Delegate Driven: What It Means to Make Your Conference or Seminar: Staging a Successful Conference or Seminar Involves More Than Just Applying the Latest Technology. It's about Having a Clear Objective, an Appropriate Venue, Expert Help, and Being Delegate Driven. (Event Management)

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Nothing motivates quite like a well-organised get-together involving key leaders. In his book Jack, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch highlights the importance that his Crotonville management seminars played in sharing ideas and catalysing the success of the multi-billion dollar company.

Smart new technology will come and go, but there is nothing more powerful than face-to-face meetings, dynamic conventions and conferences, or well-planned seminars for getting the message across.

You don't have to spend mega-dollars on a conference, but you do need to invest sufficiently in the right areas. For example, if the emphasis of the event is on creating networking opportunities, ensure the food and beverages are up to scratch. If it's an incentive event for high achievers, then make sure the attendees are appropriately spoiled.

Debbie Tawse, of Celebrity Speakers, knows what makes functions work. "Have a good programme, one that effectively blends the business and non-business aspects. Get the right mix of content, delivery style, and captivating speaker."

The opening speaker is vital, according to Tawse. He or she will set the tone for the entire event. "The closing speaker is important too, because the finale is the lasting impression people take away with them."

An experienced MC injects continuity into the event by linking key messages. "He or she must be relied upon to front the entire programme, freeing the organiser up to take care of other glitches or details behind the scenes," says Tawse.

Tawse also knows where organisers go wrong. "I've seen people spend too much money in one area, and not enough in others. Too often organisers view speakers as a cost, rather than an investment that delivers a tangible return," she says. And watch out for a poorly balanced programme; poor introduction of keynote speakers; heavy food that has attendees nodding-off after lunch; insufficient breaks, and a lack of foresight when scheduling the conference dinner. Is it, for instance, better to hold it on the first night or the last night?

Selecting the right venue is also crucial. Is the room big enough? Will attendees feel comfortable and cared for (they are, after all, taking precious time off work)? Will they consider it value for money?

Connie Clarkson, sales manager conferencing for the Hyatt Regency Auckland, believes success comes down to having a clear event strategy. "There must be one clear overall message in the event programme, and everything must work towards it."

For Mike Horne, Sky City's conference and outcatering manager, successful conferences or seminars are all about adequate planning and "huge amounts" of communication with the chosen venue.

Problems invariably arise when the function organiser is not involved in running the show on the day. He or she may not have passed on all the essential information he says. "This is where a professional conference organiser [PCO] saves headaches--they know how to allocate time and prioritise things."

Sally Bary, a PCO for Hamilton-based Forum Meeting Planners, believes that whilst organisers need certain outcomes from their conferences, they must also be `delegate driven'. "Ask yourself why the delegate is there? How can they get value for the time and money spent? People come to conferences for different reasons, but what they really want is to feel that they got value from it," adds Bary. "Otherwise they will question why they need to be there next time."

Being delegate driven starts months before the conference, according to Jan Tonkin, a PCO for The Conference Company. "Delegates need to be inspired and excited in order to convince them to register. They need to believe that it will be a valuable and worthwhile experience. Then a lot of energy must go into the design and delivery of the programme to maximise interaction and connection, so they don't leave disappointed. …