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by Nichelle Williams, Senior Program & Event Manager

It’s the season for SKO (Sales Kick-Off) Meetings and with that comes a lot of pressure to perform in your role as corporate Event Manager/Planner. SKO events all have a primary goal to excite and motivate the sales teams to exceed revenue expectations in the coming year. It’s imperative you are at the top of your game to make this event a success.

Throughout my extensive career, predominantly within the tech sector, I’ve orchestrated numerous SKO events. Now, in my role as an agency Event Manager, my dedication is to elevate corporate event planners’ skills and confidence.  Here are my Top 10 Tips for orchestrating a successful SKO:

1) Strategic Alignment for Goal Setting
A lot of time is wasted in event planning when goals are unclear or when everyone pursues their own agendas. Collaboration across various departments, including Sales, Marketing, HR, and Customer Success, necessitates a shared vision to prevent divergence during the planning phase. Before you delve into the SKO planning process, ensure a comprehensive understanding and alignment of the event goals among stakeholders.

2) Leverage Assistance from an Agency
Did you know an agency can do site sourcing and help negotiate contracts at no charge to you? Agencies get commission from the venues and streamline the research process by providing comparative reports inclusive of costs, incentives, photos, layouts, and more. Their value is proven is their ability to negotiate favorable contracts and secure exclusive deals. If you have the budget, they can join your planning team and manage any part of your event you don’t have the time or staff to handle. We work with many clients who use us to manage their registration process or transportation. Agencies can help you look like a super star, so take some time to see what they can do for you.

3) Form Teams Early
Since there are so many stakeholders involved with SKOs, it’s important to categorize responsibilities as soon as possible. A good tool is the RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed). Recognize the criticality of early stakeholder involvement, allowing for streamlined decision-making and early identification of potential bottlenecks. Once your team is formed, schedule regular meetings that respect everyone’s time, for example 50 minutes instead of one hour. Be clear on who is required and who is optional. Required attendees should contribute updates on their respective areas during meetings. Meetings are only as useful as the information presented, so be sure yours are great!

4) Get Organized
There are many ways to plan an event and lots of tools. Employ a blend of tools tailored to your organizational style, such as Excel for budgeting and workback schedules, PowerPoint for visualization, and Airtable for collaborative project management. Centralize planning documents in a shared location for seamless team access and updates. Keep stakeholder presentations concise, using visual aids like photos, videos, and graphs to enhance understanding. If you are like me, more organization leads to reduced stress. Take the time to learn and use tools that work for you.

5) Delegate to Strengths
You have a planning team in place for a reason – to contribute different talents, ideas, and skills necessary for a successful event. Delegate responsibilities according to team members’ strengths, adhering to the RACI frameworks. Promote shared responsibility for keeping stakeholders informed and hold your team accountable for these updates. Engage an agency for help, when necessary. The more you can share the load of planning your SKO event, the better you’ll perform.

6) Detailed Workback Schedule – A Planner’s Best Friend
A workback schedule is a detailed spreadsheet tracking deadlines, responsibilities, and potential consequences for missed timelines. This document will be your best friend – trust me. Regularly review and update the schedule to reflect progress and maintain a clear focus on priorities. Use color coding to show progress (green) and areas where you are behind (red). Seeing all that green in your spreadsheet feels awesome, especially in the last few weeks of planning. Review it in your regular planning meetings so everyone is aligned and informed of what’s coming due.  Start your day with the workback schedule and you’ll always be focused on the right things.

7) Time Management is Critical
As the SKO draws near, the intensity ticks up a few notches for everyone. Suddenly the team is overwhelmed with unscheduled meetings and last-minute changes that eat up time. It’s your job to help mitigate the chaos. Invite key stakeholders to your last few planning meetings so they become informed and aligned. Provide pre-meeting agendas and visual progress updates to streamline decision-making and prevent unnecessary delays. Send out the notes after the meeting with key decisions made and action items. For ad hoc meetings, limit the time to 20 or 45 minutes, when possible. Track your team’s out of office dates so you can prepare back-ups to avoid delays. To better manage your time, set a timer for things like research, deck preparation, or reading emails. Schedule top priority items for first thing in the morning. You’ll be amazed at the progress you make, even with limited time.

8) Be Prepared for Anything
Preparing for the unexpected is event planning 101. Your response during a crisis speaks volumes. Remaining calm and in control is critical. Build detailed event plans and share them with your team so someone else can step in, if necessary. When things start to go awry, ask team members to help. Be firm, but kind with your staff so they are clear about what you need. Bring a well-stocked supply kit that includes the essentials and extras. I like to bring healthy and fun snacks, Tide sticks for stains, and cell phone chargers to start. After your event, negotiate cost savings or credits in the event of venue shortcomings, turning challenges into opportunities.

9) There’s No Such Thing as Over-Communicating
Establish an open channel of communication and transparency from the beginning and throughout the planning, including detailed event plans, shared budgets, minute-by-minute schedules, and chat groups. When onsite, have your documents ready (in a binder or digitally). I love Airtable, a project management app that allows me quick access to all my digital documents. Share team contact information, including the venue’s key team members and create a group chat onsite for quick notifications and requests for help. Meet in person for your venue pre-con meeting so everyone can discuss updates and last-minute changes easily. Schedule daily huddles during your event with your team and key stakeholders. Don’t forget about real-time attendee communication. If you have an event app, schedule notifications ahead of time. Or work with the venue, speakers, and leaders to determine how best to communicate announcements and information. Emails can work as a last resort, but not everyone accesses their email during an event. I have created group chats with different attendee groups so I can message the group with announcements, room changes, and information in real time, quickly and easily. Finally, don’t forget signage. Foam core easel signs are inexpensive and easy to create locally. They are the best way to direct attendees. Utilize any digital signage at your venue to help as well, being aware of any delays with changing information.

10) Be a Calm, Empathetic Leader
Issues will come up during your event, so recognize that everyone handles stress differently. Try to have empathy, and seek to understand the problem. Assure them you will investigate it as quickly as possible and work to find a solution. Lean on your team to help. When you notice issues with vendors or your venue, recognize that they are working hard. Thank them in advance for their help to resolve the situation quickly and be available if they need you to answer questions or make decisions. When you feel frustrated, find a quiet place away from your group. Don’t complain publicly. Talk to a trusted friend or call your loved one at home. Try texting your frustrations to yourself. It helps to vent and provides a log you can refer to post-event. Don’t forget to give kudos and express your gratitude as often as you can throughout the event. Recognize the importance of maintaining emotional well-being, providing an outlet for personal frustrations, and encouraging open communication. You’ll be able to weather any storm as a thoughtful and effective leader.

A well-executed SKO event, while presenting unique challenges, can significantly impact corporate revenue. Embrace the complexity, enjoy the creative planning process, and leverage these insights for a successful and memorable SKO event!

Nichelle Williams joined the SHW team in 2022 and is passionate about planning and managing events that help organizations advance their goals and connect more deeply with their customers.

For more information about SHW’s Event Management services connect with us or visit our webpage at SHW.