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Seven Rules For Building Effective Marketing Workshops

February 21, 2013
The leader of the brainstorm can sometimes dominate the thinking..

Don’t Led The Wrong People Run Your Marketing Workshop

I recently published a guest post in the excellent TrinityP3 website (one of the world’s leading consultancies on agency management & marketing procurement) –  where I examined what it is that makes for good and bad marketing meetings, workshops and seminars. You can read the full post – here.  This is based in my experience over the years as both a participant and leader of such sessions – and my reflections on what works and what does not. My own work in developing MarketingCafe is very much a result of this understanding – and putting it into practice.

Below is a summary of the Seven Rules For Building An Effective Marketing Workshop

Seven Rules For Building Effective Marketing Workshops.

1 – Narrow The Focus:

You could build a 1/2 day session that covers some fun team building, strategic planning, sales analysis, innovation and service development and quarterly budgeting. Add a quick brainstorm for that new digital campaign – and discuss the new IT system security protocols. And, review the new governance and structure and explain why the new Sales Director left under mysterious circumstances. You get the picture.

The marketing axiom that Good Things Happen When You Narrow The Focus still holds true. It holds true for a brand, for an individual and for effective meetings and workshops too. Of course, some topics and themes naturally relate well. But if your workshop tries to cover everything for all people it will lack a clear message, drive and output for anyone.

Mother was right. Less is more: Narrow The Focus. If you want your workshop to resonate and be memorable then focus it upon a maximum of three key themes or topics.

2 – Have An End In Mind:

Building upon the focus point, when planning your workshop – Start With an End in Mind.

Rather than begin by drafting Agendas for the day your preparation should start by identifying the kind of output you want to see afterwards. Changes, action, follow ups and new work strands. What key points can be taken away? What new conversations can be launched? Before you start, begin by asking – what is the end you have in mind?

3 – Less Lecturing > More Engagement:

Nobody really likes being lectured to. If you have important and deep factual information to reveal then other channels (such as email, internal blogs, packs, briefings and presentations) are simpler and better.

Or, adopt the rule of Google, Apple and others and send the rich information to attendees in advance, so people can get up to speed with detail in their own time rather than hear your explanations.

Workshops and marketing meetings with colleagues, agencies and partners are a chance for you to start the right conversations – not to dominate them. And so do not waste the time and the opportunity by running through pages of granular details and theory. You’re a marketing practitioner – not an academic presenting a great work to target a Nobel Prize.

Seek to engage. And stay away from lecturing.

4 – Use Bite Sized Chunks of Good Content:

The most referenced research on attention span of adults was conducted by Percival and Johnstone in the 1970’s. Their seminal work suggested that the average under graduate in a seminar could concentrate for a mere 12-15 minutes and that even those with the best concentration could focus properly for just twenty minutes. They recommended breaking learning and discussion work into short, punchy sections.

No matter how exciting your ideas, jokes, research, brand, campaign, product or innovation – it is worth remembering this point. We need Bite Sized Chunks of content. How do you do this when you have a lot to cover? The creative ‘law of three’ is a good place to start. Your workshop (½ day or full day) should be structured around a clear beginning, middle and an end. And as each hour divides neatly into 3 x 20 minute sessions (remember the attention span…) – you can build 3 x 15-20 minute sections, with different elements and interest.

The famous TED-style ‘10-20-30’ rule for effective presentations (10 slides – 20 minutes – 30+ point font size) is sound advice too. So, for example; you start the hour with a 15 minute video to set the scene, followed by a 10 slide 15 minute presentation from your research agency, then a carefully facilitated 15 minute MarketingCafe exercise to allow the team to discuss potential impact and opportunities.

5 – Start Conversations – Don’t Finish Them

Many marketing workshops focus too much on solving. Marketers have become addicted to quick solutions, decisions and proving their value in a whirlwind of activity. In the haste to show how good we are at driving progress and ‘launching something’ the all-important steps of divergent and convergent thinking, inquiry & curiosity is missed.

Commentators such as Stefan Lindegaard have pointed out that innovation is often failing due to an obsession with being too quick and delivering a dud. A successful marketing workshop may be the only time when your team get take the opportunity and the precious time to really build the right foundations. It is a chance to ask the right questions and listen to different answers. With greater market complexity and change there is a need to acknowledge that not everything can be sold quickly by a lone marketing hero, with one report, one brainstorm and one brief.

I believe that ‘Conversation Is The Medium Where Value Is Created’. Creativity, relationships and good marketing thinking is based on continual and iterative conversations. So, use your workshop to start them – not to finish them.

6 – Change That Tone:

Good creative work, entertainment, stories and workshops use changes in style, tone and atmosphere to maintain engagement and stimulate. The best jokes have elements of darkness and romance often contains drama, hope and humour. The best workshops shift their tone too.

A well planned workshop can carefully mix elements of energy, lightness, positivity and humour with moments of deep concern, insight and raise complex issues. Shifting the tone is a powerful way to engage. It is OK for people to reflect on things, to feel edgy, nervous, confused and concerned about their product, market, brand or project. You just need to balance that dissonance with activities, ideas, confidence and positivity.

If you want to keep people engaged and in the moment – Change The Tone.

7 – Get Your Workshop Professionally Planned And Facilitated:

In 75% of cases you can likely run a workshop yourself. But, if it is a vital opportunity and critical moment – having your session planned and delivered by an experienced and objective facilitator will help you deliver more.

How so? Firstly, a good facilitator will take an objective view of your aims and provide new thinking, techniques and tactics to freshen up your workshop approach. They will also free up your time as they will focus on planning and sharpening up the session for you.

Secondly, using an external facilitator immediately changes the overall dynamics and feel of the event from the participants’ perspective. It reinforces that this is not your average weekly briefing, project status or monthly all hands meeting. You are setting the tone simply by having a third party facilitate it and the expectations have been raised.

Thirdly, as an outsider (with no history or personal agenda) the facilitator is often more able to introduce sensitive questions, topics and ideas without any prior baggage. Sometimes, the difficult conversations are the most important ones and these can be initiated by a third party without an axe to grind. Finally, not having to host and facilitate the workshop enables you, as a leader to contribute and work closely with others. It is an opportunity to tune your radar towards the discussions, ideas and thoughts of your team, colleagues, customers, agency experts – or important partners in the room.

The American humourist Dave Barry said, “If you had to identify the one word as the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that one word would be ‘meetings.”

Dave is right. Meetings and workshops, poorly managed – can indeed be slightly better than useless. But they need not be. With a bit of thought, work – and the right coffee and biscuits – they can be great.

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