Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

October 2012

PCMA Convening Leaders Preview: Morten T. Hansen

By Michelle Russell, Editor in Chief
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Say I put on a sales conference, and at that sales conference, we teach people how to use social media to improve their number of customer leads.  I've invited 200 salespeople from different organizations - and then I also know another 200 salespeople.  Three months after the conference, I do a survey of the people that went to the conference and then I can also get the data of those that didn't show up.  I now have a contrast between two groups of people.  One got the treatment, so to speak, of learning social media to gather more leads, and the other did not - at least not from us.  There are certain conferences where you can actually go down that path, where you actually have almost like a control group.

Let's switch gears to talk about your first book, Collaboration.  How can meetings become more collaborative?

That's a great question to apply to the world of conferences.  What I am seeing in companies the last few years since I published the book is that there are many more senior executives that see the need for collaboration.  But I've seen more cases of bad collaboration than of good.  They go to their conference [organizers] and say, "The key objective of this conference is to bring our people together." But how do you actually make this a venue to enhance collaboration?

Most event planners just say networking.  Do people really network at these conferences? Do they really collaborate? The question I ask in this book is not can you collaborate more; it's can you provide disciplined collaboration that is targeted at performance improvements?

It isn't the people that know the most people who do better than the rest.  What I would do to enhance collaboration in a conference is that I would start with the question: What is the economic value that people can get out of collaborating at our conference? And for some, there's an obvious answer: sales.  They can develop customer relationships.  Okay, that's fine.  Undisciplined collaboration, however, is saying let's network more.

I went to a conference once [for a large company] where somebody announced, "Okay, your challenge in this conference is to find 20 people you didn't know before [you came here] and network." Why is that helpful? It isn't.  Because that's not directed at economic value; that's just directed at spending more time talking to people.

It would have been far more effective at the conference to say, "What are the economic opportunities across the company?" At the conference, it could be at breakfast, it could be over lunch; it doesn't have to be formalized - but how can we have, say, cross-selling, across two [different] divisions [that do not normally interact with each other] and use the conference as a vehicle to have informal discussions around that? Get to know each other, talk about the issues in a setting that isn't hostile.  That is targeted collaboration in a conference.  If you're the conference organizer - I mean, this is perfect, this is low-effort - what you do before the conference is you ask the participants what they think are the collaboration opportunities.  Once we have that data, we will - for each participant - customize what could be some of the discussions.  In other words, what we do is we facilitate those discussions.

Imagine you did that as a conference organizer and then ...  conference over.  You have to follow up on it.  Then next year, two of these initiatives are now ongoing, they're very successful - and it all started, or got kick-started, or got focused at the conference.  Now you're adding value.

Let me give you one example.  One of the largest banks in Asia invited me to speak on collaboration at a meeting.  They had participants in different groups first generate opportunities in these kind of cross-divisional groups, and then once they identified the opportunity - it could be cross-selling, or cost-cutting, or any other kinds of opportunities across this company - the group had to develop a proposal for how to execute it, like a business plan.  And overnight, the executive committee reviewed all these proposals and determined the best ones.  At the end of the meeting, they walked away with five to 10 good business plans for concrete opportunities.  With that sort of thinking about your conference format, you can walk away with all kinds of opportunities.

More Resources
Learn more about Morten Hansen at mortenhansen.com

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