Good Monday morning, readers! As you read this blog, I’m boarding my flight to Indianapolis for the Academy’s 2017 Spring Summit. Today we commence seven very full days for which we have spent several months preparing. There are countless steps that have been completed before this day, and still more to come: prep meetings; meet and greets with vendors, restaurants and hotel staff; entanglements with audio-visual equipment (of which there will hopefully be very few); the start and finish of more than 30 sessions created with the success and growth of our Members and Guests in mind; early mornings and late nights; some sprinkles of laughter and fun while spending time with our Members; and too many hotel meals to count.
And yet, every event begins the same here at the Academy. With the end in mind. What impression did we leave on our attendees, and what was the experience like for them?
As each of the Academy team members boards their respective flight over the next few days, each of us has already started a list. Yes, there are packing lists, attendee lists, daily and hourly checklists…. Heck, I’ve even got a list to remind me which shoes to wear on what day to preserve a little bit of bandwidth in my brain. But the specific list each of us has, and will be updating regularly throughout the event, is the Debrief List. The list that tells us, from each team member’s point of view, what went well, what can be improved, and what ideas occurred to us to implement in the future. And this list, my friends, is what I consider to be the most important list of them all. Here’s why, and more importantly, why it matters to you:
A million details – small and large – have already been looked after for the Academy’s Summit Event. Throughout the process, it has occurred to each of us that at least one part of our preparation could be more efficient, handled by different individuals, or knocked down, rolled over, and changed up entirely.
As attorneys who rely on a variety of marketing tactics to funnel qualified leads into your business, you are also hosting events throughout the year. How often do you look at the process of preparing for those events and identify areas that work really well or perhaps feel clunky?
Using the time before your event, as things occur, to identify what it is you’d like to consider changing for future events, is key to growth in this area. If you wait to identify these opportunities until after your event is complete, I promise you won’t remember. You may come up with a few things after racking your brain, but the details of what you wanted to improve will be fuzzier than when they first occurred. Creating a list at the start of any project or event which you know you’ll be going through more than once helps you refine your events time after time.
During the Event
When the fur starts to fly – and it will – continuing to document the things that created a WOW experience for your prospects or clients, or the things that kept an experience from being a WOW, is critical.
The registration desk wasn’t set up efficiently, so attendee check in was a pain. The venue forgot to set out glasses at your water station, so people weren’t able to grab a drink before the seminar began. But hey, having the attorney right there to greet all the attendees as they arrived was a huge win! Making note of all the things you notice as they happen will help you relive the event afterward and think through how each component can create an experience for your attendees.
Remember to have everyone on your team take the same kind of notes. And don’t forget about the other solid gold input about how the event went: your attendees! Always be sure to provide a way for your attendees to evaluate the event. Evaluations will be your best indication of how the event performed and whether you hit the mark you intended to.
When the Academy team returns to San Diego from our Spring Summit, the entire team will meet for a formal debrief about the event. Everyone will come prepared with their detailed list, and we will discuss the big ideas we all have about how to improve for our next event, and we’ll also take time to acknowledge each other for our individual efforts. There are specific elements of this meeting that should be outlined by you and your team before each of your debrief meetings, as well:
1. Set an agenda
No one should walk into this meeting wondering what you’re there to talk about. A good debrief session is a conversation with all team members. Let your team know ahead of time what to expect by providing an agenda:
- The main goals and duration of the meeting
- What each team member needs to have prepared
- Who will facilitate the meeting
- Who will document the takeaways
2. No finger pointing
The point of the debrief is NEVER to provide a forum for complaints. It is not the time or place for airing dirty laundry after an event, and it is most certainly not the place to assign blame for anything that may have gone wrong. This can be difficult to do since people tend to get defensive and emotions can run high when looking at some of the things that need to be improved. The job of the facilitator of the debrief session is to keep the focus positive and on the goal of collective learning and improvement. You would rather have your employees engaged and making an effort to come up with solutions for future events than withdrawn because they felt singled out or blamed.
3. Just the facts, ma’am
As you go through all the different experiences your team members had at the event, each will recall a situation a bit differently. Rather than get distracted by delving into what each person’s start-to-finish experience was, be sure to focus on the facts of the event. While everyone’s opinion about what happened should be valued, identifying and focusing on the facts of any particular issue will help the team brainstorm ideas for the future.
It’s best to break up the meeting into several different parts that are clearly outlined for the team:
- What worked particularly well?
- What could have worked better?
- What are some ideas for how to make the experience of the attendees better?
- What are some actionable items to adjust or repeat in the future?
Again, while you are getting feedback from everyone, be sure to keep the team focused on what happened rather than who did it. Throwing some love around the room to team members who performed exceptionally well is always a good idea, but otherwise, keep the meeting clearly focused on just the facts.
4. Actionable To-Dos
All of this note taking and list keeping and preparation is for nothing if you don’t ultimately walk away from your debrief session with some actionable to-do items. Collect your action items, build a priority list, and begin working on those items right away, while the momentum and energy to do so is high. You may not have time to implement everything before you’re “back in the saddle” hosting another event, but it’s important to prioritize your list and create deadlines to implement each of those items in a timely manner.
Never underestimate the power of bringing your team together to congratulate each other on a job well done, outline specific ways to improve what you’re already doing, and identify new opportunities for your firm. You’ll find proof in the pudding as your events become systematic, streamlined, and highly effective.
Practice Building Consultant
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128