10 things you need to stage a successful franchisee conference

What makes a franchisee conference a roaring successs?

Andrew Klein is a professional conference MC, a regular face at the FCA’s annual National Franchise Convention and at countless franchise conferences each year; he’s worked with brands such as Hotondo Homes, McDonalds, Howards Storage World, Dymocks, Poolwerx, Quest Serviced Apartments, and Hairhouse Warehouse.

Over 20 years he has gathered many insights as to what makes a franchisee conference successful. In no particular order – here are 10 simple ideas that he’s seen work at many of his franchise clients’ conferences…

1. Get your sponsors in the conference room (but keep them off the stage)

Having your sponsors inside the conference room makes them feel part of the fabric and future of your franchise. The most effective “business” that sponsors can do at a conference are the informal conversations they have sitting at a table with your franchisees and then at lunch or dinner networking or chatting about issues that went on in the conference room.

But in my 20 years of MCing conferences, I have rarely seen a sponsor do a great sponsor presentation on stage. Most of the sales pitches are ordinary at best and cringe-worthy “shoot yourself in the foot” at worst. No franchisee wants to hear a sponsorspruik/sell their wares from the stage.

Even if there’s an exhibition area, not much “selling” takes place. A conference is about making and strengthening relationships.

2. Panellists featuring franchisees not franchisors

While a few franchisor head office staff will likely need to do a presentation or update during the conference – and while it is also always worth investing in some great external professional speakers to inspire, motivate or train, by far your best and most valuable presenters will be your franchisees themselves.

From what I’ve observed many times, franchisees love to learn from other franchisees. Franchise Q & A panels or five minute war stories or success stories from franchisees are invaluable. Jim and Jane from the Newcastle franchise will learn more from Townsville’s Mike and Mandy’s recent local area marketing initiative than from any external speaker.

3. Shorter sessions

Unless your presenter is a rock star professional speaker, conference sessions should be 30minutes long max. More sessions of a shorter duration work far better in keeping the delegates attentive and awake.

4 First name on lanyards

The only thing a conference lanyard needs printed on it is the delegate’sfirst name. IN LARGE FONT. Most lanyards are so jam packed with conference themes, sponsors details, hash tags or fancy decoration that the one thing delegates really need to clearly see is barely visible. Easily visible first names facilitates networking and allows us to pretend to remember each other from last year’s conference!

5. Use a professional conference organiser

I have worked with some incredible executive assistants who organise a great conference – but there’s no denying it is a HUGE job. So why D.I.Y? As a franchisor, you don’t cook the conference food yourself, you leave that to the hotel’s banqueting staff. You pay for a lovely hotel to accommodate your delegates, you don’t put them up at the CEO’s holiday house. And head office staff don’t shuttle the delegates from the airport to the resort – a Murrays coach driver does.

So unless you have a super qualified EA (with tonnes of time on their hands) it pays to get a professional to coordinate the event. Some smaller conference organisers specialise in franchise conferences and do an awesome job coordinating everything. Unless they have the expertise and time, your EA should be an EA not a PCO (Professional Conference Organiser).

6. Costume night

Some of your delegates will groan when they find out. And yes, it can provoke a little anxiety trying to think of a suitable costume in the lead-up to the conference. But I have never seen a dress-up/themed costume night fail.

Your delegates will talk about these nights for years.

A terrific way to break the ice and let off some steam after a long day in the conference room. Hawaiian shirts, fairy-tales, Jungle nights, Pyjama Party, Roaring 20’s…..all lead to much laughter, embarrassing photos, Facebook posts and years of memories. “Remember that year on the Gold Coast when the guys from the Ballarat store came as The Wiggles?”. Priceless.

7. Ask the delegates for the content

It seems so obvious and I know that many franchises do this already, but your franchisees are the best source of suggestions for the conference content.

Do your evaluation feedback during the final session of your conference to guarantee a higher percentage of responses and then scrutinise the feedback to gain insights into what your franchisees want and don’t want for next year. Get a few cluey franchisees together or on the phone for a conference committee meeting to run new ideas by them.

8. Interactive sessions

Old style PowerPoint heavy, talk-fests simply no longer cut in in 2017 and beyond. Audience polling, round tables, group activities, physical stand-up and move sessions, sessions held outside in groups sitting under the trees, interactive activities, team-building options – keep your people involved, interacting and moving.

9. Corporate social responsibility/charity component

Add purpose to your conference by supporting a local charity nearby the conference destination…donations, old style conference fines, offer to shave Dave from head office’s hair if we raise $10,000, bring a book from home to donate to the local primary school.

This helps the feel-good factor at the conference, builds community spirit and everyone benefits.

10. Hire an MC

Yes, yes, I know this suggestion will come across as blatant self-interest but a good MC can be the difference between an average conference and a great one. Mood-maker, time-keeper, theme-enhancer, networking encourager, speaker introducer, fun factor facilitator and a sure way to make your conference more professional.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask any franchisor who has used a good MC and they’ll tell you it makes a world of difference.