From the July 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

Eyes glassy, mouths agape, tongues lolling. No, you haven't stumbled into the mysterious diseases room at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but rather an equally deadly environment-the tedious sales meeting. Another symptom? The presentation of 12,345 PowerPoint slides in a room with no windows.

For a sales rep, there aren't many more mind-numbing propositions than being pulled from the field to endure three days of sales meetings. But because sales conferences offer an excellent venue for reps to discuss a new product launch or simply to regroup and re-energize, there are many powerful reasons to plan a gathering. Says Chris Lytle, the author of The Accidental Salesperson (Amacom), "Getting together with people who sell the same things you do and face the same problems is eye-opening."

Would you like to pull together a lively sales conference that will inspire your reps to sell better, bond and share their most effective selling practices? Here are a few great ways to plan a conference that will neither break the bank nor cause monotony en masse.

  • Have a theme with a purpose. Joanne Brooks is the president of Creative Impact Group Inc., a corporate production, destination management and events company in Deerfield, Illinois. She advises planning entertainment, dynamic speakers and team-building activities around a theme, such as an event with a Hawaiian or an African safari twist. Every component of the meeting--from speakers and collateral materials to activities--should share a common bond.
  • Create a mix of fun and focus. Schedule a keynote speech from a vibrant speaker, one the sales staff respects. And when arranging activities, remember: One salesperson's idea of a fun experience may be another's waste of valuable selling time. Not everyone thinks 18 holes of golf and a beer on the 19th makes for lifelong bonding.

Lytle suggests that planners create a menu of entertaining activities and let people opt in. While golf may be the choice for some, a massage and a manicure may be the choice for others. As for the ratio of fun to education and training, Brooks recommends 25 percent fun to 75 percent education, explaining, "A well-planned meeting should be a seamless blend of both."

  • Book well and prosper. New Orleans during Mardi Gras may be a bank-buster, so consider booking a great resort in the off-season. Think Maine in March or Dallas in June. You'll get wonderful facilities at bargain-basement prices-and probably a lot more attention from the hotel staff. Explains Lytle, "It's better to have a great facility in the off-season than a mediocre facility in peak season."

For those entrepreneurs on a tight budget, William Ward, Warehime professor of business administration at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, advises being especially vigilant in the development stage. "Plan, plan, plan, and get competitive bids from various providers," says Ward. "Analyze the costs relative to your goals, and tailor the meeting to deliver maximum bang for [your] buck."

  • Stay away from the darkness. Too often, a meeting ends up as a series of ennui-inducing, one-way presentations in airless rooms with no natural light. Remember your Intro to Western Civilization course in college, when the professor dimmed the lights to show slides of antiquities from the British Empire? You'll get the same snooze effect at conferences, so spring for a room with windows.
  • Engage your attendees. Fire up reps before the conference by giving them an assignment, such as reading industry articles they should be prepared to discuss or sharing their finest proposals ever crafted.

Kimberly L. McCall is the president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc. (www.marketingangel.com), a business communications company in Durham, Maine.