Five ways to deliver the event experience to employees back at the office

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You had to be there … well, maybe you didn’t!

Major industry events – conventions, trade shows, etc. – are the rock concerts of the corporate world. And similar to rock concerts, attendees get a memorable shared experience while their friends back home get, at best, a decent description or, at worst, something to the effect of, “Oh it was great, you should have been there!”

Unfortunately, most employees of companies that participate or sponsor major industry events don’t get to attend; so, as internal communicators, it’s incumbent on us to try to share the experience as much as possible with the employees back at the office.

Does your company participate in any major events? If so, here are five ways to bring the experience back to your employees who held down the fort back home:

1. Presentation recap articles

Only a fraction of SAS’ 13,000+ employees get to attend SAS Global Forum – and various other events -- each year, so the challenge for Internal Communications is in finding ways to let the rest of the staff share the experience.

Anybody who has ever taken a basic reporting class has had a “go cover” assignment. You know, go cover the city council meeting, or go cover the county commissioners’ meeting, or go cover the local-government-whatever meeting. Well, covering a keynote presentation is the same basic principle: You sit in the audience, take notes and write a recap of what was said. Summarize the main points and be sure to get some good direct quotes. It’s pretty basic, but the readers -- your employees -- get to read for free the highlights of a presentation that attendees paid potentially hundreds of dollars (plus travel expenses) to see. (Though you might want to check with your legal department to make sure you don’t violate any contractual restrictions on the presentation content.)

2. Blogs

You gotta love blogs. They are the delis to news articles’ upscale restaurants. You get tasty stuff from both, but the experience at each is completely different from the other. While keynotes and other big main-stage presentations probably merit a formal recap article, blogs are an ideal format for the more intimate nature of track or breakout sessions. For these, try writing a blog post that relays not just the speaker’s message, but what you, personally, got out of the presentation, thereby giving the reader a sense of the full experience. If you don’t have enough communications staff onsite to cover concurrent sessions, see if some of the other employee attendees would be willing to contribute blog posts. Blogs are good for capturing the overall ambiance of an event as well. Mmmm … tasty, indeed.

3. Attendee interviews

How often have you asked a friend who just returned from some kind of outing or event, “How was it?” Attendee interviews provide that same kind of first-hand account. It’s like telling your readers, “Don’t just take our word for it, hear what the people who paid to attend have to say.” Are any of your corporate executives at the event? See if you can get comments from them, too. Also, some behind-the-scenes information or anecdotes from your employees who are attending in support roles would make a nice complementary piece.

4. Video & photos

When it comes to capturing the flavor of an event, nothing beats video. Now I’m not talking about recording the presentations -- though that’d be great if you can do it – but rather capturing some of the other goings on at the event. For example, the aforementioned interviews are ideal video subjects. Depending on your equipment and resources, you could do anything from a simple “talking head,” to an interviewer-interviewee Q&A, to a TV news-style package with interview segments interspersed with b-roll and voice-over narration. If you’re at an event with an exhibit hall or demo area, capture those sights and sounds on video, too.

Let’s not forget about photos. Whereas videos are nice-to-haves, photos are must-haves. The best recap article in the world immediately becomes better when you add a photo to it. You can even use a good photo gallery as a standalone feature.

5. Curated content

Most corporate events are intended to, directly or indirectly, promote the business. Hence, your marketing communications or public relations organization is likely to be providing some sort of coverage for the company’s external audience. But unlike topical medications, this content should not be “for external use only.” Is there a good external blog post or YouTube video from the event? Provide employees a link to it. Of course, it goes both ways: Some of your internal content might be adaptable for external publication. With this type of collaboration, you can cover more of the event with fewer resources. What about press coverage? Your PR folks will certainly be keeping track of that; perhaps they can let you know when something appears in the media so that you can direct your employees to it. And make sure to remind your readers to share any external content with their friends and family, thereby helping your “external” colleagues get a little more reach.

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About Author

Karen Lee

Senior Director Internal Communications, SAS

Karen Lee joined SAS in 1984 as a technical marketing representative. In the past 28 years, Karen has successfully merged her technical savvy with her communications know-how to foster a sense of trust and engagement among SAS’ 13,000 global employees. In her current role as Senior Director of Internal Communications, Karen has embraced social media to find new ways to connect employees with one another and with company leadership. She has done this by challenging SAS executives to communicate with employees via individual blogs and live, virtual “chats.” In 2011, her team spearheaded the effort to create an internal social media network known as the Hub, which has created virtual communities for best practice sharing, idea generation and work/life balance. Within two weeks of its launch, the site had more than 3,000 registrants and continues to grow. Karen modeled her team’s structure around a 24/7 news cycle, covering company events with real-time updates on the global intranet site. Gone are the days of “holding the news” until the next day’s publication. SAS employees hear news as it happens. Even with a wired employee base, however, traditional communication channels are not overlooked. Karen established regular “coffee with the CEO” sessions several years ago in which front-line employees are able to interact with and hear about the direction of the company from its CEO in an informal setting. Before being named Senior Director of Internal Communications, Karen was Director of Communications Support for SAS' Research & Development Division. In this role, she found innovative ways to communicate with a traditionally introverted employee population. Using a variety of communications vehicles, such as podcasts and employee expos, she improved information sharing among customers, management and developers. Before becoming a SAS employee, Karen was a SAS customer, using the software for capacity planning in her job at Official Airline Guides. Karen has a bachelor's degree in computer science from Eastern Illinois University. Originally from Westchester, Ill., Karen currently lives in Holly Springs, N.C. Outside of SAS, she enjoys spending time with her family, enjoying the outdoors biking, running and traveling to find new adventures.

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