Style captivates, communicates

Whenever a company gets its people together, whether it is to introduce a new line or to hold an annual sales meeting, it is a chance to sell the company.While inking an agenda and staying on track remain the basic success...

Whenever a company gets its people together, whether it is to introduce a new line or to hold an annual sales meeting, it is a chance to sell the company.

While inking an agenda and staying on track remain the basic success formula, those contracted to mastermind meetings do not rely on content alone to captivate the audience.

Today’s meeting planners are using a variety of methods, including innovative themes and riveting multimedia presentations, to communicate pertinent information and build team spirit.

More than ever before, planners are recognizing that the way something is communicated has tremendous impact on the way it is perceived.

Reinforcing

the front lines

Since reinforcing the front lines is good strategy, the most imaginative motivational techniques for dispensing ammunition and information seem to be reserved for sales get-togethers, the situation in which there is the most hope of a payback.

Stockholder meetings are the second group likely to receive elaborate concoctions such as Inspector Clousseau sketches, pyrotechnics or six-foot tubes of toothpaste.

Even a spot of murder may be calculated to reap results.

Executives flown to a drug company convention were treated to a surprise murder mystery staged on a train en route to Whistler, b.c. Underlying the provision of amusement, the murder was laid on to break the ice and to build a team atmosphere.

While sleuthing or nature excursions are intriguing examples of building pride through teamwork, corporate North America usually has something specific to meet about – a new product or a reorganization – and that often entails large groups and little lead time.

Sam Gourdji, group product manager/operations manager for the Parke-Davis division of Warner Lambert, is involved with new product meetings for the sales force and internal employees.

Gourdji says having plenty of time to organize is critical to the success of any meeting, and since the early bird – the first out with a new service or product – gets the competitive edge, for many industries little lead time can be a big barrier.

In the case of the Parke-Davis professional health group, the stumbling block is never knowing when government approval of a new product will come.

Since hitting the street running is of the utmost importance for any company with a great new idea, highly motivational presentations that can be put together quickly are called for.

Methods ranging from a ‘Carnival Night’ icebreaker, to computer-based training modules were used at the last national meeting in Toronto to spur the Parke-Davis salesforce on to make a splash with a new cardiovascular product.

Everything on the agenda was chosen for optimum impact.

Gourdji says a fast-paced presentation produced by Illinois-based Motivational Media – a mixture of slides and video using a 16-projector set-up with visuals and music – was an effective way of getting the message across.

And short a/v interludes served as an entertaining break that ensured the conference theme came across each day.

As well, the company used a bilingual, interactive game to reinforce the message.

Response pads were installed at the group’s seats, allowing participants to answer questions and see their scores appear on monitors.

Gourdji says the company has used Family Feud and Wheel of Fortune style games in which meeting members were called as contestants up to the stage or divided into competing teams.

More meat,

more multimedia

At Northern Telecom, meeting structure runs the gamut, according to Georgia Phair, manager, communications programs.

Phair says there is a lot of teleconferencing and video conferencing, and while they still get on planes, she notes they have not used trays of slides for years (it is all built into a reel).

The company has been using a lot of Macintosh-based multimedia presentations at its sales conferences, which for the last seven years have been produced by Multiple Images.

Northern Telecom has used multi-screen presentations, animated characters, synthesized voices, lasers, dancing, and the responders.

Phair says there has been a shift towards more meat to meetings, and that a lot of the content is supplied through speakers from the business and entertainment world, ‘and a ton of video.’

Northern Telecom has had great success with customized videos shot across Canada using its own personnel. In addition to imparting information, it provides an important recognition factor otherwise lacking in a crowd of 400 to 500.

The conferences are always heavily themed, linked to the company’s global focus, and whatever the tools employed from year to year, the object remains the same.

‘We have to recognize, educate and motivate the sales force,’ Phair says.

And the associated expense incurred has been accepted by top management as a necessary part of the corporate culture.

Questionnaires completed by conference attendees provide feedback on what worked, and allow the clients to rate the success of individual components, and production companies to fine-tune future meeting agendas.

David Middleton, Zellers advertising director, says that measuring the overall success of a production mounted to motivate the troops is difficult, due to its subjective nature.

However, Middleton believes that a recent four-day sales meeting, the biggest Zellers has ever put on, fulfilled its mandate.

The conference was packed with multimedia presentations.

Middleton says Zellers wanted to add life to the annual meeting, believing the payback would be worth the added expense.

‘The job that we have as a marketing department is to create excitement and get across our program in an entertaining way, so that they feel we’re doing what we have to in today’s marketplace to stimulate business,’ he says.

‘We want them to walk away from the conference on a high note, and the only way you can do that is to provide an emotional atmosphere where people feel good about themselves and the company, so that they go back with the enthusiasm and motivation to give their staff, and deal with the customer day in and day out.’

Excitement

The excitement was built with tools such as lasers, smoke, pyrotechnics and original music. The majority of the show was on one screen; but the sales and advertising portion was a two-hour mixture of entertainment and information using five screens.

Middleton says multimedia presentations need not be more expensive than producing a slide presentation of similar scale; the costs come in when you add hours of animation.

The bonus of using a computer in the multimedia format is that last-minute changes can be made and dynamic data can be incorporated.

‘It’s fairly compatible in terms of costing, and we recycle a lot of the material,’ Middleton says. Parts of presentations are used up to six or seven times.

Zellers has been pitched on all manner of zip-inducing meeting ideas including the staging of live theatre, but Middleton says using Zellers staff as presenters has proven more effective than using actors or anything too staged.

Keeping focus: why

meetings must motivate

Multiple Images President Doug Keeley says the challenge facing anyone running a business is keeping people ‘focussed on, and motivated towards, the goals of the company.’

With this synopsis, Keeley explains the ‘why’ behind the expenditure of putting on memorable meetings.

Keeley says it was easier when people worked for one company all their lives and were taken care of by that company.

But he says now that the tendency to commit one’s working life to one company is not what it once was, the workforce has less vested interest in achieving the employer’s long-term goals.

The employer must now do more than dangle a gold watch and the key to the executive washroom as incentives to performance.

With business and organizations changing quickly and frequently, Keeley says it is even more important today to get people together to develop focus and motivation.

And Phair says that by producing first-rate exciting conferences, there is a chance to increase the length of time an employee will stay with the company, bucked by a rousing show of recognition or instilled with enthusiasm about the company as a place to work.

With the growth of geographic and cultural boundaries, Keeley says that without meetings it is becoming increasingly hard for management to keep the troops in sync with the company’s vision and to build a team that is performing to the same level of quality.

Integrated

To keep the cost down, he says companies such as Multiple Images will be integrated more into the on-going communications process rather than just called upon for specific events.

In addition to ensuring the same message is being broadcast throughout a company, with the integration of all aspects of communications (internal and external marketing), the money need no longer be spent on just one event.

More presentation material can be designed to have a long shelf-life (like product videos which can be reused for training or customers).

‘The days of producing expensive one-off items for sales meetings are virtually gone,’ Keeley says. ‘There’s more steak and less sizzle.’