The stakes are high for your annual corporate offsite meeting. This gathering is a chance to “align executives, galvanize corporate performance, and strengthen the company’s position in its industry,” according to a Harvard Business Review article. But an annual meeting that’s not planned well is boring, irrelevant, and a waste of all the time and money that went into staging it.

As a learning leader in your company, you can play an important role in shaping the annual meeting. Use these strategies to plan an offsite that creates the results your company is looking for.

Be Clear on Your Goals.

First, be clear about the desired results of the offsite. The company’s goals for the annual meeting dictate not just the content of the event but also the structure. For example, let’s say one of the top goals is to increase camaraderie among branches to improve collaboration. Instead of packing every moment with educational sessions, make sure there are also plenty of activities where employees can socialize and get to know each other. And don’t forget to schedule breaks so attendees have a chance to synthesize the information and ideas they’re taking in.

Emphasize Preparation.

Your annual offsite will probably include a couple of different types of sessions:

  • Presentations convey information and should also motivate and inspire. They are typically 90 minutes or less.
  • Training sessions transfer knowledge and offer specific learning objectives. Because they go into greater depth, they may run longer than presentations, and they should include activities that facilitate experiential learning.

Staff members who are creating either type of session might need reminders not to underestimate how much work is involved and to keep their preparation on track so they’ll be ready for the event. Speakers should plan their content in advance, practice and solicit feedback. Nobody wants to sit through a session pulled together at the last minute!

If you have a budget for outside speakers, use it strategically. Longer training sessions can be especially difficult for inexperienced presenters. Your opening keynote will set the tone for the event, and the closing keynote will shape your participants’ memory of the event.

Prepare Your Speakers.

If you’re not able include much outside content in the meeting, whether because of budget or time constraints, careful planning and preparation can help you maximize the effectiveness of internal speakers. Use these tips to coach executives and others who will be presenting, and apply them to your own presentation if you’re a speaker.

  • Pairing speakers with co-presenters (for example, in an interview format) can put reluctant speakers at ease and make talks more interesting for the audience.
  • Advise speakers to include only three main points in their talks. A rambling presentation with no discernible point instantly dampens enthusiasm about the event, and it’s often what people remember most.
  • Speakers who are struggling to shape their talks can benefit from this adage: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them what you told them.” In other words, introduce your ideas, expand on them and then review them. This approach helps the message stick with the audience.
  • Coach speakers on the appropriate use of humor. Self-deprecating humor can help make leaders more relatable to their team.
  • Executives aren’t automatically good speakers. Public speaking is a craft, and anyone planning to take the stage on behalf of your company will benefit from outside input, whether from a professional coach or organizations like the National Speakers Association and Toastmasters International.

Don’t Forget Visuals.

As you help speakers prepare for your meeting, remind them that the visual elements of their presentation are as important as the words they say. Here are some tips:

  • Steer speakers away from filling their slides with bullet points that they read to the audience. Look for ways they can use pictures instead of words to reinforce their points. Aim for no more than three to five words per slide.
  • Remember that slides need to “read” well in the room where the talk will be delivered. Detailed infographics can be hard to interpret in a large space. Ahead of all presentations, do a test run in the actual venue or a comparably sized room. Are all slides clear and comprehensible to someone in the back of the room?
  • Speakers should never face their slides or even turn around and look at them. Instead, they should maintain eye contact with the audience. Take advantage of “presenter’s mode” in most presentation software, which is even better than a confidence monitor that shows only what the audience sees. Presenter’s mode shows the presenter both the current slide and the next slide, which makes for smooth transitions.

Your annual offsite can set the tone for what happens when everyone is back at their offices. By following these strategies, you can help ensure that the meeting delivers the knowledge, inspiration and camaraderie your employees need to power your organization’s success.

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