Fostering a Winning Conference Culture

I have been struck by the disparity in how an association’s organizational culture translates (or doesn’t translate) to the on-site implementation or planning of its live events. There are many associations that tout their open and supportive cultures. But when it gets to “go time,” does that culture manifest at your conferences and meetings?

Online forums have tackled this issue in recent weeks and it is clear that not all organizations support their on-site operations effectively or consistently. One planner even had to ask anonymously if it was “okay for her to have a desk” from which to work on site. Her boss apparently thought she should spend all her time out “doing meeting planning” and not hanging out in a hotel conference room.

Open Up that Tent

In my experience, association event pros who are welcoming and transparent with their staff colleagues and vendors create a big tent rather than an exclusive on-site environment and therefore enjoy the best team results. That means training and supporting all association staff who will be working on site at your events and ensuring they have the resources and information necessary to do their jobs well. You should provide basic information and clarity around expectations, schedules and tips on how to be most effective, not only to staff but to your key vendors.

Event pros often augment their department group with staff from other parts of the organization to form an expanded logistics or operations team. This can be an extremely effective way to spread and share accountability for event results – because if everyone isn’t aware that your events are the physical manifestation of your brand – then they don’t get the context for the training or importance of their role. I firmly believe that the on-site experience is hard but it should be an opportunity to build a supportive culture and relationships among colleagues and vendors.

How to Create an Effective Event Culture

Here are a few tips to create a winning on-site culture:

  1. Make training mandatory (even for executives). Every association staff member working on site should be given the same material and training to create one team and one message.
  2. Create a big tent that is inclusive and friendly. Make colleagues and vendors feel welcome and involved in conference operations. Ask for input and suggestions from everyone present and don’t dismiss bad news.
  3. Share the belief that all staff have a critical role to play on site and no one should be above packing a box or interacting with members. Conference staff are not able to do everything!
  4. Deploy staff to help welcome and direct attendees during high traffic entry or exit moments. All levels of staff should be visible and side-by-side, which sends an important message to your team and attendees.
  5. Feed your staff and key vendors in a central location on site – this creates synergy and accelerates creative problem solving. The lounge or office is a place for temporary respite, not a hideout.
  6. Celebrate together and openly. Ensure that no one takes all the credit or the blame for on-site operations. It really does take a village.

How can you make your conference culture more open and transparent? What are the barriers to creating an effective and supportive conference culture in your association?

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  1. Jim Daggett says:

    Lisa, great thoughts! It disheartens me, however, that you/me/we are still having to deliver this message year in and year out! It is truly amazing that many organizations have met for so long without the simplest of concepts in place, and subsequently, many planners do their job with so little practical training. Please keep sharing your expertise and best of luck to you at Velvet Chainsaw!

    1. Lisa Block says:

      Thanks for the comment Jim. Even the most sophisticated organization struggle to extend or create an open onsite culture. It does seem basic in theory but in practice its not so easy. I hope our paths will cross this year.

  2. Great post, Lisa. It is very important that all employees are involved and trained appropriately. Same goes for customer service and many other areas of business.

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