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I Can Do That!

So you think putting on an event is easy? Here are five mistakes and how to avoid them

By Janette Racicot

     The last time you went to a movie, did you walk out thinking, 'That was great! I think I'll make a movie too!'? Or how about after a trip to the circus? Did you immediately put on a clown suit and start shopping for an elephant? Well then, why is that that so many managers leave a seminar saying 'Wow, that was a great event. Hey, I think I'll have a series too!'?

     Like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland trying to save the orphanage, many managers think that with just a few people, some scenery and Ol' Man Watkins barn, they can solve all their problems (and be heroes to boot) by just putting on a show. Rarely does this approach actually work. After decades of working with senior managers to create and deliver programs, trust me when I tell you that that producing a successful event is far more complicated, takes more effort and has approximately 156,417 more details than you anticipate.

     Events can be a fast way to communicate, motivate, market and partner which is why companies of all sizes offer them. But often these programs fail and no one knows why. The reason is that, although well-intentioned, managers have made one (or several) of five common mistakes. See if you recognize any of them here and learn ways to avoid them the next time around.

Common Mistake #1 An event is a logistics challenge
      Many managers approach an event as simply a logistics exercise i.e. just find a place, pick a menu and sign the contract. Doing this gives them a false sense of having defined an event. Nothing is further from the truth. This 'logistics first' approach catches up with them later, when they are overwhelmed with the amount of work it takes constantly readjust, redefine and recreate a plan through the entire process.

Doing It Right:
      Ask first: What's the 'Promise'? Exactly who do you want to come to your event? What will be of value to them when they attend? For example, if it's a user conference, the offer to end users might be better, more concentrated information than they could get anywhere else. A sales meeting may offer account managers new methodologies to help them achieve quota. Note: If you have more than one target audience there should be clear value for each one.

Think of the 'Promise' as a blueprint. Once you have it, every decision is clearer and the process is more efficient. No matter what else goes wrong (or right), if you have this clear value for the attendees, your event can be a success.

Common Mistake #2 If we have it, the right people will come
      Often managers think that their biggest investment is the budget line item with the largest dollar figure (like the hotel or food). They fail when, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, the wrong (or no) people show up. This is because what they do not realize is that the most expensive single item is the time of the people who will attend. In order to get the right people into the room, all of your communications (invitations, signs, internal documents, web sites, everything) must have clear and consistent messages that convey what you are offering (see 'Promise' above). Everything that is related to your event should pass through this messaging 'filter'. If you cannot convey the event's value to your audience, do not expect them to invest their precious time and money to attend, no matter how plush the surroundings.

Doing It Right:
      Try this test. Ask five people on your team to describe the purpose of your upcoming event. If you get more than one answer, you have messaging problems, which will result in attendance problems.

Common Mistake #3 Trivializing the message and the messenger.
      Many managers think that once they get people into the room, their job is done. They compromise on the content and the speaker, thinking that they are doing their company a favor by saving money. They are surprised when the attendees are dissatisfied with what happens when the lights dim. Who the featured speaker is, and what they say, is absolutely critical to the success of the event. It is in those first few minutes that your attendees decide whether you will give them value (deliver on the 'Promise') or whether they will be dissatisfied and feel misled.

Doing It Right:
      The type of person, and what they say, should be painstakingly matched to deliver the value to the people in the seats -- not to solve a budget problem or create corporate goodwill. A technical guru, corporate figurehead, industry analyst, management consultant, or professional speaker are all exactly right or exactly wrong, depending on the goals of the event.

Common Mistake #4 What's the Call to Action?

      You produce a quality event, the right people attend and then nothing happens. Why not? The reason is frequently because the attendees were never told exactly what to do. In too many cases, managers leave the follow up to the interpretation of the audience or assume that they will know what action to take when they leave the room.

Doing It Right:
      Write down the exact changes in attitudes, beliefs or behaviors you want to create in the audience and how you want them to behave when they return to the office. Test as many actions as possible. For example, call the 800 #, visit the website, buy the product, take the offer. Eliminate any problems, clarify any issues, or set up the right support to remove as many obstacles as possible and to increase the chances of successful action.

Common Mistake #5 Trying to Clone Success
      To (seemingly) save time and money, managers are often tempted to skip the definition and planning steps and go right to execution by cloning an event from a different time or place. This can be a very expensive mistake. For example, last year's user conference had great attendance so, without scrutiny, the team executes the same plan the following year. They waste countless dollars throughout the process fixing and adjusting and reacting and are stunned when no one registers.

Doing It Right:
      Consider how much your job and company has changed this year. Should you assume that your audience's lives have been static over the same tumultuous period? Audiences and times change, geographies differ, markets evolve. Certainly, it is valuable to build on experience but the goal should be for continuous improvement, not replication. You might be able to clone a plan, but rarely can you clone a success.

     So the next time you hear 'Let's have a show', be very careful. Anyone can rent a room and order donuts. But it takes much greater planning, talent and vision to design and execute an event that really achieves success.

Janette Racicot has helped companies improve their high visibility, important events and programs for over two decades. Her company, Racicot & Associates, specializes in the design and execution of creative programs, events and tools that actually get people to learn something and do something. If you would like to talk to her about your series of events contact her at 617 484 3201 or at jracicot@jracicot.com .

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Belmont, Massachusetts 02478
Tel 617.484.3201 | jracicot@jracicot.com