by Steve Adubato, PhD

As professionals, all of us are involved in meetings, seminars, workshops, corporate retreats and events. Very often, in these situations, we spend our time gathering information and data and putting reams of it together. We cram as much information as we can and confuse quantity with quality. I see it all the time and often ask the conveners of such events a question like this; “What is the primary message you want to get across?” Or, I’ll follow up with; “What’s the taka away?”, meaning, what do you want the participants to do when they leave?

Often, I will get two reactions. One is a blank stare, meaning no one has thought about these questions. They were too busy getting their information together—making sure all the PowerPoint presentations were organized and in order—to ever really think about the bigger picture. The other reaction I get sounds like this; “Steve, there are MANY things we want to accomplish. In fact, there is so much material to cover that I’m concerned we are not going to get to all of it.”

Both responses are problematic. Think about it. Instead of planning for an event that is months away by gathering information and putting it together into one big agenda, I say, start with the end and make it the beginning. What I mean by that is, don’t gather ANY information, don’t put together ANY PowerPoint presentations, until you have figured out what you want this whole thing to look and feel like.

When you put the end first, you can work backwards. If you have figured out what the main take away or message is and what you want the primary action or actions to be once people leave, then everything that you do must support those goals. If it doesn’t, don’t do it. So, instead of looking at this whole process as a cumulative one in which you are going to communicate as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time, figure out what you want your people to do and then customize all of your communication accordingly.

It sounds simple enough, but from my experience, it is all too rare. What’s frustrating is that millions of dollars are spent on these organizational events without much strategic or thoughtful planning and without the right questions being asked at the right time. Ask yourself how many of these events you’ve been to where late in the first day, or in the middle of the second day, you are talking to yourself saying; “How long is this going to go on for?” You are taking out your BlackBerry, you are falling asleep and you are distracted. You are not engaged and are being lectured to. You don’t really feel part of what is going on, but rather, are an unwilling witness to another data dump which follows the one before it.

The point here is that when you start at the end and figure out exactly what you want to accomplish in terms of your message and the actionable items you want your participants to achieve, it makes it so much easier. Remember, you never get points for how much you communicate, but rather for of what you communicate how much of it resonates with your audience. Your percentage will be a heck of a lot higher if you are smarter and more strategic in the way you go about these events as opposed to throwing as much information up on a wall as possible and hoping that just a little bit of it sticks.