How To Do A Corporate Customer Event Right

Let’s face it: corporate conferences and workshops are usually a drag. Attendees are invited to some type of day-long session where they will be presented with new information and opportunities regarding their own businesses, which is linked to the products of the hosting company.

Most of the time, these workshops amount to one presentation after another for the entire day. While the tempo and energy in the room can be picked up by having good presenters, the attendees often end up burning out during the sessions and switching off. You know what I mean. Yawns. Eyes glazing over.

It was thus a great delight for me to have participated in an customer event in Minneapolis last week that was a huge success. Xerox Corporation is running a series of conferences in the US for some of their regional customers, and Personera was (along with XMPie) one of the two partner companies invited to present. 

Xerox decided to change things up for this event, which started (instead of ending) with an inspiring keynote speech from the founder of Fast Company over lunch. Then, they split up the event into two tracks for delegates to choose between. In the track that I was involved with, Xerox tried a new format: the late night TV talk show. The VP in charge adopted the role of interviewer a la Jay Leno, sitting behind a desk on stage and bringing up the subject experts as guests, who sat down to have a chat with him in front of the audience. Plenty of humour, plenty of fun, plenty of information shared. Not a single slide was shown. The event was an absolute hit.

It took guts to switch up the format from the usual death-by-powerpoint to something like this, and the result was a resounding success. Xerox discovered a new format that works, and I bet that they will be using it in all of their upcoming conferences in the US. So, here are a few lessons for doing different, well-received customer events:

  1. Change the format: Give people something different to what they are expecting. Be bold.
  2. Make it entertaining: It’s impossible for people to learn anything, let along feel positive about your company, if they aren’t enjoying themselves on some level.
  3. Incorporate lots of content: If people are going to take time out of the office to attend your event, be sure that there is plenty of content weaved into the interesting format and fun presentation.

Building Relationships: Where Taking Extra Effort Matters Most

Last month I spoke on a panel at the Tech4Africa conference. The conference ran smoothly and was organized exceptionally well; I returned home feeling great about the whole event.

A few weeks later I received this printed, paper thank you card in the mail, with a short message and original signatures of the key conference organizers:
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I thought it was wonderful, and ironic (receiving a paperback card from a hi-tech conference instead of an email). The fact that it looked printed on a home inkjet printer, and that the handwriting in it was barely legible just made it more endearing.

This simple gesture turned me from a fan into a raving fan. They weren’t just going through the usual motions of sending follow up emails- they were trying to impress me, to wow me through this tiny random act. They were trying to build a real relationship with me where I think highly of them, and it worked. The principle of going the extra mile, or “delivering wow through service”, matters most when dealing with people, be them your partners, customers or staff. For example, very few people will care if your product or event experiences a technical glitch. Everybody will care if you take the extra effort to help them sort out their problem, or go beyond what’s expected in showing your appreciation for something they’ve done for you.  

P.S: If you liked this post you should check out the new book, “Delivering Happiness" by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. It explains in detail how Zappos has created a culture of going the extra mile with its staff, partners and customers. It’s an enlightening read.      

Speaking at the Tech4Africa Conference

For those interested in moving the state of technology and entrepreneurship forward in Africa, the much anticipated Tech4Africa conference in August is a must. 
Based on the speaker list and attendees that I’ve spoken to thus far, I expect fantastic insights and networking opportunities for everyone there.

The Tech4Africa founder, Gareth Knight, kindly asked me to join them as a panelist for the “Building for the Global Market” session. 
I recently did an interview for them, briefly mentioning the key points that I’ll be digging into during the panel. Check it out: