Not Just a Conference but a memorable EXPERIENCE

The word “experience” is defined as the totality of the cognitions given by perception; all that is perceived, understood, and remembered.  An experience is more than just an event, it pulls from all the mental images, the thoughts, the smells, the sights and touches that create a overall perception of something fun, exciting, great or dull, boring and forgettable.

So can you make a conference or retreat “a memorable experience”?

Most of us have all attended a conference or retreat at one time or another.  It is not unusual to use custom imprinted products at these event.  People who aren’t familiar with the power of carefully chosen promotional products think that these items are just cheap trinkets and IF there is enough money left over then maybe you should throw some in the mix. If they are purchased at the last moment without a lot of thought that may be true.  However you can make any event “a memorable experience” by incorporating a little creativity and forethought.

Let’s use the example of a June corporate manager retreat at a beautiful resort in Carmel, California.  The purpose of the meeting is to roll out objectives for the upcoming year and improve communication among the group. The retreat theme is “Passport to Success.”

Company A does a great job of planning and executing the event. However they do not see any value in adding promotional products. Profits weren’t what they expected this year so they think, “Why spend the money?  All of those trinkets are just a big waste of our budget—plus no one really cares about getting that stuff anyway.”

Company B also does a great job planning and executing the event. However, they do see value in complementing this momentous event by adding some carefully chosen promotional products to the event mix.

Now, let’s go to the event and see what happens…

Here’s the Itinerary:

Friday Night –Arrive at the resort for a welcome party and greeting from the company President.

Company B (our fans of promotional products) decide to complement the retreat theme, “Passport to Success,” by having the President give each attendee a Passport (i.e., promotional product) beautifully decorated with the company logo and retreat theme. Inside the passport is their hotel room key that is also decorated with the same logo and theme. “How neat,” exclaims one manager.

The President explains that this passport not only holds their room key, but also is their guide to the weekend’s activities. At each function they will receive a stamp on the appropriate page. This stamp will validate that they attended the activity and have completed that step towards their success.  What makes this fun is the fact that the pages are not marked yet with what the events are.

The President tells everyone that the itinerary of educational and social events is in their rooms, “But not where you’d expect,” he says with a grin.

NOTE: While the attendees really enjoy the added mystery and fun that the passports bring, these inexpensive little goodies also serve another very important purpose.

You see, in previous years the company has had a problem with managers not attending all of the functions. All too often they would show up for a meeting or two and then spend the rest of the weekend on vacation. This of course defeats the whole purpose of the retreat. The passports and validation stamps help insure that attendees are coming to the functions that the company paid a lot of money to host and are very important to the company’s success.

Company A? Well, as we said, they think these silly promo products are just a waste of time. Their night is pretty uneventful. After a very brief welcome from the President they are off to the bar to plan their real itinerary for the weekend, namely only showing up briefly at a few events to be seen and then disappearing as quickly as possible to “do their own thing.”

Here is where the communication breakdown starts. The managers are feeling like this is going to be another one of those boring retreats where they are locked in classrooms all weekend.  They justify their lack of participation with the comment, “Hey, I work hard. I deserve a vacation.”  Their plan is exactly that, to have a vacation, not a learning retreat.

Unfortunately, they do not understand Company A’s position or intent for the retreat.

The company spent a lot of money to host this event and while they would like to see the managers have some fun, this is a business function. The company has specific things they want to share with the managers that are crucial to the company’s overall success.  This won’t happen if everyone is looking for ways to not participate. Unfortunately, because Company A doesn’t do much to spice up the weekend or make it fun, they live up to their boring retreat reputation.

Here is a key question… Will the money they set out to save by not purchasing promotional products actually work out to be a savings? Or will their small savings actually hurt the entire retreats ability to be successful?

Let’s look back in on Company B’s evening…

Friday Night – In Your Room

When our manager from Company B enters her room for a good night’s sleep, she is pleasantly surprised.  On the nightstand is a small bag. Inside this bag is what appears to be a disposable camera. But, not just any camera, this one is totally decorated with the event theme.  The entire camera is wrapped with full color pictures from last year’s event. She takes a moment to reflect on how fun and beneficial last year’s event was; and is reminded of why she came to this momentous event.

On a note inside the bag she is asked to add this camera to her outfit tomorrow morning (promotional lanyard enclosed of course) and take lots of pictures of the fun times they will be experiencing. At the bottom of the note is a PS “Tomorrow is full of great learning and fun. May your dreams lead you to success…For a custom itinerary, look at your pillowcase!”

Our manager rolls back her covers and WOW, her pillowcase is glowing in the dark! As she looks closer she realizes the itinerary of the weekend’s events are printed right on the pillowcase.  “How fun!” she thinks as she checks out the list of weekend events. “This is going to be a great weekend!”

Saturday Golf Tournament –Attendees are teamed up with managers from various parts of the country.

Company A has the same golf course and itinerary as Company B. But, without the nice little extra touches that Company B added, Company A’s tournament just doesn’t seem to be as successful.

There is a lot of confusion over who is teamed up with whom. Many people have shown up late. Some have complained that they lost the itinerary that they received in the lobby, so they weren’t sure what time to show up.  Others do not show up at all.

Company B decides to spice up the event by having custom embroidered polo shirts delivered to all players the night before with instructions to wear their golf shirts and find their team members by looking for the same color shirts on the practice range.  Each foursome has its own color and they are designated as the red team, blue team, green team, etc.

While Company A figured this was an unnecessary expense, Company B realized the main purpose of the golf outing: to open communications between the managers from different parts of the country. Way too often the company found that managers were operating autonomously and not sharing the combined resources of the managers from other parts of the country. The golf foursomes were created with sharing in mind. Each member of a team was from a different region of the country. This way, the managers got a chance to share an event as a team with managers from varied backgrounds.

With Company B’s brilliant team uniform concept, they not only gave the teammates something to share that day, but also gave them a very attractive garment as a souvenir of that day’s event.  Players were very comfortable and much more open to sharing with managers from the other regions and came to a new level of understanding the strength that they had as a combined team.

Saturday Night – Awards Ceremonies

Company A and Company B have the same ballroom and even the same meals—just one difference:  Company B chose some very tasteful awards for their top-producing managers.  Company B clearly recognizes that employees and managers are VERY motivated by rewards and incentives.

Their banquet is full of really unique awards. Crystal pieces, sculptures, iridescent plaques. The awards for each performance category are really quite stunning (Little did the managers know that the company did not pay nearly what these awards look like they would cost!).  There is quite a buzz in the crowd as managers intently await the announcement of award winners. Winners’ faces are beaming with pride as they carry their beautiful achievements back to their tables.

As a final wrap up, each attendee that completed their passport is presented with a simple, yet unique, cloisonné pin that commemorates the retreat and their participation in the many educational activities.  They are encouraged to wear the pin each day as part of their uniform. This way they are recognized by customers and fellow associates as someone who has been fully trained in the company’s new directives.  Managers are encouraged to work towards excellence so they can be recognized at next year’s banquets. Boy, those supplied cameras sure came in handy! Flashes are going off everywhere as winners are posing with their awards and managers taking team photos of their newfound friends and comrades.

Company A? Well, what can we say? Same old stale banquet, long speeches and big bar tabs are the norm. Tables quickly empty as soon as the meal is served (some even before).

Sunday – Brunch and Closing Ceremonies

At the closing ceremonies, the event committee congratulates everyone on an excellent weekend and reinforces the things learned and the new relationships created.  They collect all of the cameras from attendees and make an exciting announcement.  A photo album will be created from the best pictures. Each attendee will receive a custom imprinted photo album as a reminder of this great weekend.

The attendees all say this is the best retreat ever. Company B is ecstatic with the results and with the forward moving plans.

Company A? Pretty much just another retreat. Not bad, but not necessarily anything memorable.

What’s the difference? Night and Day if you are looking at results.

A golf shirt, a camera, a pillowcase, a passport, a pin and photo album… Doesn’t sound like much individually, but creatively integrated into this weekend’s events and purposes, these little goodies made all the difference in the world.

Cost?  About $70 per attendee. Let’s see… the company paid about $1,500 to transport, lodge and feed each manager for the weekend.  This extra 5% in cost made the weekend better, more fun, more memorable, and MORE EFFECTIVE. Worth the extra 5%?

Oh yeah!  It wasn’t just a conference…It was “a MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE!

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