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Eliminating Distraction: Keeping Your Eye on the Ball When the Chips are Down

One of the things that really has helped me in life is keeping calm when all around is going wrong. This is especially helpful at events where I must solve problems in real time and it’s not always evident that there’s a solution readily available. I have seen a real difference between those times when my response has reflected panic versus those when I remained calm. A panicked reaction is not conducive to a positive result. Frequently your clients depend on you, as the expert, to be the one who is calm and provide the assurance that “Everything will be fine!”

I recently attended a complicated event (i.e. one with lots of moving parts) where the staff was calm and collected on the outside. But on the inside? Probably not so much. Though it’s likely that there were lots of minor things going wrong, you couldn’t tell from either their actions or their demeanor.

One way I have found to master this kind of situation is eliminate the extraneous elements and focus on the goal. In a crisis, you need to be able to appraise the circumstances, receive input from others, and determine an immediate path of action. Peripheral details are distractions; I believe that keeping your focus depends on ridding your mind of the stuff that doesn’t matter.

From Rudyard Kipling’s “If”:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

Learning to Eliminate Distraction is just another skill that will help you rise above your competition.  

Safety and Certainty- Conveying The Right Message so Your Customers Will Return to Your Events

In the last four weeks, I have traveled to two events. Some non-event people thought I was crazy to do so, given the ‘risks’. Notwithstanding the caution that I’ve expressed in some past newsletters, my recent actions reflect how much I want face-to-face events to return – and to do so as soon as possible.

Being out of the office has given me the opportunity to observe and ruminate about what prompted my attendance at these two events, despite the “fear porn” about going to events before the end of 2021 that’s been widely circulated. Beyond the inherent ROI of attendance, as well as the value in networking and content, what got me to go? What are the other basic requirements that are a prerequisite for our attendees and sponsors to be able  to return to our events?

The answers are Safety and Certainty.

Huh? What does that mean? Simply put, if an organizer is hosting an event, given all that’s happening in today’s world we would like to think that the organizer has our best interests at heart. That means acknowledging the risks of travel and the possibility that we might be engaged with people at an event who could infect us.
 
In terms of Safety, has the organizer identified all the COVID (and other) risks and done everything to mitigate those risks in a manner that is reasonable in terms of the impact on exhibitors and attendees? Have they communicated those actions as a marketing message that is grounded in facts that are positive, real, and not alarmist?
 
With respect to Certainty, has the event organizer demonstrated their confidence in running the show and that it’s in the best interests for the attendees and exhibitors to attend? Is that confidence evident in a real, grounded – even transparent – advocacy for the event or are they hiding behind opacity that ignores reduced attendee and exhibitor numbers? Are they truthful with their messages? Are they confident in their messaging?
 
If you planning to run a face-to-face event before the end of the year, it’s critical that you both develop strategies that focus on these key elements and make sure that your current and potential customers know about them, too. We’ve got to get back to work, let’s make it easier for our customers to do it too.

What’s the best kind events company to have?

Over the years I‘ve had the opportunity to work with many event companies and that vantage point has allowed me to how companies are organized, what drives their decision making and clues as to why some companies are more successful than others.
 

There are four types of companies:

  • Sales Driven – Motivated by revenues, the sales staff are the stars in these companies. The products may not always be the best, but sales can sell the hell out of them, putting a price tag on every inch of the trade show floor or any digital property. Customer service may come in second or it’s managed by sales to ensure that it’s done right, since the rest of the company is ‘beholden’ to the sales team. Frequently, CARING PROGRAMS (see this link) are a must. The amount of revenue generated often helps subsidize other ventures like riskier launches.
  • Product Driven – They don’t always make money, but the product is first-rate. They lack the application of success or profitability metrics other than those focused on how to make the product more spectacular. Marketing is what makes or breaks this kind of company because if no one knows about the product, the company will go out of business. Customers are usually quite satisfied with the product, but money and opportunities are left on the table. Event owners are seen to be part of the market and not ‘carpetbaggers’.
  • Marketing Driven – Can find every customer in every crack. The product is not always up to snuff and therefore they may run a series of “one and done” events. Every new marketing technique is explored and tried, but if the sales staff isn’t aggressive with their follow-up on leads, the company can fall flat on its face. Usually win lots of event marketing awards.
  • Operations Driven – Everything is done well in terms of the execution of marketing, sales, and service. In terms of the product, there’s not much focus on innovation. The concentration is upon cash cow events, with little to no business development. Business expansion comes via the acquisition of existing events rather than organic growth. Everything executes on time and is carefully crafted and presented. Event owners are frequently prominent members of the market (though not always.) The environment can be quite an assembly line – dominated by production charts and similar tools.
 
In truth, there’s a fifth kind of event company, a superset of the above four that draws on their best attributes. I would it as “profit-driven.”  The top qualities on these companies are:
  • Part of the market-they can ‘talk the talk
  • Dedicated to building first class events which are profitable
  • Have a killer sales team which focuses on nurturing customers for the long term
  • Have a first rate marketing team which can pivot when milestones are missed
  • Execute well
  • Have a business development team which can launch new events quickly
  • Have an eye on the bottom line, but are willing to take some risk
  • Make decisions based upon positive cash flow
  • Do their analysis on current and launch events
  • Have succession planning for the CEO to new hires
  • Can stand in the customer’s shoes
Definitely a ‘wish list’ above, but how do you measure up?
Which kind of event company do you have?

Three Attendee Types Needed to Reach Your COVID and Post-COVID Attendee Targets

There’s been some talk of hiding your prospective attendee numbers from your exhibitors/attendees, given that almost the attendance for most events is down due to COVID-19. I don’t think that’s the right perspective and I’d like to take a different approach. What are the strategies which should be used to bring attendees back, both now when uncertainty reigns, and in a future when [presumably] some semblance of normality has returned?
 
I believe that event organizers have three groups of attendees, each of whom will need specific targeting strategies:
1)     Loyal Attendees
This attendee doesn’t need as much convincing as others might. If they can come, they will. What might interfere with their plans would be corporate restrictions about travel, the personal fear of becoming ill, or other COVID-related circumstances. The messaging for them will need to be high in content and event logistics (what, where, when, how, etc.) and less on the “sell”. This is your core audience; when your numbers are down, they will comprise most of the people who show up. Treat them well and communicate with them honestly. Ensure they understand your health and safety protocols, as it will help your numbers!
 
2)     Former Attendees, But Not Now
These are the attendees who previously attended your event but are not a given to return. When your numbers are down, the biggest reason is that this segment is absent. They may have health concerns and, given those concerns, they may take a “wait and see” approach to your event before committing to return. It might be that they didn’t get a lot of tangibles from the last event they attended, and now require some convincing. Marketing themes to this segment should include specifics about your COVID-19 safety protocols, the rich conference program, the professional and person value and joy of attending face-to-face events, the chance to temporarily escape from a world of Zoom-only meetings, etc. Your near-term business success may well depend upon your effectiveness in attracting these folks.
 
3)     Never Attendees
You may say “I’ve never landed these people before, why would I get them now?” Well, the world is different. As I write this, I am in a hotel, attending my first event in 18 months. How refreshing is it to see my colleagues for the first time in 2 years? The age of COVID-19 has changed business – perhaps forever. What drives decisions about the business is likely to change, as well. Make sure you develop programs that you see people are enjoying elsewhere and incorporate them into your events. Tap into that momentum and you may find you are able to attract the audiences of the future.
 
I remind you, however, that each of these audiences require a different approach. If you opt to do only one theme in your messaging, expect that the majority of your attendees will be from the first group. Ensure that you think through your messaging for the second and third groups, making it authentic and clear. After all, you want to consider your attendees (and exhibitors) as if you are on the same team, rather than consider them only as sales prospects from whom you hide information.
 
As difficult as the last 18 months have been, we event organizers must take the initiative to create the future. The business is still there, and your attendees are finding what they need outside of face to face events, outside of your offerings. What are you going to do about it?

Adapt or perish….

Do You Know Who I Am? A Tradeshow Attendee’s Lament

I am not an ‘analytic’ on a spreadsheet.

I am not merely a name on an email list to be targeted by your marketing.

I receive thousands of emails from you, but none that are personalized to reflect an understanding of who I am.

Though I’ve attended your event many times, I have never interacted with anyone on your staff (other than at the registration desk when I pick up my badge.)

It’s clear that I’m being tracked when browsing the web, as your tradeshow’s ad keeps popping up though I never asked to receive them.

I have sent you an email with feedback, but it was never acknowledged.

I get hundreds of emails from event sponsors with whom I’ve never met nor have an interest in meeting.

I’ve spent thousands of my company’s dollars attending your events.

——————————————————

I am one of thousands of your event’s attendees.

If I never come back, will you know why? Do you care?

I have dollars to spend, both on you and your exhibitors.

Without me, you don’t have an event. If all of us faceless ‘analytics’ stop coming, you’ll be hiding in the event sales and show offices, hoping the exhibitors don’t find you.

Do you know who I am? Do you now care?

There’s No Such Thing as a Hybrid Event

Have you ever heard an attendee say, “I just attended this great hybrid event?” You probably have not. And you never will.
 
Why? Because attendees view an event through the lens of their own experience. Face-to-face attendees don’t care about who’s online at the same show. Their participation in an event is grounded in the face-to-face experience they get. Likewise, online attendees aren’t that interested in who’s attending the event in person – with the possible exception of the speakers and exhibitors. The online attendees are having their own experience, and while they may wonder somewhat about what is happening onsite, it’s only if it relates to their online experience.
 
The term “hybrid” (in terms of events) is a marketing expression employed by technology companies to describe software that allows event organizers to gain efficiencies and expand their reach by delivering content to multiple channels (both in-person and online) simultaneously. But it’s not something which you should use if you plan to present an event to an attendee-they only care about the channel they choose to experience.
 
A “hybrid” event, however, still requires the organizer to create a unique experience for each kind of audience. It’s two projects, with the easy one being the creation of an experience for face-to-face attendees. More difficult, with the requirement for additional, specialized staff with expertise in delivering an online experience, is the virtual event.
 
As you should realize, despite the single term “hybrid”, two different events are happening within the same timeframe, albeit with some similar types of content (aided online by streaming, etc.). But a shared use of content does not change the fact that attendees get a different experience. Why are we projecting otherwise?
 
A further challenge is how exhibitors must organize themselves for a hybrid event. They need two different staffs to support both their onsite and online presence. What does an exhibitor do if they can only staff an onsite booth, yet want to connect with an online audience? Who are the best attendees with whom to connect, those online or onsite? What if an exhibitor can’t manage both effectively in those critical initial stages of prospect engagement?
 
The only way to do a true “hybrid” event is to treat each event uniquely, with each requiring its distinct strategy, staff, and execution plan, and market them to the audience the individual channel is intended to serve. You can use the economies available from shared content between the onsite and online sessions, but the timeframes, engagement expectations, and pricing are going to be different.
 
I might further argue, you should consider doing either an online event or a face-to-face event, but not attempt both in a single effort. Attempting to do both risks creating winners or losers, especially on the exhibitor side. And the style of an event should not be the arbiter of which exhibitor wins or loses – the exhibitor and their offerings should be the determining factors.
 
So, my advice is to tread lightly before embarking on a “hybrid” event and start in the shoes of your attendees to map out the best experience for them.

Will your lack of respect for your customers come back to bite you?

A colleague advised me when I started in the business that I should “do as little as possible while trying to get the maximum out of others.” Left unsaid, but understood, was the presumption that as long as I got mine, making the minimum effort was OK.
 
Fortunately for my bosses and my clients, I rejected that advice.
 
But it got me thinking about how much we actually do for our customers. Often the rationale that underlies the operation of many events is that if you just put up a tent, “they” (the sponsors/exhibitors, speakers, and attendees) will come. Much of the time that works – at least for the short term. But without an insider’s understanding of the interests of our customers, we’re just guessing – and successful guessing is a matter of luck. Perhaps you believe that hitting the repeat button and, as long as you get yours and what you deliver is ‘good enough,’ who cares? Eventually, luck runs out.
 
The good news is that with all the digital marketing and analytics now available, the behavior of our customers can now be tracked and analyzed. That makes it easier to push a button and ‘know’ who our customers are and what they want. Sort of. The nature of most analytics is that it captures the past far better than it offers guidance for the future and gives you no visceral idea of what the actual minute by minute experience is.
 
Throughout my career, I have often found that show organizers have an aversion to meeting with attendees and visitors to really get to know them. Instead, they choose to make decisions based solely on generalized archetypes/personas and spreadsheet analytics. That only takes you so far.
 
When you go to a restaurant, you expect courtesy and service from the staff that’s grounded in respect for you as the customer. What do you do when you don’t feel that you’ve not been accorded that respect? You walk out. It’s the response to be expected from a person who’s real and not an archetype.
 
Are we getting too complacent about how we put our events together? Would your attendees and visitors say that you respected them individually? Or have you become too big or too successful to care what the individual thinks because you’re confident that someone else will fill the seat or walk the floor? 
 
The colleague’s guidance that I cited at the beginning of this piece did not serve him well. Though he went independent and initially was successful, the opportunities dried up and he ended up retiring. Remember, the market always decides who wins or loses. And that’s often determined by what people choose to do and, correspondingly, what they opt not to do.
 
Perhaps you are fortunate right now to be on a hot streak and if you can keep it going, my hat’s off to you. Hopefully, you are well aware of what’s driving your success and you’re still willing and able to provide it. For most, that’s a matter of understanding what provides value to your customers and working to deliver that value on an ongoing basis, not just doing it once because you found a way to maximize results through minimum effort. In this business, success is not a matter of “rinse and repeat.”
 
The bottom line is that you will get “yours” if you can walk the path that your customers walk and bring that insight into your planning and execution. It means you’ll have to work harder, change faster, and produce events that people actively want to attend.
 
Do you really respect your customers?

Actually, You Should be Judgmental

Since our early years, most of us have been taught that we shouldn’t be judgmental about others or situations.

According to Derek Doepker, writing on HigherExistence.com, “If we refer to the definition of judgmental as simply exercising judgment as opposed to exercising criticism, then you’re supposed to be judgmental. It’s impossible for your brain not to form judgments. Without this ability, how would you ever discern truth from lies?”

What makes us judgmental?
  • Our experience
  • Our intuition
  • Our DNA
  • Our prejudices
  • Our values
 
In his book Strategic Acceleration, Tony Jeary argues that the act of being judgmental is framed by what he terms the ‘belief window.’ The belief window “contains everything you believe to be true, false, correct, incorrect, appropriate, inappropriate, possible and impossible:
  • It is framing all of your views of people, places and things, and creating the perceptions and feeling you have about everything.
  • It is influencing the actions you take regarding those same people places and things.”
 
Tony might argue that being judgmental is neither good nor bad, although it is important to know whether your judgements are conscious or not, and whether based upon filtered observations that may include a likelihood for self-deception. Such deception would of course be bad since you would be making judgements from a skewed point of view.
 
However, I’d like to reassert that it’s not only natural to be judgmental, but also that it’s in your best interests to be so. It serves as a safety mechanism against physical and other kinds of danger and can give you a way of making decisions more quickly. But I would caution you to ensure that:
  • Your judgement will result in an outcome that is in your best interest.
  • The basis of that judgement is reason, not self-deception.
  • You learn from past ‘bad’ judgements.
 
I’d like to assert that being judgmental will make your life better given that
1)     you will make decisions faster,
2)     get more done, and
3)     be more successful overall.
 
Just make sure you consciously conquer the self-deceptive notions that can skew your path.

Risk and Reward

I’ve worked for myself since 2005. During that time, people have asked me how they can make more money, do interesting things, work on fun projects, etc. It has always been an interesting question, and my answer has changed over the years.
 
From the perspective of having a safe and secure career, having a job working for someone else is probably the best option. However, in exchange for that security, you must accept a ceiling on your potential income. Your compensation will likely be limited to your salary, unless you are in a sales role, can count on tips, or will receive wonderful bonuses based on certain achievements. Otherwise, your total compensation is unlikely to exceed your salary. But that’s a good trade-off for many.
 
For those who aspire to earn more, you must be willing to assume more risk or have (or be willing to develop) a clearly superior skillset, particularly if those skills are focused on generating revenue. One avenue is to start your own company, build out a product or a set of products, hire staff, and handle all the tasks associated with ownership. If you’re so inclined, your income potential and your profitability will be governed by the decisions you make, the money you save, the efficiencies you achieve, etc. But the risk is massive.
 
An alternative approach is to operate a one-person company, as I have done with The Event Mechanic! This ‘scrappy’ option requires rolling up your sleeves and dragging the business in. If you are not prepared to take this on or cannot do it effectively, then short of recruiting a ‘rainmaker’ (see my post on rainmakers) for the business, you are better off working for someone else and accepting the limits of a salary. I write this with a smile, remembering a business acquaintance who recently called me an opportunist, which I considered to be a positive comment. Indeed, you must be able to spot an opportunity and then create and market value to win deals. With those deals and the revenue that you build from them, you can make a living. In terms of my own business, I have earned more year over year than I ever made working for someone else – even when I was in a sales role.
 
But I’m on the JV team in terms of creating massive opportunity and income. Alan Weiss, long recognized as a guru on consultants, has written a book called Million Dollar Marketing. I’d suggest you read it because the alchemy of building revenue and wealth is fascinating.
 
Weiss might rank money-making opportunities in the following order, from least to most lucrative:
  1. Be on call for a retainer – You are available to a limited number of executives for a fixed time period, such as a year. This approach assumes that you have a reservoir of knowledge that is worth a lot of money for your clients to access. Believe it or not, anyone can get to this level with the right skill and effort. It’s not easy, but it is possible.
 
  1. Fixed project work for a specified amount – This the most common consulting arrangement, where you are hired for a fixed amount of time to achieve a certain outcome. Though these are the “bread and butter” of consulting projects, you are always in danger of scope creep. If you have underestimated the time and resources you will need to reach the objective and are bound to a fixed price for the project, they can be very unprofitable.
 
  1. Paid by the hour – These engagements can be quite lucrative, particularly if the hourly rate is significant. But you are limited by the number of hours you work, so there is a ceiling.
 
  1. Commission-based projects – Though these can be quite lucrative, they can also be highly risky. If you can’t close anything, you are investing effort without any payoff. These are the easiest ‘deals’ to get because the risk is mostly your, not the clients.
 
As far as securing interesting and fun projects, once you are your own boss you get to decide what you work on. That’s something I have found immeasurably uplifting.
 
If you are looking for higher income then you must invest in yourself and do better self promotion, even if you stay in a salaried position. The benefits and freedom are immeasurable.

Has Dealing with Coronavirus Taught Our Event Industry Anything?

The answer is both “yes” and “no”.
 
In terms of “yes”:
 
1)  We have learned to be more agile. If you are reading this – and you didn’t lose your job or your company – then you’ve had to become quicker, bolder, more innovative, and more patient in order to survive. Whether it was developing ideas to retain both exhibitor and attendee money, creating new types of digital events, or deciding to shut down certain events given the market uncertainties or government mandates- we have all gained new skills.
 
2) We’ve learned to work together. An example can be found with organizations such as SISO and Freeman, who’ve become more accessible and resourceful in support of both members and the general event public. They’ve helped champion new standards by delivering advocacy and lobbying that can help the industry with future challenges.
 
In terms of “no”:
 
1)  We have failed to create new business models that can help take the pressure off face-to-face meetings. Virtual events have generally failed as a replacement for face-to-face events, though several tech companies have certainly cashed in. Many attendees comfortable with face-to-face events are weary of digital alternatives and many exhibitors will begin to reduce their digital budgets as face-to-face re-emerges.
 
2) The idea of communities has also failed to gain traction. Most event organizers realize that it’s almost impossible to ‘own’ them. For a community to be a vital ‘engagement watering hole’ within an event they require constant attention and activity. Few event organizers have the interest or skills to sustain that engagement. There’s been no business model emerge that takes the considerable weight of managing communities off the shoulders of event organizers. That suggests that organizers are waiting for face-to-face to come back so that they can continue to operate as they did before – without the encumbrances of managing communities.
 
3)  We’ve failed to get closer to our audiences. Most of the surveys taken during the last 18 months about interest in the return of face-to-face events were surveys of event professionals (who quite obviously wanted their livelihoods to be restored.) But most event professionals operate outside the markets they serve and have little real insight regarding whether our targeted attendees want to – and will – return. Could the decline in face-to-face events during the pandemic be a precursor to their broader decline, since some see event attendance as a corporate boondoggle? Of course, exhibitors want events to return, but can we deliver the quality audiences they have enjoyed in the past? Unfortunately, we just don’t know. We will find out if we can or we can’t, soon enough.
 
I believe that COVID-19 has been something that we have survived, rather than tried to leverage as a laboratory within which to test new revenue generators and develop new ways to deliver valuable experiences. We haven’t flipped the script.
 
If I were to grade our industry’s performance, I’d give us a B minus. And that’s mainly for remaining employed and able to read this.
 
But have we missed a great opportunity?