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Inspiration at Your Event

3/4/2013
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Passion is important.  It sparks progress and drives change.  So often even those who genuinely love their careers can get lost in the minutia.  We think about the details – the next day’s meetings, our mountain of unopened e-mails, our computers freezing up…It’s so easy to get bogged down in our day-to-day and forget what it was that brought us to our chosen careers.  Maybe you work in government and were once inspired by the notion of serving the public.  Maybe you are an engineer who was inspired by science and what it means for the future.  Maybe you are in marketing and love crafting the perfect message to reach your audience.  Regardless of where you wound up, you were once inspired and it’s my experience that those who keep hold of that inspiration are the most fulfilled by their careers.

Capturing, or in many cases recapturing, that inspiration is a big part of why we attend conferences and conventions…or at least it should be.  Most of us are often forced to think small.  Conferences take us outside of our cubicles or our offices.  They allow us to have real discussions with others in the industry – meaningful discussions that aren’t about e-mails or spreadsheets.  They are about professional trends.  They are about the challenges we face.  They are about the future. 

There are a lot of reasons people attend conferences – maybe for professional development hours, maybe for networking, maybe to visit a trade show, but conference planners should always remember that, whether people know it or not, they want to be inspired.   It’s a part of our nature.  So, how to do it?  How do you bring people out of their shells and help them rediscover what excites them about their professions?  Well, I don’t think there is any perfect recipe for inspiration, but there are certainly a few things that you can do to help facilitate it.

1) Get an amazing keynote speaker – This one seems kind of obvious.  But, I have seen it go terribly wrong in the past.  Don’t mistake a self-described “inspiration speaker” with the genuine article.  A lot of people will market themselves as inspirational speakers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they actually are.  And, even if they are, they might not be a right fit for your conference.  You need to think about your attendees – their professions, their career paths, their futures…

A little while ago I saw a keynote speaker who discussed how a college project evolved into an international non-profit that was bringing inexpensive electricity to people in the developing world.  He wasn’t a fancy, high-paid inspiration speaker who had done television appearances or authored books.  But we was the right fit for a group of professionals who loved technology and innovation but rarely are given the opportunity to think about what that technology can mean to others.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a quality speaker; you just have to understand your audience and where their passion lies.

2)  Foster meaningful discussions – A room full of colleagues can be intimidating, but the heart of inspiration comes from interaction.  We are social creatures and when you can get people talking, you can create something special.  Creating topic tables at meal times, holding round tables, or inviting people to share their professional experiences can all foster discussion and in turn…inspiration.

3)  Bring in some young people – There is really something to be said for having a group of younger attendees at your event.  For starters, they bring an enthusiasm and excitement for the profession that can be infectious.  As recent graduates, they are also typically looking to network, so they are likely to be striking up discussions and looking to interact with more senior attendees.

4)  Look for ways to give back – More often than not, we are most inspired when we use our skills to help others – when we go beyond ourselves to really try and make a difference.  Try to point out ways in which the topic of the conference can relate to philanthropy.  There are a lot of fantastic organizations out there and their message will likely resonate with you attendees. 

Inspiration matters.  It can make the difference between an alright conference and a phenomenal one. When your attendees leave, you want them to feel energized and passionate about their careers. You want them to recommit themselves to being the best at what they do.  You want them to be inspired. 

Nicole Palmisano

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