I recently hosted a group of 20 executives in our industry from across the nation for a two-day best practices sharing event. Previous meetings had been held in New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and now I played host in St. Cloud, Minnesota. What a contrast to the metropolitan cities and all they have to offer, but we were up to the challenge of making this a fun and productive event in our community.
Marco has benefited greatly from active participation in industry best practice and peer groups. I joined this national executive group of the top companies in our industry in 2005. The group was built on the idea that why re-create the wheel when we can openly share successes with resellers in non-competitive markets.
The ideas we have implemented as the result of information-sharing from this group has helped make Marco a better business and has added over $2 million to our bottom line. So, it was my time to return the favor and share Marco’s best practices.
Hosting a group of 20 executives is not easy. The logistics alone could keep someone from doing it. Whether you’re hosting a peer group, customers or a community event, here are some lessons I learned:
1. Share your local flavor.
In was not my intention to try to match the experiences the executives had in the big cities of New York, Baltimore or Philadelphia. I wanted to show our guests – most of them who have never been to St. Cloud – why we like living here. So I leveraged our local resources and built the “social networking” parts of the events around places that are unique to our city. We dined at Anton’s and Nick’s Third Floor (non-franchised local restaurants) and hosted one of the days at the River’s Edge Convention Center to highlight the Mississippi River, all in an effort to showcase our small Midwestern community and experience “Minnesota Nice."
2. Build strong content that can appeal to everyone.
A relevant business agenda is what draws people to most events. I decided to position the theme for our event around profitable growth. This is something we are good at, and I knew it would appeal to the attendees regardless of their size. We presented topics where we are perceived the industry leader, such as Managed Network Services, Lean Continuous Improvement and social media marketing. Our goal was to deliver high take-home value and I think we accomplished that.
3. Engage a team.
I’m well aware that coordination is not one of my strengths, so I augmented my weakness by looking to our team to handle all the details – and there were many. Just getting the group from the airport 80 miles away to Downtown St. Cloud through road construction was a feat in itself. From a logistics and hospitality standpoint, we made sure our guests were always taken care of leading up to and throughout the event. For the event content, I relied on our team and a couple of local consultants we use to share their expertise. Our guests got an opportunity to see not only what we do, but also who leads these initiatives at Marco. I think this was the most effective way to deliver the content because it gave our employees an opportunity to present their areas of expertise, and our audience was able to interact with the personalities that make Marco a great place to work.
4. Respond to the unexpected.
Anytime you host an event, you have to anticipate something unplanned could occur. Although we thought we had all of our bases covered, we experienced a few unexpected events that required a quick response. For example, on the first morning, the caterer delivered breakfast to the wrong location. Then we found out that a few members had to leave early, so in short order, we needed to video record some of the sessions. We also experienced a power outage in St. Cloud right after we demonstrated our back-up and continuous service system. It kicked in right away and our guests laughed and said, “Good demo.” Reacting to unexpected challenges and working through them in real-time are critical, whether hosting an important event or leading a team.
It’s definitely more comfortable to be an attendee than to host events like this. But this was our opportunity to pay back this important group that we learned so much from. I challenge you – the next time you’re given the chance to host an event, take it. It will serve as a positive reflection of your company, your employees and your community.