Attendee experience


An Open Letter From A Decision-Maker Attendee To A Show Organizer

To open the New Year, I am thrilled to get Michelle Bruno’s perspective on the experience of a decision-maker attendee. She’s a good friend and straight talker, so with pleasure, here’s her open letter to all of us:

 

Dear Show Organizer:

 

You’ve convinced me to register.

 

When I Googled your event website, it was great that you optimized your content to make it easy for me to find you.

 

But I had to read a lot of irrelevant information before finding out quickly what was in it for me and there was no phone number to call to speak with a human. Nevertheless, I figured it out for myself and signed up anyway.

 

When I registered, you made no attempt to understand who I was and what I wanted through surveys or session choices. But since you had already hooked me, I went with the flow.

 

I don’t have time for serendipity.

 

When I go to your event, I feel as if I’ve become one of the hundreds or thousands of other attendees who took the bait and suddenly I’m on my own.

 

I’m really busy. Taking time away from the office is difficult for me to justify. Yet, no one reaches out to answer my obvious questions—Who should I meet? What companies should I visit? What should I learn? There are no attempts to help me get the most out of the event in the least amount of time.

 

You track my every move with technology, but you don’t do anything with the information other than feed it into your marketing machine with the intent to lure me back next year.

 

If I’m really interested in a session, you make me work for the information—take notes, snap photos of slides with my smartphone, go to a website to get a copy of the presentation. Why don’t you capture the information for me and just send it to me automatically?

 

After the event, show me you know me.

 

I understand that maybe it’s hard to meet with me during the event—there are only so many of your staff and just three days. But after the event, you’ve got a whole year to continue our relationship.

 

Stop sending me information for the following year as if we’ve never interacted. You have data on me now. You know what I’m interested in. Let’s start there.

 

Change your relationship with me from transactional to (long term) relational. Pick up the phone and/or meet with me. I’ll know that you’re truly interested in addressing my needs and I’ll likely attend your event again.

 

Make it really easy for me to come back the following year with my team members. A good experience for me is worth sharing.

 

From this point on, don’t only contact me when you want to sell me.  Remember what I want and send me good ideas and information year round.

 

In case I haven’t made it clear, here’s what I’m trying to say.

 

I’m a human, not a data point. Get to know me and deliver a personalized experience to me all year round. Put yourself in my shoes and let’s get to know each other.

 

Sincerely,

 

Your Most Loyal Decision-Maker Attendee (maybe).

 

 

 

As a former supplier and conference planner/trade show manager, Michelle sees the technology and evolution of the live-event industry through a unique lens. She chronicles change through articles in event-industry publications, event-tech company blogs and at EventTechBrief.com. Reach Michelle at michelle@brunogroup.com

 


Warning: Event Launch Disaster Ahead 1

 

I recently read an article in Convene which captured the mistakes that were made during a two-year effort to launch a content marketing event in Europe.  For those who have not read the story, the conference manager of LavaCon – a successful, though relatively niche, US-based event – had been urged by a number of his exhibitors to try to replicate that success in Europe, where it was assumed that it could attract a new set of attendees.

 

In 2016, the conference manager tried to do so in Dublin, but failed. Undaunted, but presumably having learned from that first year’s experiences, he ran the event again this past May (again in Dublin, but in a different venue) only to falter a second time. Why did two successive efforts fall short of expectations? Simply put, he had some bad luck with an unexpected competitive event, but compounded the problem with some rookie mistakes.

 

Despite the lack of success, I still take my hat off to him. First, he had the courage to launch something new. Second, though it didn’t work, he still agreed to share his experiences in ways that could benefit others. How many of you would be willing to do that?

 

What factors contributed to the poor results?

  1. A lack of local market knowledge, such as an understanding that “bank” holidays in that region are not exclusive to banks, so should be avoided when scheduling a conference.
  2. The fact that a significant presence of target companies situated close to a conference location does not ensure that the right level of employee – senior decision-makers – work at those offices and are likely to attend.
  3. A misjudgment about the price potential attendees in Dublin would be willing to pay.

 

Why did those factors hurt his event?  In his own words, “because of the market research I didn’t do, and still haven’t done yet.” I believe that he’s correctly identified most of the problems and he has my congratulations for finally getting it – after two white knuckle rides. There is nothing worse than suffering the stress of a launch, then failing, and then suffering the same fate the following year.

 

Are there lessons you can learn from this?

  1. Hire someone from the target market area (or who knows it) for initial and ongoing advice about the feasibility of launching and sustaining an event. For example, Ireland is not Europe. Effectively there is no “Europe” as far as events are concerned; events are, if not local, then certainly regional.  That should guide decisions about location – and expectations about attendance.
  2. Ensure you do market testing and P&L analysis to understand the financial risk involved and the likely outcomes, given the many contributing factors. Approach any opportunity with a model that includes an understanding of what “success” is.

 

In addition, other questions I would ask to qualify an event opportunity are:

  1. In terms of attendee research, has any testing been done to see whether you can draw an audience to make the numbers work?
  2. What is the size of the target email audience on the attendee side and can it be expected to support the paid attendee number in your model? For example, I believe you need 100 names for each expected paid attendee, all other variables being accounted for.
  3. Were speakers and exhibitors engaged early on to help get attendees?
  4. Was there a budget with best- and worst-case P&L’s scenarios established prior to the decision to launch?

 

As I mentioned, this particular event manager is courageous and honest; I salute him for that.  But the things that I reference above seem common sense guidelines to me and reflect the advice I give my clients prior to a launch.

 

Are you equipped on your next launch or are you heading down a potentially rocky road?


Does Your Event Have a Dark Side?

The recent revelations of misbehavior by different individuals and organizations has got me thinking about human nature more broadly. For each of us there’s a public side that we want others to see. It reflects our positive attributes and generates favorable responses from those around us, both personally and professionally. But there’s also another side – a darker side – which we hide from others. This dark side often is the home of those naked ‘drivers’ of behavior that we prefer to hide or disguise. It is that dark side behavior that the press craves to uncover amongst the famous and powerful.

Within the events market there’s a less nefarious form of this behavior. Event managers promote their conferences and trade shows as venues that will engage buyers, deliver wonderful experiences, and generate return-on-investment (ROI) for both sponsors and attendees. The assumption is that you’ll want to return year after year because the events offer value.
 

Do You Deliver to Expectations?

More often than not, however, event organizers promote a vision that the reality does not deliver. Many events fail to fulfill the promises made by their organizers, leaving both attendees and exhibitors disappointed. Why is this?

Because meeting the needs of every attendee and exhibitor is a difficult task and it may not be in the organizer’s control. Or even in their interest, given that events must find an economical “middle ground” that delivers value while making a profit. But another, less defensible reason is that some organizers will do whatever is needed to promote a particular vision for an event, with little intention of meeting the needs of the ‘buyers’, as long as the vision allows the organizer to make money. In effect, they’re cheating the very people who make running an event possible, and profitable in the long run.

Some examples of this are:

  • A well-known event grew so large that it compromised the experience of attendees who struggled to get from one hall to another, were jostled by the crowds, and were required to wait in line for everything.
  • An organizer saved money by eliminating a convenient exhibitor lounge with proximity to the show floor that allowed staff to rest and have lunch (on the organizer).
  • Organizers who cancel conference tracks because prospective attendance is down, but disappoint those attendees who’ve registered and booked flights based on the original – marketed – agenda.
  • Shows that cram extra booths into low traffic areas that will deliver poor results to the exhibitors.

 

Clearly, event organizers must hit their numbers. And that can mean cutting expenses. But too often the motivation comes from the dark side of the business – greed. It’s truly short-sighted thinking that compromises the future in deference to exploiting the present.

The bad news for these types of organizers is that event attendees have become more sophisticated than ever in judging value. Those organizers who fail to recognize that sophistication and fall short of delivering that value will pay the price.

 

Are you in danger of going to the Dark Side?

 


Your Event Marketing. Is it Charming, Creepy, or Clueless?

Like many others, as a consumer I’ve come to pay attention to my email inbox in terms of what attracts me to open a message versus ignore/delete it. I’ve also begun to notice those messages that are too familiar in their tone or are too presumptuous in the way they direct me to take some action when it’s the first time I’ve ever heard from them.

 

After some observation and reflection, I have come to classify email messages into three categories:

 

  • Charming- These messages successfully identify needs, send the right message at the right time, are well targeted, and anticipate ‘move the needle’ moments in ways that are likely to prompt a positive response and ‘buying’ action;

 

  • Creepy- These intrusive, highly “personal” communications purport to know the score of your daughter’s soccer game and the team’s season record. They also tend to present their “sell” messages too early in the interaction[s] and are pushy and out of step in terms of their relationship with you and your organization;

 

  • Clueless- These messages are not personalized, or worse, they may reference actions – like a purchase – that you have never taken. They might make incorrect gender assumptions or otherwise struggle with how to address someone when gender is not known. Or they send messages with the missing/wrong job titles, send them to individuals who no longer are employed or perhaps might even be deceased. Their mistakes illustrate how little has been spent on the quality of their lists and the completeness and accuracy of their data.

 

Unfortunately, in our age of ‘Analyze Everything’ the availability of data and the propensity to try to leverage it does not ensure that the right actions are taken. Far too many organizations do the wrong things with the data they have, resulting in creepy pseudo-personalization or embarrassing, clueless moments. Neither result benefits the sender of those messages.

 

I wonder if this also applies to us in the event world.  What does this mean for you?

 

If your communications are ‘charming’, then you are in the top tier of organizations with messages that attract responses. You’ll have no trouble getting your prospects to volunteer information in ways that can serve both of you better. Your communications have a tone, familiarity – and timing – that invites positive response.

 

If your messages are creepy or clueless, you’ll also see a response. But it will be in the number of “unsubscribes” that you get. And it will be in your best interest to figure out why or end up with an unengaged database….


Reactive or Proactive: Are You A Follower Or A Leader?

 

Most people in business are followers. They are the people will neither create anything nor be the first to jump opportunistically on a new market or innovative theme. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but without innovation or creation, nothing new or transformative will emerge. It takes someone with a creative spark for innovation to occur.

But it takes more than that spark; creation is not without its costs. The way forward often involves you in a zero-sum game, as the time and attention invested in current activities can preclude a similar investment in what is new and unproven. Few among us have the resources to be fully committed to both the existing, as well as the new. You therefore must find a workable mixture that combines both approaches, or commit to one or the other. The process of creation and adoption of new things is outlined in Geoffrey Moore’s seminal book: Crossing the Chasm.

 

What is the threshold of market adoption? 

The threshold for market adoption of something new is when the majority embrace the innovation. Sometimes, as with Uber or Netflix, it can happen quickly. In other circumstances, it is more gradual, as with Amazon.com. The tempo of adoption often is a matter of how strong and entrenched are the incumbents and what barriers to adoption lay ahead of the innovation. But the process is usually the same; either new things are adopted or they fall by the wayside when the creator runs out of the patience needed to support growth – or the money needed to fuel that growth runs out.

The art of creation is both difficult and risky. If it weren’t, we’d be awash in innovation. But we are not; challenges abound. Given those challenges, most choose a ‘wait and see’ approach. While that’s often a fair, defensible position (given that profit and loss are at stake), it also limits your ability to capitalize on the advantages of being a creator).

 

Could you be a Value Creator?

Let me pose a question:  What would you create (what innovation would you champion) were profit and loss, as well as time and resources, not at stake? Do you even know what you would try to do?

I believe that there’s a connection between being proactive and being creative. Being proactive in terms of an event requires anticipating the future. Tactically, it’s identifying issues and addressing them before they become threats.  Strategically, it’s figuring out the need for something new, perhaps before your prospective customer knows they want or need it (e.g. Apple’s development of the iPhone.) Creators often don’t have the constraints of budgets, thus are free to imagine different approaches – or entirely new and different products – because they are not burdened with the obligations of profitability, at least in the short term.

 

Are you a Follower or a Leader? 

I’ve frequently said that growth requires proactivity and creativity. Simply following others can be a long-term recipe for failure, though it may be the easier choice in the near term.

Is your organization capable of creating?

 

 

 

 


Why I’m So Sick of the Quick-Fix Approach to Everything!

Are you sick of hearing that technology or some silver bullet is going to turn your event around? Sure there are some tools and processes which will make your event more efficient and easier, but none will fix an event which is poorly conceived, researched and not wanted by your prospective audience.

 

I launched my company, three years before the stock market crashed in 2008. When I was just getting started, I was consumed with the effort to keep my business alive. I started my business knowing there were no snappy techniques or technology to help mesurvive the ‘Death Valley’ of the recession that followed. Acquiring and securing business required my adherence to the unassailable basics of how to turn around events that were suffering and launch new ones in tough conditions. Gimmicks would not get the job done.

 

An  article I read and quickly followed was authored by Tom Peters, an expert on business management best practices and excellence. This formed the foundation of my philosophy for making my events successful and profitable. Here are the key excerpts on how to succeed in times of adversity, with several of my own thoughts mixed in:

 

  1. You work harder.
  2. You dig deep, deeper, deepest – and always bring a good attitude to work.
  3. You take care of your physical, mental, and emotional state.
  4. You work the phones, keeping in touch with everyone.
  5. You simplify.
  6. You sweat the details like you never have done before.
  7. You do your homework on how to a) make the buy-sell connection, b) know what your customers want, and c) make money doing it.
  8. You don’t care about what the competition is doing.

 

If your philosophy about how to create a valuable event is wrong, there’s no amount of technology that is going to save you.  If it is well thought out, the above list may help you fulfill its potential.

BTW, I am not anti-technology. But I am saying that while technology may accelerate a good plan, it won’t help poorly-conceived or unwanted events.

 

 


Copying Your Competition − The First Step on the Road to Event Failure

An interesting column in last month’s Convene advocated working with your competition or co-opting them as competitors so that everyone can benefit. The piece included a link to a Harvard Business Review article that has a great quote:

‘It’s not who your competition is, but what it is.’

This means that you need to consider your competition as encompassing any alternative ways your prospect might follow to solve their problems instead of attending your event. If those competitors can succeed in persuading your prospects that they are indeed a better alternative to you, then they will persist as a threat and your event may suffer.

 

What is Competition?

This led me to think about the meaning of “competition” in terms of an event. In my mind, competition validates the presence of demand for events in a particular market segment and such demand represents an opportunity to make money. However, there are many events (including some big industry ones) that merely convey the idea that they are valuable (like an Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome) than actually are delivering. Eventually their customers wise up and we’ve all seen examples of this if we’ve been around.

If you are spending considerable time focused on your competition, consider that as time that you are not spending trying to figure out the needs of your customers. And without a focus on your customers, you are unlikely to anticipate the future needs of the market or the competitors that await you in that future.  Without a forward-looking perspective, even if you are a dynamite promoter, your time will eventually come. Or perhaps better said, the end of your time will eventually come.

 

Do you know what influences your Customers? 

I believe that few event owners truly know what drives their customers, often because it’s both difficult and time consuming to find out. Chasing the competition is far easier than charting your own course. But it risks leaving the fate of these events at the mercy of decisions that competitors make, rather than pursuing a path of their own choosing.The quest for value an how to spend your limited time continues and the bar is higher than ever, given the demands of everyone’s time.

 

Be Proactive with Building Customer Relationships

My simple prescription to combating [what I call] a “me, too” event is:

  1. Care about meeting the demands of the attendees, visitors, exhibitors and partners of your events;
  2. Come to know people in each category. And know them in person, not just as a voice on the telephone or a digital message on a computer screen;
  3. Get creative about new ways to meet the demands of your customers and don’t be afraid to try those new approaches;
  4. Build a community of people outside of your company who can help you achieve the above tasks.

 

Follow these steps and, rather than following your competition, you’ll be able to see everyone else in your rear-view mirror, struggling to keep up….

 

 


How Not to Engage Your Attendees

Many years ago, I was hired as a ‘secret shopper’ by a large conference company that did not feel it was ‘gelling’ with its audience at a particular event and sought help in figuring out why. What I discovered during that experience was a set of behaviors that showed me what not to do if you want to engage your audience for the long term. I’ll recount some of what I found, though I’ve omitted the names to protect the guilty.

 

What I found was:

  • The event team spent little time speaking with attendees and more time either ‘running the show’ or holed up in the show office during the event;
  • The team spent little time at conference sessions listening to the speakers, hearing their ideas, gauging either the reaction of the audience or the richness of their questions. Though they had spent twelve months crafting the content of the event, the staff spent little on-site time monitoring the results of those efforts or appreciating their own work;
  • During the different event receptions, the team spent more time with other team members, leaving the attendees to interact with each other;
  • The staff knew few of the speakers nor most of the attendees by name other than to eyeball their badges if necessary;
  • When I asked attendees about their experience at the event, they indicated that they felt somewhat rootless, walking from one session to another to the exhibit hall with little sense that the staff cared whether they attended the event or not.

 

Now an admission of my own. My first ten years in the business proved to be fun times, going to new cities, experiencing the exhilaration of being on site at six in the morning for five days in succession, working 12-15 hours each day. But over time the repetition, together with additional responsibilities, began to transform my experience. The events became more of a grind, as I perhaps lost sight of their purpose: to generate revenue by bringing people of like interests together so that they could learn and do business with each other.

 

That mission is a magical thing. It’s easy to become jaded when you do this kind of work, because it’s hard and stressful and there are no “do overs” available to you the week after everything is done. I rediscovered the magic once I realized that to be energized by these things we call events requires that we are connected to them. That means being part of each one in a way that delivers an enjoyment and value even if we, as the event managers, are not the main players.

 

The problem with the client who sought my secret shopper insights, and indeed the problem with my own experience years ago, was the lack of energized awareness which only comes from being truly connected with your own event. Considering the many man-hours spent and the money risked as part of launching and maintaining an event, such ambivalence is a shame and especially dumb if you are trying to build a valuable asset. Can you expect your attendees to be engaged with you when it’s time to register if you are not engaged with them at your own event?

 

If you have an engagement problem with your event, is your detachment due to having forgotten the magic you originally saw, or is it truly gone forever and you are trying to fake it, hoping that no one figures it out?

 

I hope it’s the former rather than the latter because your attendees will always figure it out. And sooner or later, if it is latter, they’ll abandon you. If it’s the former, I challenge you to re-discover the magic of why you do what you do. The tactics on how to re-engage will soon become obvious to you if you truly seek them.

 

Enjoy your re-discovery or suffer the consequences…


Six Factors That Will Kill Your Event

During my time in the events business I’ve seen a fair number of successful events, as well as witnessed some failures. In my experience, there are some key factors that, in some combination, will guarantee the failure of your event. Here’s what I believe are the critical mistakes that event organizers make.

 

1) Taking attendees for granted

This can mean that you don’t seek their feedback or, even worse, if you do solicit it, you fail to take any action in response. If you are not paying attention to your customers you are also not likely to be paying close attention to the direction your market is heading in either. You are likely not that attentive to the attendees’ onsite experience as long as you succeed in getting them onto the exhibit floor. And you have probably never picked up the phone and spoken to an attendee with the intent of engaging with them vs. responding to a problem that they bring to your attention.

This is the ‘build it and they will come’ factor.

 

2) Taking exhibitors for granted

You fail to go the extra mile for exhibitors when something is needed onsite or you ignore them until it’s time to rebook. You raise prices without good supporting reasons. You have no idea what creates the ROI that will attract exhibitors to return to your event. You don’t have personal connections with any of CMO’s or VP’s of Marketing that make the decisions about coming to your event.

This is the ‘my show is more important than you’ factor.

 

3) Hiring the wrong people

I’ve hired many people and the best were those with a “can do”, rather than “9-5” attitude – regardless of their skill or experience level. These are the staff members who will dig in when things are hard and will find the answer when it’s not obvious. The good ones are those who allow you to sleep at night because you know they have your back. In contrast, the wrong people are ‘the throw you under the bus’, the ‘it’s not my job’, or ‘it’s not possible’ people. They will fold under pressure and disappear when their effort is needed.

This is the ‘not my problem’ factor.

 

4) Not doing your homework

When doing your annual forecasts, do you understand the market conditions or the state of the competition? Are you able to react when something changes or are you unaware of what is really going on?  Do you know the strengths and weakness of your show and are you in a position to do anything about them?

This is the ‘what me, worry?’ factor

 

5) Not building and tapping into your network

Most people only tap into their network when they need something, often then finding that the network is not extensive enough to address what’s needed. There is enough expertise in this business such that you should be able to find expertise within or outside of your network and gain assistance quickly. If this is not the case, get out of the office and meet some people not just sit behind the computer.

This is the ’Me Myself and I’ factor

 

6) Not taking care of your database

Do you know what the bounce rate of your attendee base is? The opt out rate? Have you segmented your database so that you can easily send out targeted messaging to your top personas? If the answer to any one of these questions is “no”, then you have some back office work to do. If you don’t understand the numbers, or the content of one of your prized assets, your event will suffer.

This is the ‘my tools don’t need cleaning’ factor.

 

Having any one of these factors will damage your event, but two or more in combination will eventually kill it. Beware and act so that your event does not become one of the victims….


Is Your Show Remarkable?

Unfortunately, the answer for most shows is ‘no’, which is not unlike the chicken or beef entrées served at the last ten wedding receptions you’ve attended. They’re entirely forgettable as soon as you leave the reception/event.

 

Here is how it is from an event attendee’s perspective:

You’ve certainly spent enough money to attend the event. Is it part of the circuit where one show is as good as another? Or maybe it’s a top industry show? Or perhaps it’s a new show with potential – a shiny new object – that is prone to disappoint. Too often the events fall short of expectations and you wish you’d never left the office given it’s going to take two weeks to catch up on the work that you missed. And that’s not to mention that terrible hotel mattress or the delayed flight or the lost bag, etc.

For too many events, a bad night’s sleep leads to the 8:30AM keynote, followed by a walk to a session at which you learn nothing.  Then there’s a trek down the hallway and up the stairs to another session at which you again are told nothing new. So, you get up, stand in line, grab a bun, and get coffee. And then the day continues – rinse and repeat.

When the exhibit floor is open, you walk the show floor with hundreds of others. Untrained vendor staff try to cajole you into their booth or take the opposite posture, one of disdain that makes clear their disinterest. It’s not clear who has the products and services you want. And despite the lanyard with your name and company, no-one seems to know anything about you.

The late afternoon/evening reception is full of cliques, where people who are from the same company or who have history from past events seem content to speak to each other. If you are not part of a clique you grab a beer and end up speaking with someone who’s trying quite hard to sell you something. The beer is free, but your time?

Then you leave, with expectations that the same sequence of events will be repeated the next day.
Why is it like this? Because organizer profits are good and an event can’t possibly cater to every attendee and their unique needs. Your job as an event organizer is to create the same comprehensive experience for everyone – since you know better than they do. But still, unremarkable.
So, what makes an event remarkable?
I experienced one a few weeks ago. Was it the best content? No. Were the exhibitors offering products or services that I needed? Not really. But was the event remarkable? Indeed, it was.

 

The reason had little to do with the content, the food, or the venue(although the fact that it was only a two hour flight for me was appreciated).  It was attributable to the intentional structure of the event, a dynamic that I would distill to two key elements:

 

1) Its structure compelled people to engage with each other;

 

2) Attendees were encouraged to craft their own experience rather than adhere to a rigid conference schedule that offered little time to breathe.

 

Some examples of how this was done:

1) Speed networking-sessions where everyone sat on one of two sides of an enormous table and had five minutes to speak to the person opposite them. Upon conclusion of the five minutes, each side of the table moved in opposite direction – and the networking started again. You concluded having met 12 new people, none of whom you likely would have otherwise met.

 

2) Roundtable sessions at which tent cards were set up at approximately 12 tables, covering a range of different topics. When the sessions started, the moderator polled the table for questions, all of which were addressed during the roundtable. For many participants, this alone made the conference valuable. These were followed up with theme-oriented receptions and longer break times (and shorter session times) so that people could spend time with new friends and continue to craft their own custom experiences.

 

These were just some of the tactics used, and I am sure I unknowingly missed others.
The event was valuable, memorable, and thus remarkable.
The organizer crafted the event with this intention, one which had the attendee as their own experience creator, together with the structure to make it possible.
Have you crafted your event with your attendee’s experience in mind or have you defaulted to what is the easiest to plan? I challenge you to make your event remarkable. Your attendees will thank you by returning year after year.