The biggest hidden expense to your organization’s conference is the cost of people being away from their workspace to attend it. When staff is attending a 2 or 3 day conference, they are not focused on their day-to-day activities, which means they are not selling, innovating or producing. Addressing the challenges of obtaining the highest return on your investment dollars on conferences starts by having a clear conference theme and desired after conference results. In order to understand how to maximize your return on conference dollar investment, ask yourself these questions: “Why am I holding this conference?” and “What do I want my attendees to bring away and implement after the conference?”

To answer these questions, first identify your objective goals. While senior executives have an idea of what they want to achieve, they may not know what their front-line people struggle with daily. What are the team’s or organization’s aspirations and strategies? What are the challenges the prospective conference participants are facing, and where would they like to stretch themselves and learn? Aligning their struggles and challenges with your core business strategies for the conference can be accomplished by polling your prospective attendees.

How do you identify the main conference objectives and how do you ensure your ROI? Your first fundamental step should be to send out surveys six months to a year in advance to managers and fast-track leaders to ensure the learning and development objectives—and keynote speaker(s)—are synchronized to company’s or division’s  strategic mission. Surveys should be open-ended polling questions focused on identifying the issues with which the team is struggling, but keep the survey short or you may not get many responses.

When you have identified your main conference objectives, determine what you need from the organization, your team and yourself to achieve those objectives. Bring in keynote subject matter experts to provide knowledge and techniques on how to achieve the goals of the conference theme.  Be sure to follow up the keynote with a breakout session to practice and drive home the new knowledge and techniques.

Following up after the conference is crucial for further locking-in-the-learning:

  • After the conference, follow-up with further breakout sessions where attendees can drill deeper into their challenges with the keynote speaker facilitating the sessions. This practice will reinforce the learning concepts from the conference and enable your employees to work through some of their challenging issues rather than feeling they were at a one-sided lecture.
  • Provide an opportunity to do a tele-seminar or webinar with one of the experts and/or provide five minute video excerpts of what was discussed at the conference. This follow-up will reinforce the message that was conveyed during the conference and lock-in-the-learning for the participants.
  • Pull in experiential learning that illustrates your theme, such as collaborating better on innovation or working better between teams, etc.  It should be fun and engaging and aligned with the conference theme.  A typical format is a workshop or a group activity that demonstrates the theme, such as collaboration or teamwork, for example. Make this a fun event that is illustrative of how the collaboration will take place.

Key measurements, such as return on investment, are showing significant results (ROI x 17 in a recent study) when follow up training is coupled with additional executive coaching. Therefore, when bringing in an expert keynote speaker, it’s important to also ‘lock-in-the-learning’ by strengthening the original speech with break-out sessions and following up weekly or quarterly with tele-seminars or webinars. This is a proven sure-fire approach to ensuring your conference dollars are worth the return on your investment.