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Has ‘Quality is the New Quantity’ Become Today’s “The Dog Ate My Homework”?

If estimates are to be believed, though we may be able to run events this year, both attendance and exhibitor participation will be down. Given COVID-19 and responding corporate restrictions, lower numbers and revenues for 2021 events are to be expected.
 
Does that exempt us from trying to understand attendee and exhibitor needs, given we have the handy excuse that attendance will likely be down? No, we still must treat the last 15 months as an opportunity to learn more about our customers.
 
It’s depressing that the expressions “the quantity is down, but the quality is up” or “quality is the new quantity” have made their return – much as they’ve always done during market downturns. Not that they might be appropriate in certain instances. But my reaction is more to those lazy marketers and event strategists who hope they can convince us that the presence of fewer attendees will necessarily be inversely correlated with their quality – that fewer attendees inherently means they are better attendees.
 
Guys and gals, this is tired thinking, and most of your customers will see through it. It’s much the same as you might have said back in the day when your excuse for failing to turn in your homework was that ‘the dog ate it.’
 
Rather than rationalizing a decline in attendance, what you should be doing is reaching out to the attendees and exhibitors who haven’t returned to past events to find out why. Now is the time to better understand your customers and apply that insight to enhance the customer experience and value.
 
We’ve all worked hard to keep things going over the last year. And we’re stressed out with wondering what the future will bring. Unfortunately, the bad times are not quite over, but we shouldn’t be resigned to accept whatever happens. Let’s ensure that we continue to build our competitive advantage during this downtime, with the knowledge that our customers of the future will be pickier than ever.
 
And I hope the dog never eats your homework…

Your Event has a Brain. But Does it Have a Heart?

Most long running events are viable because they continue to offer value, making enough money (or otherwise generating sufficient benefits ) to prompt their owners to continue onward with them. These events are supported with strong project plans, sufficient revenue, well-managed costs, the right content, competent staff – and they are proven to be profitable. These events can be considered to have “brains” in that they are well-run machines, and probably generate expected outcomes. Typically, these events have a formula of some kind that can be replicated in different locales, spanning different content topics.
 
As we return to running face to face events, we must remind ourselves that our events need more than the intelligent execution of a “brain” that focuses upon the logical reason for the event’s existence. They also need a “heart” that embraces the emotional attraction and ‘pull’ of  the event. It is my contention that of all the events that exist- only 5% represent events that people really want to attend. That’s a mere one event out of every twenty. The others fall into a range of categories: “I have to attend’, ‘I don’t know why I am attending’, ‘this is my first time attending’, etc.).
 
I am fascinated by this topic, because I think it’s one which is frequently overlooked. The focus is ‘pumping them out’ versus ‘why these events should exist”. If you are interested in looking to see whether your event has a heart, then I challenge you to dig deeper in your analysis.
 
Here are some examples of the questions you should ask to determine whether your event has a heart:
  • Do you personally know any of the visitors attending your event?
  • Do you get jazzed up when spending time with your customers at your events
  • Do you look forward to your events?
 
If you answered “no” to any of the above questions above, then it may mean that your event doesn’t jazz up your customers either.
 
If we want to be in this business, we’d be well advised to handle the things that are completely within our control. Disconnection from our customers and our events is one of a few symptoms which may indicate that your event does not yet have the requisite heart. With all the challenges confronting the operation of face-to-face events during the upcoming couple of years I suggest we do our utmost to make sure that people want to come to our events. There should be a connection – with our attendees and sponsors caring about us, the event organizers. If it has a heart, you already know.
 
Without a heart, I don’t see how your event can succeed in the long term.
 
Something to ponder.

Comfort and Fear – How to use one to get more of the other

In the poem, Sad Cure, Graham Greene wrote that “Comfort and Fear – these two alone make Life / But while the Fear too often stood alone…The Comfort always had been mixed with fear.” *

That sentiment characterizes how many now are living: in fear. And because of that fear, they are allowing themselves to settle with what is most comfortable even when there are opportunities available. I must confess some disappointment that, despite the length of time we’ve had to become acclimated to the pandemic, many have failed to grasp the opportunities that have become obvious.

We’ve drifted down the river – rather than steer our own course – paralyzed by television news and social media and hoping for things to return to how they were in the good old days.

In some ways, my industry has acted differently. It has demonstrated a willingness to come together, with competitors collaborating in the hosting of events. There also have been new national advocacy efforts that I hope will champion the power and business value of events as we head into the future. You could also argue that the speed with which many events switched to virtual mode has proven to be a great learning opportunity for the industry.

All the above were spawned by reaction to the pandemic, rather than intentional efforts to innovate and grasp new opportunities. Despite all the positives that have happened, we’ve still tended to retreat due to the fear of failing, taking comfort in waiting until the situation returns to “normal” when we can again do what we did before.

I guess we’ll find out what the new “normal” is when vaccines take hold, the economy opens, and travel and budgets free up.

But rather than just wait, we still have an opportunity to act now. What do I suggest?

To start, I suggest we use the ‘energy’ of fear harness the opportunities of the future. Part of being able to do that will also demand that you:

1) Be friendly and helpful to others, even if you don’t agree with them- this will build future relationships.

2) Continue to listen to and learn from your customers- this will build loyalty and ideas for new products.

3) Constantly test innovation-this will build the business of the future.

4) Trust yourself and your colleagues that despite fear, your gut is usually right- this will build your business


Because of where we are, I see great opportunities available to us. If I am to learn anything from the Graham Greene poem, it’s to use fear as something that fuels an intention to find the next level of accomplishment.


Enjoy the opportunity to do so.

* “Sad Cure” as cited by Norman Sherry in ‘The Life of Graham Greene: Volume One, 1904-1939’


Will your exhibitors and attendees come back?

Hey, event organizers! I have some bad news for you. You are going to have to re-engage with attendees and exhibitors all over again – as if it were the first time. They have gone 12 to 18 months without your face-to-face events. They may or may not have done some of your virtual events, but they’ve had a vacation from the schlepping involved in physically attending one of your shows.

And there’s no certainty they will return.

You’ll have to prove yourselves to your customers all over again as part of the relaunch of your events. In so doing, your attendees and exhibitors will want to know:

• Will you have the top products at your show?
• Will you have the best content and education available?
• Will the right people to meet be in attendance?
• Will their competitors be there?
• What if they were to skip the event and see how the non-attended event performs?

Rather than just roll out the latest version of your last show, to match the success of your last pre-pandemic event will require you to do more. And here’s the bad news: you probably will not succeed the first time. Your first show may only get a small fraction of the pre-pandemic attendance and exhibitor participation. Will that be sufficient to convince both to come back a second time? Will it be enough for you to take the chance of holding the event and will it be profitable for you to do so? 

The goal of your first post-pandemic effort is to do well enough in terms of exhibitors and attendees that it becomes a pathway to your second event – the one that will be the star. 

Notice that I haven’t even mentioned the challenges found in the CDC’s health and safety requirements, as outlined in a March 12th article in Successful Meetings. My favorite line in the article is “Are there any ways to reduce the number of attendees?” That’s hardly the goal that would typify most traditional event managers. The point is we can’t afford to coast, with a “the past equals the future” attitude in terms of attendance and exhibitor buy-in. 

Your customers have had a lot of time away from your events. Will they feel the need to return? You better develop a plan to ensure they do.