I have posted up ideas for improving large events and generating more participation and engagement in other posts in my blog. One of these builds on Ideas for Success for Off-site Meetings as well as others on speeding up team building events such as The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine and others that compare icebreakers to effective learning frameworks. There is one on using games versus exercises, for example. I also focus on using purposeful icebreakers in training and events in this post, looking to stimulate better or different ideas for getting more done in less time.

This present post was stimulated by reading an email in Promotional Consultant Today that shared some ideas of Joe Heaps and Dave Reed. the owners of eSpeakers.com. I have no relationship with them, but thought some of their ideas and frameworks made a good place on which to build some thoughts. Their ideas were proposed as follows:

1. Outline the content and goals for the event.
2. Know your budget.
3. Cast a large net.
4. Start the narrowing process.
5. Make your selection.

My thoughts are somewhat broader than that of simply selecting a presenter, that your senior management involved in a large event need to know and clarify the precise purpose of holding that meeting.  This helps determine what you are trying to generate as desired outcomes and what results can be expected. The simple transfer of information or the generating of a spark of awareness are no longer good reasons for holding a meeting.

These days, so many things can be done through social media and webcasting that the thought of pulling together a large group of people for an off-site or even a within-the-building kind of event can be costly as well as time consuming. Even when it is on-site, it is hard to shut down a department and do an all hands meeting unless there can be backup for those attending. Also recognize that many people are fearful for their job security and do not want to do anything that would affect their performance results (like attend a training session or even take a vacation — click here for an article discussing that).

You need to have a solid case for why you are getting people together. Usually, that would have to include some interactive and engaging activity to help formally build teams or improve collaboration. You can do powerpoints right on their computers if you simply want to share information! But teaching some group skills and generating alignment and collaboration among the key players is hard to do with email; sometimes, engaging activities are more practical and effective. When we plan and help others to plan, we try to generate an interactive program that links directly to some desired group outcome, such as improving the planning process and leaving some impact:

Assistant LD testim 100

On the budget issues, you will have the costs of all the “loaded labor rates” of the participants plus the cost of the venue plus meals and maybe some overtime for some. If you hire a speaker, those costs can go off the roof. How some of these “professional presenters” can claim fees of $30,000 or more for standing there talking at your audience with little knowledge of how things work — something that everyone will surely forget a couple of days later — is way beyond my comprehension. But that is a reality.

(Big Name Speakers want first class travel and accommodations, in addition to Big Time Fees. And the speakers’ bureaus get a nice profit from the booking, also — they want commissions higher than the fees that we charge!)

One question you should ask is simple: Will they leave behind anything tangible that actually changes anything, or is the Big Name simply to appeal to the egos of the senior managers so they can share the, “Oh, we had XYZ at our annual retreat and I hit golf balls with him the next day!” with their buddies at the country club. Sure, that might be a neat thing to do, but at the cost of having everyone else’s salaries sitting there for the comments? (Years ago, I saw Joe Theisman present on customer service at a client’s Big Annual Meeting with Customers. Great. I not sure any of them chose to go to that meeting because Joe was presenting (he owned a restaurant) nor do I think anyone could remember anything an hour afterwards. And, I am not sure he hung around for golf the next day, either. I think he is still out there speaking…)

Heaps and Reed talk about casting a wide net for speakers and selecting 6 to 10 that might appear to be good matches. This makes sense since they run a speakers bureau kind of service with plenty of speakers from which to choose. I would suggest casting a wider net, looking for alternatives to simply having a talking head. There are many presenters and facilitators out there who can do interactive and activity-based things that actually generate involvement. I think that is a far different kind of activity than sitting on one’s seat and listening to some well-rehearsed joke.

moose color

You can get my Moose Joke, my best session closing story, by clicking here.

If you are going to hire a speaker, be sure to ask a lot of pointed questions to insure that his presentation is memorable and that it aligns greatly to your desired goals and outcomes. And remember that if you don’t know where you are going, any path will get you there. You MUST have a pretty tight grip on your framework in order to best evaluate a presenter or an approach that will work for your organization and people.

Checking for references is also a must, and you should ask for ones that were presentations years ago to see if there really was any stick. The CEO may remember the golf a lot more than the work that he paid for.

My approach these days is to talk people out of hiring me for presentations and workshops — they should do things themselves and keep it internal to save money and keep things really relevant.

A large insurance company had their Senior VP of IT go around delivering Lost Dutchman and to focus on interdepartmental collaboration. His role in delivery was Expedition Leader and the expressed goal of the game, “To mine as much gold as we can” explained his role in managing IT to support the operational groups. Who better to do this? And, he was also an engaging presenter, which helps even more. Being a real organizational leader, that kind of event leaves a lasting positive impression on everyone involved.

Herb LD testim 100








I think our materials work just great on their own without outside facilitation — they are designed for that — and we often will chat about who in their organization would be the best presenter for a session on Square Wheels or who could be the Expedition Leader for a Lost Dutchman game. Because I use cartoons and ask tabletops for their thoughts and ideas, the metaphors presented have a lot of “stick.” And even when I do wind up presenting, I will generally involve and engage the most senior managers to help me lead the debriefing and discussions of things to be done differently. After all, they can do that so much better than me.

Bala is the senior HR guy for a billion dollar retail conglomerate in India and he shared with me that we met at a conference in 1994 when I presented Square Wheels to an ISPI conference — I asked him what he remembered and he went through my course outline and key points of my presentation. (People tend to remember me a lot less than they remember the cartoons, which is perfect!)

We sell inexpensive Square Wheels toolkits containing speaker notes, powerpoint presentation files, worksheets and the like. We will rent our Lost Dutchman game for large groups, too. It is easy to deliver and bombproof and is designed for people to facilitate themselves. (We also sell the game for repeated usage).

Kyla LD testim 100

PMC is one of a gazillion companies offering solid programs for organizational improvement that can be self-delivered without a great deal of cost. Plus, you are presenting it with internal people and saving large “presenter fees.” Few presenters really care if anything happens as a result of their work. I find many quite polished and entertaining, but I cannot personally think of anything that I have gotten (other than some positive as well as negative teaching approaches) from any of those people.


Just Do it.

Don’t hire some famous basketball coach who thinks he can tell you how to run a large operation of adults when he supervises a small staff of people plus some athletes. Do you think a football coach and commentator can really give you or your people (or your senior executives) any ideas that are really useful and actionable? Don’t think that climbing Everest gives one any real insight into the motivations of a Gen X’er in your workplace. I did a 130 meter bungee jump, but I don’t think I actually learned anything from that! Does anyone think that my talking about that would have any impact, whatsoever?

Find a program that matches to your desired outcomes and look to see how you can do this yourself,

For the FUN of It!

Scott Debrief

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

<a rel=”author” href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/114758253812293832123″ a>