Whose Attention is the New Currency?

The more attention you can commit to things, the more value you will derive. Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of awareness; attention spans are now shorter than ever and paying attention is a challenge. With the many information inputs available, people are easily distracted in ways that interfere with the focus needed to understand what they are seeing.


What’s the impact? You are making decisions with ‘shallower’ information than before. Thus, the chance of making a bad decision is proportionately greater.


Let’s look at this “attention economy” differently: as a way to create competitive advantage. How about this? I challenge you to find ways to devote more attention to the things that are important, assuming you can distinguish between what’s important and what’s not. That means avoiding the often guilty pleasure of distractions. A complementary skill would be to train yourself to focus on a fewer number of things. That could mean you are spending less time overall, but a getting the bonus of making better decisions.


How do you put yourself in such a ‘resource-rich’ position?


Put away the phone, turn off internet access, and do something in disconnected mode. Change things up by finding opportunities to do things in completely different ways. Maybe it’s having a business meeting outside while walking around the block or your office campus. Or perhaps it’s reading a book that has nothing to do with your day to day work activities, but gives you a perspective that extends beyond the here and now. Meditate. Find ways to force yourself to pay attention to (or think about) something without distractions for 5, 10, or 15 minutes.


Try it for a week and see if your attention span is longer and, as a result, your understanding is deeper. Having done some of these things myself, I’ve certainly seen huge improvement…..


Extra Credit articles on the Attention Economy:

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…

The Traits of an Indispensable Event Person

There’s been considerable discussion in recent years regarding the imminent replacement of many elements of the labor force with robots. The proposition got me thinking about times in the past when I managed a staff of seventeen people who executed four reasonably-sized events in a year. Now, I would have to do the same number of events with just half that size staff.


Phil Fersht, in this recent blog posting on Horses for Sources, writes about the trend of businesses within the IT market to proactively downsize – with no urgent, imminent need. Automation is conspiring to make people less and less necessary. It’s a trend that used to be concentrated in manufacturing and other “blue collar” industries, but now is making inroads within the service sector.


Given the threat of this new paradigm, what attributes are needed to become indispensable at work? Or, should things happen and you were to end up out on the street, what’s needed to get back into the game?


Here are my thoughts:


  1. Project the right attitude. In my mind, this is the number one asset any person can have. What’s the personality and style that will convey that you can get things done: Eeyore (from Winnie the Pooh) or John McLane (from Die Hard)?


  1. Have an eye for the numbers. Do you know what it takes to make a profit? Can you create revenue? Can you build something from scratch? Do you know how to spend just enough to make something great while not wasting money?


  1. Be someone who listens. Do you have your head down, oblivious to what’s happening, or are you alert so that you can pivot in response to outside feedback or changes in the market?


  1. Persist – and adjust – in the face of difficult circumstances. Can you change direction midstream? When things are going badly, can you positively influence others and alter the dynamic? Are you aware enough to know what must be changed – or stopped altogether – when the numbers are bad and flexible enough to take the requisite action?


  1. Be attuned to the inevitable politics. Can you avoid the pitfalls, while dealing with the inevitable challenges that are found in every company? Or do you risk being the fall guy because your focus is exclusively on the work and not other influences?


  1. Act with a sense of urgency. Can you accelerate the pace of activity and deliver results more quickly, as needed? Can you close a sale today, thus freeing up tomorrow to sell to someone new? Can you get the ‘meat and potatoes’ stuff done early, so you can develop something new?


  1. Have the network. Have you mustered the resources to ‘break your fall’ if such a fall looms ahead of you? Could you secure another position, one with comparable compensation, were you to be let go today?


  1. Know the value you deliver. Do you know the financial value of your contribution to the company? This should be easy for sales people. Are your calculations based upon past success or do they reflect what you are delivering today? Can you make your case clearly and confidently?


I’m sure that all of us can find something in the above list deserves attention. I know I can. If you want to stem the tide of obsolescence and ensure you do not become dispensable, consider focusing on the areas where you are weak.


Or await your fate.

Ignore the Negative Hype: How to Successfully Evaluate and Hire Millennials

I just got back from Dallas where I attended the SISO Leadership Conference. I managed to speak with a number of ‘movers and shakers’ there, the bounty of which will find their way into a number of future newsletter articles. The first interesting subject is on Millennials by my good friend Lawrence Dvorchik. Here’s his summary of the panel he ran there. Enjoy!


Last week I had the pleasure of hosting a session at the Leadership conference for the Society for Independent Show Organizers (SISO) in Dallas, titled “The Millennial Mystery Machine: What they really want as employees, attendees and exhibitors”. I had the privilege of interviewing Amber Aziza, a well-known as a Millennial expert, speaking on topics such as Marketing to Millennials, Training Generation “Why”, Engaging Millennials, and producer of The Global Millennial Conference and well as Katie Brewer, a financial coach to millennials.

Here are some learnings from the session:

  • You have about 32 seconds to catch a millennials attention online
  • By 2025, 75% of our workforce will be Millennials. That’s only 10 years from now. However, in 10 years, what will the perspective of the Millennials be? I feel confident in saying their perspectives, needs and feelings will change.
  • Treat Millennials like any other demographic. Segment within and you will see similar interests as other generations. For example, single at 30 is not the same as married with kids at 30. They are the same age but have different views on life. Don’t forget they are people too.

After the session, I took the opportunity to engage with attendees- most of whom were not millennials. Although they enjoyed the session, many had fundamental issues with the millennial generation as it related hiring and working with in three areas:

  1. Millennial Entitlement in the employment process
  2. Millennials Insistence on dictating their work environment
  3. Millennial Conflict with Existing Work Procedures, Expectations and Resources

I started to think about this more. Given that one of the goals of the session was to provide methods to directly address the paradigm change in the employment process and workplace environment, I felt that we left a few things unanswered during the session, and felt obligated to write this article to address the issues which weren’t addressed on stage.

I read more articles, blogs, and reports. I looked at statistics and projections and read opinions and commentaries. And what I found was this. Millennials are not that different than the rest us.

I am reminded of a lesson my father taught me early in my career when I was integrating several offices, cultures and styles to form a cohesive sales team It’s one that has enabled me to adapt over the years to very different leadership styles, corporate cultures and team makeups yet still maintain successful results. He said, “Others may go about doing things differently, but if they achieve (or exceed) your goals, in a morally and ethically positive manner, and they contribute positively to the growth of the company, why do they have to be a clone of you?” Yes, it’s your company. Yes, you need to set the tone and culture how you want it to be. And no, not everybody has to accept that. They don’t have to come to work for you. However, that is no different than any other applicant, regardless of their generation.

Here’s how to be successful in hiring Millennials in spite of the negative media hype Millennials are getting:

  1. Ignore the hype: Millennials are unique individuals. They are people too. Treat them that way and expect the same results of them as you would any other employee.
  1. Remember Your Youth: Remember when you were 18? I know I thought I knew it all, didn’t you? Allow them the chance to succeed, even if they do it in a different way then you might.
  1. Make sure you are looking for candidates in the right places: Now that there are college level degrees in event management offered in many schools, perhaps sourcing candidates from these and other such areas will make your success rates much better than just random hiring. In addition, you can partner with schools to do internships or part time work so you can evaluate millennials and they can see if the environment is for them.
  1. Mentor them: This generation was brought up in the belief that you “Pay-It-Forward”. They want to learn from you. They WANT to improve. Embrace it and you might just be surprised at what they can do.
  1. Offer Recognition: Millennials crave recognition, but not just awards. They also crave feedback.
  1. Don’t forget the power of technology: They were brought up with a device in their hands. They use them for everything. To get online, to text, but also for note taking, researching, and yes, social networking.   But some of that social networking might just be for work, and might just be terrific promotion for you. Set boundaries but also understand before you ban.
  1. Offer Soft Skills Training: Make it mandatory, but make it a fun experience. Focus on things like improving their eye-to-eye contact and in-person communication skills. Remember, millennials want to improve. They want to embrace your programs.
  1. Communicate your Expectations Clearly – and Upfront:  Millennials can be good learners, so give them the chance to succeed.  Set measurable deadlines that provide you with the knowledge of whether they can do the job, and whether they are a fit – and whether you want to invest further in their training or part ways before you invest too deeply.

Be fair. Be clear. Set goals and boundaries. In other words, do as you have always done. But remember, Millennials often look at things through a different lens. Many view cause, culture and coaching as the most important aspect of their employment opportunities. While that may have always existed, this generation tends to place these values higher up than previous generations. Ignore the hype and make it possible for this generation to succeed in your company. You’ll be glad you did.