From the exquisite gala to the unglamorous gathering, we spend a lot of time at Reach Partners researching and thinking about the unsung aspects of events.
One question we ask every single time we design an event is essential. Why will (or should) a person attend the event? Time is a rare and limited resource. If we want someone to spend precious minutes at our gathering or get-together, we better understand and communicate why they should do so.
At Reach, we always stress that purpose is the driver for any event. When that purpose is well defined, creatively and accurately articulated, it informs the language we use for everything else. It becomes part of the call to action – what we want our attendees to do.
How you will get people to an event, a gathering, or a meeting is very important. After all, if you can’t get people to your event, everything else is pointless. And the “how” sets the tone. To begin with, how you get people interested your gathering must be part of the communication plan. This helps to set and manage expectations, provides context, and builds excitement. Part of this plan includes a strong understanding how you will ask people to participate.
When we make that call to action, we also have choices. Simply, will our call to action be passive or active? When we ask people to attend, will we invite or recruit? Which method we choose sets up different expectations for the attendees – and those hosting the event.
Passive Request: An Invitation
Issuing an invitation is appropriate for many events. This is the typical request where the host wants and encourages your presence, your attendance, or your participation. The main distinction is the event is not specifically for you. You are most certainly a valued guest, but the host is the one who gets the most out of your participation.
In these cases where the event is most meaningful to the host (think: wedding or party, fundraiser, marketing event or activity, awards ceremony, or even a football game) the attendee’s purpose is to witness, observe, demonstrate loyalty, or give.
Of course, the attendee likely will (and should!) absorb some benefits from attending. Maybe he or she expands their network, learns a new skill, enjoys a nice meal, or earns bragging rights for being part of something big. That said, the attendee is called to something and that call is passive.
Some common passive forms of invitation are social media or traditional media campaigns, broadcast email, direct mail, postcards, and invitations.
Active Request: A Recruitment
When recruited to an event or gathering, you are called for something (active).
This is quite different compared to an invitation. Recruitment suggests the event is first meaningful to the attendee. Its relevance to the audience is customized for the recruited. Some examples: networking, board meetings, learning and training.
In these cases, the host recruits a person specifically. He or she has skills, experiences, funds, or assets that will contribute to the success of an event, gathering, or meeting.
Some active forms of recruitment include a phone call, a handwritten note, bespoke email campaign, direct marketing, or an application. Whatever form it takes, recruitment is personal and personalized. It’s a tailored effort to get that special person involved.
The important thing to remember is that whether you invite or recruit is irrelevant. What matters is that as an event planner or organizer you are intentional about your choice. It sets the stage for everything else to come.
Have you ever taken your car to the shop, knowing that the mechanic needs to order a part before the problem can be fixed?
Consider two scenarios.
Scenario one: You leave your car at the shop on Monday. You don’t get a phone call that day or early the next. Finally, at noon on Tuesday you call the mechanic and find out the part was delayed. It arrived shortly before you called, and it will be another day before the work is done.
Scenario two: You leave your car at the shop on Monday. Your mechanic calls a couple of hours later and explains the part is delayed. It will arrive on Tuesday, and the car will be ready on Wednesday.
The outcomes are identical in both scenarios: you get your car back on Wednesday. Which one would you prefer? Which one treats you with more respect?
It can feel awkward to communicate when there’s no action or forward movement on a project. After all, no news is good news, right?
At Reach Partners, we establish frequent touchpoints with our partners. These real-time conversations happen no matter what happens or doesn’t happen with a project.
Progress made? We communicate.
Problem uncovered? We communicate.
Nothing happened? We communicate.
Most of us pick up the phone or send an email when progress and problems happen. Doing the same when there’s nothing to report is just as critical.
We don’t want our partners to waste energy wondering about the status of a project. We communicate with clarity and integrity, even when the news to share is a big, fat zilch.
This keeps clients from assuming the best or the worst. It assures our clients that their project is important to us. It also makes it easier to connect when we have bad news to share, such as delays or blocks that might affect a project timeline.
After all, nobody wants to get a call only when something isn’t going right.
Think about it in these terms. If you’re selling your house, a weekly conversation with your Realtor makes you feel good. Even if there are weeks that nobody has looked at your home, you feel like things are moving in the right direction. You are confident that your house will sell.
Communicating nonaction will do that.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Adapted from a blog that originally ran in April 2017.
Every day of the year, we are grateful for our partners and the work we do with them. This time of year, however, gives us even more excuses to reflect on what brings meaning to our work.
Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to help amazing organizations host events and complete special projects. We are grateful for the relationships we’ve built and honored to use our skills to bring value to those who connect with us.
This Thanksgiving we’d like to share a few projects that we are particularly grateful for being involved with. (And we certainly had many wonderful ones to choose from.)
Thank you, all, for being a part of Reach Partners!
Training for Better Communication
Mental Health America of North Dakota wanted to change how sensitive stories about suicide are shared. We helped plan and oversee a conference for news media and organizational spokespeople so they could learn the best way to present information on suicide.
More about the North Dakota Suicide Communications Summit.
Guiding Strategy for Event Planning
Organizations often reach out to us when they want to plan an event to market their brand. Here’s how we worked with two organizations – and how they came to different conclusions after we guided them through the planning process. Spoiler alert: Sometimes NOT hosting an event is the best way forward.
More about strategic event planning.
Partnering with The Fargo Project
When the City of Fargo partnered with a renowned artist to turn a stormwater basin into an ecological commons, the public entity needed someone to coordinate communication among its stakeholders and help with events and volunteer coordination. We stepped into this role.
More about our role with The Fargo Project.
Scouting Locations for a Commercial
We are always eager to tap our connections and networks. That’s what we did when a local marketing agency needed to identify locations for a team of out-of-town videographers to film backdrops for a commercial – fast!
More about how we found the locations.
And so many more wonderful projects and partnerships.
In any profession, there’s a list of terms that make sense to insiders but may be confusing to those outside the field.
Project management is no different.
While we pride ourselves on making things clear and easy to follow, project managers have their own vocabulary. If you understand the lingo, you’ll better be able to ask questions and follow the conversation. You’ll confidently know that you’re on the same page as everyone else.
The Project Management Institute regularly updates A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. This publication describes the industry’s best practices, plus it provides a common vocabulary for consistency.
Here are 10 terms that often fall in everyday conversation about projects and project management. Know these and you’ll be versed in how to talk to a project manager.
Charter: This document authorizes the existence of a project and provides the project manager with the authority to apply organizational resources to project activities.
Deliverable: Any unique and verifiable product, result, or the capability to perform a service that is required to produce to complete a process, phase, or project.
Project: Temporary efforts with a clear start and finish. Projects are not ongoing. Projects have an end result – something created or completed.
Project Management: The applications of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.
Requirement: A condition or capability that is required to be present in a product, service, or result.
Resource: Skilled human resources, equipment, services, supplies, commodities, materials, budgets, or funds.
Risk: An uncertain event or a condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives.
Scope: The sum of the products, services, and results to be provided as a project.
Stakeholder: An individual, group. or organization that may affect, or may be affected by, or perceive to be affected by decisions, activity, or outcome of a project.
Stakeholder Engagement (or Management) Plan: Processes, procedures, tools and techniques to effectively engage stakeholders in project decisions and execution based on the analysis of needs, interests, and potential impact.
Work Breakdown Structure: A step-by-step summary of the work the project team needs to complete to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables.
It takes courage to speak to a large crowd.
Every speaker I’ve ever met spends hours perfecting their message. They search for perfect anecdotes and create meaningful slides that support their points. They’re ready to inspire and inform.
As someone who works with speakers, however, all that prep work doesn’t necessarily lead to a polished presentation. Whether you’re a speaker or someone who works regularly with them, there are a few extra steps that need to be taken to make the speaker sing instead of stutter.
Know Your Audience
Speakers know their topics, but they don’t always know their audience. Some audiences come to a presentation with a depth of knowledge and high level of interest. Others? Not so much. The best presenters ask detailed questions about who will be in the audience. They tweak their message to meet audience needs. If you’re working with a speaker, make sure they get this information even if they don’t ask for it.
Use a Mic
Always. It may be tempting to go without a microphone if the audience is small and you’re confident in your ability to project your voice. Don’t. Even a small audience can find it difficult to hear over the clatter of plates being removed from the lunch table. Or a hotel air handling system. Use a microphone. You’ll never regret it.
On a related note, be sure to dress for a microphone. Items like loose jackets, chunky necklaces, or scarves can rub against a mic and drown out your words – or at least serve as another distraction for your audience.
Check Your Tech
Allow ample time to check any technology that you will be using. If using a PowerPoint presentation, load it early so you can check for missing fonts and photos that might not transfer. (Did you know you can a save your fonts WITH your presentation? Search “Save Fonts with PowerPoint” in the “Save As” menu.)
Even checking technology is no guarantee it will work, so be prepared to punt. I once gave a presentation to about 300 emergency room doctors and nurses. I arrived ahead of time, checked the stage, loaded my slide deck, and viewed it on the screen. With 20 minutes left before I spoke, I simply put the plastic lens cover on the projector. When I took the cover off after being introduced, it became apparent that one of bulbs in the projector had burned out. Only half of the image displayed. I continued my presentation sans images.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
If you’re a speaker, identify someone who can help you on the day of the presentation. This person may not be who made the arrangements to get you there in the first place. But this person can get you water, fix your tie. This presentation buddy needs to be available and accessible.
Take a moment to check out the space where you will be speaking. If there is a stage, how do you get on and off of it? Where will you put your notes and your water? If using slides, how will you see them? If all you have is the same screen your audience is looking at, think about how to handle it. You don’t want to spend a lot of time with your back to the audience.
Most speakers will practice their presentations. But there are other elements that need to be rehearsed. Pay close attention to the transitions. Is someone introducing you? If so, what will happen when you take the stage? Do you shake hands? Hug? High five? At the end of your presentation, what happens next? If a host or emcee is taking the stage, work out ahead of time what that interaction will look like (and where!).
Take time for a short walk-through. This will guarantee the audience’s last impression won’t be one of uncertainty and awkwardness. An eight-hour conference can be run through in less than an hour if all you focus on is the transitions. I have never had a client regret this time.
Do you have handouts? Think about how you will get them distributed. If they can’t be included in conference packets ahead of time, arrive early and place them on tables. Distribution while you are presenting is often distracting. A nice stack in the middle of the table keeps them out of the way as people arrive, but still handy.
Invest in a Clock
Time. Give it some thought. If you have 45 minutes, does that include time for questions? Ten minutes of questions can go by very quickly. Keeping track of time while on stage can be more challenging than it seems. Larger conferences may provide a speaker timer near the front of the stage. If that isn’t an option, bring a battery-operated wall clock. It can be set somewhere just off stage where it is visible to you. Your cell phone seems like a great option . . . until you forget to go back to the podium to look at it!
Paying attention to these small details makes a difference. Good luck on your next presentation!
Few things make people in a group setting more uncomfortable than silence.
People look awkwardly at their phones or notebooks while the lack of speech weighs heavily in the air. Nobody makes eye contact until someone breaks the tension with nervous laughter.
But, shhhh . . .
There’s power in that silence.
Musicians know this. A few (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Claude Debussy, as a start) have been credited with variations on the sentiment that “the music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” Or as the jazz musician Miles Davis put it: “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.”
Silence gives noise meaning. In many situations, it is a golden ticket to stronger communication and building trust.
After all, when we have a message to deliver, we want people to listen. Silence may signal that someone is actively paying attention and they need a moment to collect their thoughts before responding. Silence, in this case, suggests they’ve actually listened to the conversation before forming their own commentary.
Posing a good question to the group also may result in quiet space. People are thinking, figuring out how to frame their responses. Consider the communication styles of those around you. While some people work through their ideas verbally, others need a few minutes of quiet time to collect their thoughts and courage.
If a group is brainstorming or sharing ideas, you can expect that conversation will ebb and flow. For a few minutes, ideas may come very quickly and then the pace slows down. Just as a piece of music may contain different time signatures, this rhythm may change multiple times throughout the conversation. If you don’t allow space between the noise, ideas could be left out.
There are times, of course, that silence signals a problem.
For example, phone conversations or conference calls are difficult to monitor when it comes to silence. Because you can’t read non-verbal cues, it’s challenging to know whether silence means a person is thinking (perfect!), walked away in frustration (not perfect!), or got disconnected (oops!).
If you are gathering in person, silence could signal that everyone isn’t prepared for the meeting. Just because you created a thorough agenda doesn’t mean everyone has read it. Watch body language to determine whether people need a moment to compose their thoughts or they haven’t completed their homework.
The most difficult part about silence may not be interpreting it, but in allowing it to happen. Handling a bit of silence may be more challenging than you think.
We’re so used to filling quiet with sound that true silence may feel like eternity even if it’s only a few seconds or more.
If you’re tempted to jump in with a comment, stop. Count silently in your head or watch the second hand of a clock. Don’t fall into the trap of rescuing anybody. Let the awkward silence achieve its superpower.
You won’t have to wait long. In my experience someone will start talking in 10 seconds or less. Someone almost always does.
Shhh . . . wait for it.
Think about the last time you showed up for a meeting.
Did the group leader take a moment and review why the group was gathered? Did she summarize what had been agreed upon at the last meeting and what needed to be accomplished at this one?
How did that meeting go?
When a group meets, it pays to devote two to three minutes at the start of every meeting to recap previous efforts and share a vision for the future.
This does not mean you revisit the previous meeting’s entire agenda. Projects would never move forward if you did that. But taking a few minutes to share where things are at or what has happened since the last meeting can be beneficial.
To be clear, a recap is different than sending out meeting notes or minutes (which should be distributed after each gathering). But if you assume that everyone in the meeting has read the previous meeting notes, you are likely to be disappointed. (No judgment here. It’s reality.)
Even if everyone reads the notes and were at the last meeting, they will appreciate a reminder of what is going on, where things are headed, and what needs to be done.
After all, people make better decisions when they have context for the questions, needs, or purpose.
Start your recap with a statement of purpose, declare why you are meeting. Dignify past efforts by briefly providing the facts: the who, what, when, why. Let them know what needs attention and action today.
This statement can be part of each agenda and read by someone at the start of each meeting. The brief summary allows everyone to move as a team and step into the role of decision maker. It serves as a friendly reminder of why the group has gathered and keeps everyone focused on what is important at the moment.
There’s another way to look at it is like this. To move forward as a team, you should:
Identify purpose + Summarize steps taken + Identify desired outcome
If you want to make progress, it’s always worth taking a step or two backwards to recap.
Thanks to technology, we have many ways to communicate when members in a group don’t live in the same geographic region. Conference calls, email conversations, webinars, video conferencing, and other tools make it possible to participate in the same conversation without being in the same room.
We appreciate the ease of bringing together people who live in Bismarck and St. Paul and knowing that everyone will make it home for dinner. Touching base through Google Hangout on a snow day? Yes, please.
As much as we love the efficiency of virtual conversations, however, we recognize something is missing.
We believe meaningful relationships are best nurtured when we meet face-to-face. For collaborations and conflict resolution, in-person conversations are critical. Looking someone in the eye or shaking their hand is valuable in any situation.
We thrive on helping our clients improve their in-person interactions, whether it’s a meeting, an event, a conference, or a gathering.
The reality is human interaction is nuanced. People communicate more than what their words convey. In fact, only about 7 percent of what we communicate is through actual words. The way words are spoken and facial expressions provide most of the clues for what is being said.
When we meet virtually, it is more difficult to read body language, sense the emotional intelligence of others, and gauge another’s engagement in the conversation or activity. Video-conferencing solves some of these challenges, but it is still possible to miss subtle gestures.
We are programmed to feel closer and connected to someone who has touched us. When we meet face-to-face, we do more than gather in the same room. We shake hands, we touch a shoulder. We may even offer a hug.
These brief touches contribute to our own health. Researchers have discovered that touch “strengthens friendship bonds, triggers more positive emotions, and encourages people to be more responsive to others’ needs,” according to a Psychology Today article published in 2016.
There are heavy social pressures to participate when we’re face-to-face. In these situations, we are typically more engaged in the conversation and less apt to step away. Our posture, vocalizations, and non-verbals cue others that we’re listening (see above), and active listening is an important way we build trust with others.
When trust increases, better discussion occurs. People are more willing to share and build upon each other’s ideas. As in a classroom, we learn from more than just the presenter or leader. We may learn just as much or more from the others in the room, not only when interactions are smooth and comfortable. In face-to-face interactions, questions and rapport build off each other. These moments of spark aren’t interrupted by low bandwidth, connection delays, or distance.
We know that face-to-face interactions aren’t always possible. But taking the time to make them happen is always worth the effort.
P.S. Looking for a way to jump-start your next face-to-face event? Download our free Event Strategy Worksheet.
We can do more together than alone.
It’s true, but hard enough when individuals want to work together. Those challenges multiply when organizations with different motivations want to collaborate. Even actions like identifying goals and determining how to share resources can be complex.
Organizations may agree that a partnership will lead to good outcomes and stronger relationships, but they also may be overwhelmed and uncertain about how to get there.
Rarely is there a one-size-fits-all approach to facilitating these partnerships. Yet there are two valuable elements to keep in mind when gathering people with different perspectives who want achieve a common vision: stability and communication.
Create a system of stability
It doesn’t sound sexy at all, but stability has the power to ensure that completed collaborative work doesn’t get undone.
It starts by building trust among group members. Trust is supported by guidelines of conduct (e.g. be respectful, show up on time, listen carefully, and participate) and guidelines for meetings and communications (e.g. limit discussion via email thread, keep to an agenda during face to face meetings, promptly distribute supporting materials).
Dale Carnegie once said that “people support the world they help create.” You want members to add their voices and share their expertise; it’s why they’re a partner. Building trust gives diverse members of a group ownership to keep specific details, items, and issues moving forward.
Stability also highlights the expertise of group members. It provides opportunities for multiple voices to be heard during meetings and supports a group when responsibilities and resources are shared.
A system of stability is built when a group defines the processes and structures for intra-organization and governance. Especially important is how the group decides to resolve differences. This task can become more difficult as the number of members exceed 6 to 8 organizations. At this size, a hierarchical governance structure and an outside firm (like Reach Partners) may be needed to keep the group and its mission stable.
Financial stability becomes important when resources are needed to advance a cause or policy, or required to create an object, event, or process. In these cases, partnerships can help to maximize resources including funds, expertise, and influence. Long-term financial planning is one challenge of nearly all partnerships. For these reason, groups typically look for short-term solutions, for instance leveraging funding sources like grants.
Communication. Communication. Communication.
Communication supports the momentum of the group and creates a case for collaboration.
What is the purpose of the partnership? What are the proposed outcomes? How does each member organization and participant’s actions move toward that purpose? How does that group’s participation move their own business needs? Questions such as these inform communications, align partners, and help to focus internal and external communication.
Communication techniques, such as storytelling, can bring the group back again to the narrative and goals that hold the group together. Taking time to highlight stakeholders’ motivations (a nonprofit’s mission, a business’s goals, an agency’s role) and the benefits they receive by participating can help to keep the group on task.
An experienced facilitator can understand how to navigate the differences between organizations while carefully pointing out the risks of pursuing the goal alone. An experienced facilitator will encourage collaboration, giving organizations both small and large an opportunity to contribute and share their expertise.
Yes, we can do better together than alone. It takes patience; it takes flexibility. In the end, it is well worth the effort.
Examples of how Reach Partners has facilitated partnerships:
Communication is key to the success of every project we manage. From brainstorming to delivering the final product, we work hard at making sure everybody is heading toward the same goal. We then ensure our stakeholders know what’s happening and when.
To get to that point, we participate in and facilitate numerous conversations. Some are easy and straight forward; some are challenging and uncomfortable.
This is why I looked forward to reading Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and Life, One Conversation at a Time with my Mastermind group recently.
Scott believes that interpersonal difficulties, at both work and home, are often a direct result of our inability to communicate well. She encourages us to use conversations to connect deeper with colleagues, partners and family members, and suggests ways to handle strong emotions – those icky outbursts that can pop up when difficult conversations take place.
Fierce Conversation has a different feel to it than some of my other Mastermind favorites: Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose and Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. Still, I took away four key messages from Scott and am working hard to incorporate these tips.
1. Remove the word “but” from your vocabulary and replace it with “and.”
I use “but” a lot when I talk and write, so I need to be intentional about swapping these short connecting words. Scott suggests that “but” stops a conversation while “and” continues it.
For example, if somebody needs my assistance and I am busy, I may be tempted to say: “I want to help, but I am in the middle of something right now.” The listener doesn’t hear me say that I want to help; she hears that I’m busy. If I replace “but” with “and,” I can continue the conversation with more details about when I can help.
Of course, this suggestion isn’t always perfect.
Recently I caused considerable confusion when I responded to a group text invite with: “Gathering sounds lovely and I already have a full weekend with family and activities.” The friend who issued the invitation had no clue whether I was coming or not, and I spent the next few minutes trying to explain my new philosophy. Oops!
2. Have fierce conversations with myself.
I always thought that having a conversation meant having it with others. Scott suggests that we use the same model and tools we use to communicate with others to communicate with ourselves. Begin by asking yourself, “What fierce conversations am I not having with myself that need to happen?”
Do you need to ask yourself why a relationship is strained? Or why work isn’t as fulfilling as it was three years ago? Granted the conversation might not happen out loud in a coffee shop. Try journaling instead. Sometimes the best energy we can give is to ourselves.
3. Accept that fierce conversations cannot be dependent on how others respond.
We’ve all been there: there are conversations we avoid because we know the other person will be upset, angry, defensive.
Scott says that if I know something must be changed, I am the one who needs to change it. Or as Tolle puts it, I need to not be attached to the outcome of a conversation. Gulp.
To help, Scott clearly lays out how to have tough conversations like The Confrontation (and these references are clearly labeled in the appendix. Score!).
She recommends using an opening statement that is either written down or practiced out loud. This statement includes naming the issue, an example that illustrates the situation you want to change, your emotions about the issue, clarification on what is at stake, your contribution to the problem, your wish to resolve the issue, and an invitation for the other person to respond.
And she says that this statement should last 60 seconds or less.
Let me repeat: 60 seconds or less.
I have yet to use this tip, and I appreciate that Scott includes in the book numerous examples of how this model has worked.
4. Believe that a careful conversation is a failed conversation.
What?! As a person from the upper Midwest, I thrive on gentle, careful conversations. (I bet you do, too.) Scott isn’t advocating that we move away from being kind and respectful. She does challenge us to ask questions when we don’t understand something. She advocates for being curious about others’ ideas and really digging deep into them.
When we’re careful, we’re not vulnerable, she says.
Vulnerability is something I’ve explored by reading Brown, who has researched and lectured on the topic extensively. Brown sees vulnerability as the birthplace of connection and the path to feelings of worthiness.
If we’re not willing to be vulnerable, we deprive ourselves (and others, frankly) of growth. If we’re not willing to be vulnerable, we’ll have lots of careful conversations that lead to frustration, if anywhere.
Fierce Conversations came with suggested assignments, which felt more like practice than homework. Thanks to that, these concepts feel applicable and like something I’d use the next time I need to have a difficult conversation.
What great books have you read lately?