliver messages completely contrary to their host's strategy.) Many variables affect the schedule for this process--number of speakers, tracks, type of event--but, in general, a content review should be done 8 to 12 weeks before the event.
2. Get the Look Right When it comes to the look, feel, and format of breakout presentations, success means setting standards. A well-designed, easy-to-follow presentation not only creates the best possible impression of the content but your customers will remember more.
How to do it: Creating professional presentations is a demanding, but ultimately worthwhile process. Get a graphics artist to design a presentation background that supports the goal of your event and then mandate its use by every speaker and trainer. And I mean everyone: strategic partners, employees, sponsors, and consultants. No exceptions. None.
Upon submission, review each presentation's graphics. All slides should be clear and readable from the back of the room; icons and acronyms should be consistent across educational tracks, and the handouts legible and complete.
3. Even Fine Silver Needs Polishing Your customers should never be the first to see a presentation. I work with world-class trainers who rehearse before every session. Why is it that amateurs are allowed to get away with an unpolished delivery?
How to do it: Make rehearsals mandatory. Work with your speakers directly, or find a firm that can help, to improve their style, pace, and image. Some trainers will resist, but I promise, in the end, they will be grateful. They will return from their sessions with reports of a new connection with the audience (not to mention better evaluations) because they were practiced and confident.
No Magic There is no magic involved--just extra effort in the right places. If you want to improve your breakouts, insist on high standards in content, presentations, and polish. An investment in your breakouts can transform your event, increasing customer satisfaction and significantly furthering the goals of your company.