How to Deliver a Leadership Event that Sticks

I’m constantly surprised at what passes for “leadership training” these days. Then I remember that most leaders work in business operations and their involvement is often extracurricular. I’ve also noted how easily many business operators are impressed with the leadership development support that comes their way. It’s almost as if the simple fact that the organization is investing in them speaks louder than the concepts or structure.

Regardless, if you are going to invest in a leadership event, it’s an opportunity for excellence – whether you are an executive, manager or training expert. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Just having an event doesn’t guarantee success. Incorporate these best practices.

Identify a Real Need

Investing in a leadership event shouldn’t happen on a whim. It shouldn’t happen when the boss runs into a vendor at an event or thumbs through a bestseller in the airport. But whether it’s part of a strategic initiative or more opportunistic, a leadership event should focus on a real-life organizational need. That means there should be some sort of assessment or consultation beforehand. Identify the greatest opportunities in the organization and align the event accordingly. Don’t just focus on a topic of interest. Ask: “What do we want people to do differently as a result of the event?” Do as Stephen Covey says: put first things first.

Give Advance Notice

Events are expensive, especially if you are paying an outside trainer. So don’t wait until the event to let people know what’s coming. Make announcements, distribute pre-read materials and exercises, ask people to come with questions and issues. Prime the pump, so to speak, so your people will come to the event prepared to get the most from it.

Enlist Executive Support

Lack of executive support is a big reason why leadership development initiatives fail. But don’t just get their buy-in, involve them. Ask them to send the communication (drafted by you, of course), deliver the opening remarks or otherwise cast a vision for the leadership imperative. This sends the message that the topic is important. It’ll be a lot harder to build commitment on your own. Just remember that in order for this to work, you’ll need to spend extra time up front consulting the powers that be and including their ideas in the final product.

Make it Interactive

One of the central themes in adult learning theory is that learning events are most effective when they are collaborative. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be an instructional component. But make extra effort to include opportunities for learners to discuss the ideas (and practical applications) together. This takes more work, but it’s absolutely crucial. Don’t just rely on a fancy presentation to do the trick. If you are working with outside trainers, push them hard in this regard.

Reinforce the Key Points

When it comes to a leadership event, what happens in the room should definitely not stay there. There needs to be follow-up which you’ll need to prepare in advance. Create some reinforcement activities and think how best to involve the participants in future conversations to share how they’ve applied what they’ve learned. Find a natural place for these discussions to occur (e.g. weekly staff meetings) or else create one temporarily.

Leadership events are a big deal. They shouldn’t be taken lightly. So many come and go without leaving a mark. Your careful involvement up front can be a difference-maker.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website  or follow him on Twitter.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, facilitator and author of the book Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to download Nathan's free white paper: Nine Ways to Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For.