Professional meeting planners charged with designing and executing sales training meetings that motivate and engage attendees have a monumental task at hand. These pros are under the gun to succeed more than ever due to tight budgets and a greater demand for ROI, which is why planners must ensure that these meetings include presentations, sessions and networking events that encourage attendees to interact among the participants. Interactive training meetings are sure to spark motivation and inspire learning, which can improve sales productivity year-round.
For Barb Orvis, senior meetings and events planner for Voya Financial in St. Cloud, Minnesota, creating an interactive training environment for an annual meeting of 1,000 salespeople starts with choosing a suitable destination and property. “This meeting is tricky because there are lots of breakouts and sessions, and it is space-intensive,” says Orvis. “We are not at the point of going to a convention center because we would end up with various fees that could take away from the budget. And we try to put everything under one roof, so our choices narrow down quickly.”
“People come down before the conference and extend their stay with families. It makes it more exciting for them.”
Orvis typically chooses a resort with a conference center in a sunny destination for the meeting. “We find that it helps motivate people,” she says. “Meeting in (a warm weather destination) during the first week in February is exciting for people in the Northeast. People come down before the conference and extend their stay with families. It makes it more exciting for them.”
During the meeting, breakouts and small sessions focusing on peer-to-peer learning are keys to creating the right motivational environment. Attendees value mutual learning most of all, says Orvis. “Prior to the conference, we ask a question on our meeting app about what attendees look forward to the most at the conference — hearing from executives, keynote speakers, the warm weather or breakout sessions,” she says. “What we find is that peer-to-peer sessions have the highest ratings because they want to learn from each other. They find it more motivating.”
The most popular and motivating peer-to-peer sessions include successful salespeople as presenters. “We might have top producers from the company on panels in breakout sessions talking about how they were able to elevate their sales and taking questions,” says Orvis. “If I have a top producer that’s well known among peers talking about how he works with his team and manages his business operations, that session will be packed to the wall. We also make sure we have a wide range of topics that meet multiple needs. Some attendees have been in the business only a year and others over 25 years. You have to motivate all groups.”
Other successful formats for small-group motivational sales training include the 60/20/8 approach, which varies the manner in which attendees interact with the learning material. Learning topics change every 20 minutes, and the approach to teaching the topic changes every eight minutes. For example, attendees can examine a case study for 20 minutes but, within that time, change the approach from discussion to reading or examining a flip chart. The learning session ends after 60 minutes.
Another alternative, the EAT approach, emphasizes training via Experience (case studies), Application (role playing) and Theory, in that order. Traditionally, the order has been reversed, but experts believe the EAT approach better engages attendees. To facilitate the EAT approach, it’s best to use small groups of 10 to 12 people in open setups such as crescent-style, instead of classroom or theater-style formats.
Many planners favor group and interactive discussions instead of exhaustive “talking head” lectures about sales techniques. However, motivational speakers remain popular, especially for kick-off sessions. Choosing the wrong kick-off speaker who falls flat can generate negative buzz throughout the meeting, which undermines a company’s motivational goals, says Karin Hurt, CEO, Let’s Grow Leaders, who also is a leadership consultant, speaker and professor at the University of Maryland. “It’s impossible to have a once-a-year, high-energy sales motivational kickoff speech by an executive who is unpopular or who leads through fear and intimidation,” says Hurt.
It’s important for planners to choose speakers who engage attendees emotionally. “Emotional engagement can be huge,” says Hurt. “Professional speakers should create that connection, but executive speakers can also do that. They should get out of their comfort zone. Sometimes you go to these sales events and people talk about making a lot of money. That’s not really going to get into the hearts and minds of people.”
Ensure that speakers offer messages that resonate with attendees. “People relate to stories about how speakers overcame some of the things they wrestle with,” says Hurt. “Speakers should also share the microphone, encouraging attendees to share talk about their own motivational stories and messages. This inspires them and helps them connect with each other.”
But planning successful sales training meetings involves having speakers who do more than motivate. “I look for speakers who can also provide something practical that people can take back to their offices and implement to elevate their business, whether it’s sales strategy, how to organize the business or use new technology,” says Orvis. “For our conference, which is financial advisors, we always look for speakers that are talking about what is hot in the industry, whether it’s what’s going on in the market or retirement, or financial compliance issues.”
Experts offer the following additional advice for planners to pass on to executive and professional speakers.
Discuss operational vision. “Explain the breakthrough goal the company is trying to achieve,” says Hurt. “Describe the specific behaviors needed to achieve that vision. Inspire them to want to be part of something bigger. Follow speeches with at least 15 minutes of open discussion.”
Choose three key motivational messages for the meeting and have speakers drive them home. “Hit the points strong from several angles,” says Hurt. “Complicated PowerPoint slides with graphs and charts will bore the crowd. Make your slides pop with visuals that reinforce the messages and make them memorable.”
To motivate executive speakers, share stories with them about training meetings that were successful in part because the CEO used personal stories to deliver a message. Encourage executives to tell similar stories and explain their value to attendees. However, “If the CEO is terrible at speaking, then identify other executives who are good at delivering the message the CEO wants to get across,” says Hurt.
Repeat key themes throughout the meeting in several ways. “If the message is, say, to penetrate the small and medium-size business space, you can hire a keynote speaker who has tapped into that market and can share success stories about it,” says Hurt. “Then you might have breakout sessions focusing on specific strategies for breaking into that space. You can also provide post-conference materials with content reinforcing the message.”
Orvis uses technology to reinforce motivational messages and encourage networking. “We have been using a mobile app for the last few years, and its use continues to grow,” she says. “This year we implemented an activity feed on the app to get people engaged. In the past it was just an agenda and activity list.”
The activity feed was designed to increase engagement and generate buzz during the conference. “People could take and post pictures, and make comments about anything,” says Orvis. “People were posting comments and photos about sessions, speakers and what they said. I was surprised at how well it worked. We made it a game. People who posted got points, and we held random drawings to award prizes to the top point-getters.”
Motivating and engaging attendees also should include fun activities. The United States division of Wolters Kluwer, a global provider of products and services for industries that include financial services and accounting, uses fun activities to engage attendees at its annual kickoff sales meeting every January. “We try to use different kinds of entertainers to create energy,” says Lori Sullivan, director of learning solutions and meeting planner, Wolters Kluwer in Chicago. “The goal of the kickoff meeting is to get folks excited about what they are doing and where the company is going.”
Walters Kluwer hired a comedian to entertain about 100 salespeople to kick off the company’s 2014 sales training meeting in New Orleans. “I met with him several times beforehand to talk about who we are, what we do and our goals for the year,” says Sullivan. “We also discussed our theme, ‘We’ve Got the Power.’ I also gave him a list of people to call on in the audience who would have fun participating. He built our theme into his act and used audience participation to spread the message of staying motivated and focused. It was 90 minutes of pure belly laughs.”
Hurt cites examples of entertaining and offbeat activities she has experienced as a former sales executive. “I have seen the entire fully costumed ‘cast’ of “We Are the World” in a kickoff that reinforced sales strategy; and a vice president dressed as a 1950s greaser sharing how to ‘rock’ sales results,” says Hurt. “At a sales meeting in Las Vegas, the CEO dressed like Elvis Presley, and other executives sung back-up dressed as other singers. Another time, I dressed as Princess Leia from Star Wars. My team dressed as other characters from the movie. To get ideas, involve the sales team and see what they come up with. There is a singer-songwriter in every group who can write a song for a meeting.”
Hurt believes that entertainment can have a lasting impact on motivation. “The activities work because you bring your team together to have fun, and fun is good from a teambuilding perspective,” she says. “You know it is working because people are still talking about what you did months later and linking it back to the meeting’s message. But mostly you know it is working because productivity goes up.”
The most successful motivational sales training meetings reward more than productivity. “The mistake I see happening is rewarding people only for their sales numbers,” says Hurt. “I’ve also seen people get rewarded for one specific metric when the rest of their metrics weren’t good. That can demotivate people. You want to reward performance as well as behaviors, such as helping other people perform better or those who improved significantly.”
Every planner wants the motivation generated during sales meetings to last throughout the year. Accomplish that with a follow-up strategy that keeps the meeting’s energy and theme alive, says Sullivan. “We send out a weekly newsletter called ‘Be the Change’ named after the theme of our meeting in Tampa this year,” she says. “In that newsletter, we talk about what works, recognize people for achievements that are above and beyond. It’s also an avenue we use to communicate upcoming training.”
Successful motivational sales training meetings spur networking, peer-to-peer learning and engagement with speakers and presenters. Effective meetings also make attendees enthusiastic about learning so they can absorb information they can use to increase sales productivity. “As a planner, you want to have a meeting that will add value and have an impact on the organization,” says Hurt. I&FMM