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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Preparation: The Key to Successful Events

Recently, Alchemy facilitated a World Cafe Summit for The Women's College of the University of Denver to engage the community in creating a vision of the future for the college and to discuss what 21st century education for women might look like. All three of Alchemy’s senior partners worked on the project with fantastic support from our strategic illustrators. I must say, we spent an enormous amount of preparation time - which paid off in the successful outcomes that we achieved.

Here is some of the preparation we took:
ß Lois Todd and I worked with a subset of the staff and faculty, (our design team), to help get clarity on the summit outcomes. The design team did a comprehensive stakeholder analysis to identify summit attendees, and then created and mailed a magnificent invitation and used a phone call follow–up process to get "butts in seats."

ß Meanwhile, Chris Chopyak, Alchemy's World Cafe expert, worked on crafting the questions, the most critical part of any world cafe; each question should take the participants into deeper and deeper dialogue.

ß Our support team worked with two outstanding faculty to create an enormous history map which depicted the history of both The Women's College, as well as that of DU, and the eventual merger of the two institutions.

ß The Dean of the college, Lynn Gangone, met with the Chancellor, Provost and original funder of the Chamber's Center that houses the school, to educate them about summit outcomes and invite them to speak at the event.

ß Behind the scenes, I worked to create a video with music and images that helped to encapsulate the history and brought the audience to the present moment.

Honestly everyone, Alchemy, staff and faculty worked late into the night finessing each little detail in preparation for the summit.

The summit went flawlessly, each part a beautiful orchestration of engagement and inspiration. Amazing suggestions and dialogue came out of that 5 hour session - one of the questions being "When The Women's College of the University of Denver wins the Nobel Prize, what will people be saying about it?" That question rocked the mindset of people in the room - challenging previously held assumptions and stimulating new thinking. The summit happened seamlessly because of the care and preparation that was taken at each junction of our work together. Alchemy made suggestions at each step of the process, and the staff and faculty not only took our advice and guidance but expanded upon our ideas in a true collaboration.

Preparation is the essential element that differentiates an extraordinary participant experience from one where half of the room is checking their blackberries. While it often seems like taking the next step - to actualize the better idea - creates more work for everyone involved. And truth be told, it does mean you are going to have to work harder. The earlier that everyone accepts the fact that we are all going to work our butts off together to make this event a success, the sooner an extraordinary level of excellence is achieved.

On our end, as consultants, we could have let our clients do all the heavy lifting, but they hire us for our expertise and sometimes that means we are going to get our hands really, really dirty working side by side to help them get just the right people in the room, or the perfect talking points, or interesting, fun images and music. Will we get compensated for every little moment we spend working together? Not always, but when it comes down to it, if we provide the kind of value and service that our customers need, that translates into the kind of long-term client relationships we desire.

Here are some tips for your next event:
1. Form a design team to guide and support the process
2. Create a vision of what success will look like
3. Do a stakeholder analysis to insure the right people are in the room
4. Engage the stakeholders with a compelling reason why THEY need to be there
5. Plan and rehearse every aspect of the event
6. Show up early and stay late when necessary
7. Encourage your clients and their teams
8. Celebrate your success

These are just a few steps to help you prepare for the success you desire. If you find you need any additional help, be sure to ask for it! www.link2alchemy.com

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