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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org .