“And so part of the problem we’ve got, the challenge we have is that organizers have been pushed by their organizations to be really conservative and really careful because these are expensive events. But the outcome is not only are they expensive in terms of time and money, but they’re becoming more and more banal compared to the opportunity that’s on the table.”
--Seth Godin, “Would They Miss You If You Were Gone?” Nov 10, 2018
I received the email from the PCMA last week and I keep reading Seth Godin’s interview over and over again. There is so much good stuff in there. My largest takeaway is his reminder that an event is a group of people with voices in their heads. Yes, those internal voices that speak to us as we go through our day. We all have them, and we all react to them. And your event is being judged by people who aren’t telling you what they’re thinking.
The internal talk is why some people can’t put their phones down. It’s why some people won’t look someone in the eye. It’s why some people introduce themselves to strangers and others don’t.
Seth reminds us that we have to be empathetic to our attendees when planning our events. We need to consider their internal voices, even though they may be different from our own. It’s difficult to do, for sure, because we’re so comfortable being conservative. It’s why we deliver very similar events year after year. They’re predictable. They don’t offer big risks.
The problem with this line of thinking is: disruptive entrepreneurs are out there rethinking entire industries. You may not know about them right now, but they could become household names in only a year or so. Remember when you first tried Facebook? It didn’t make any sense at first, did it? Or Twitter? Many of you aren’t event using Twitter because you still don’t understand the benefits. I’ll bet some people still don’t bank online--although many of us never step inside a bank building anymore.
The point of Seth’s quote is that organizations that continue to play it safe are losing huge opportunities to make a difference in their members’ lives. He said people can get content virtually from anywhere in the world, so it’s important to give your attendees a great reason to travel to your event destination and experience it in person. We know you, the planner, want more engagement. You think engagement comes at a high price, when in reality it may just mean a new seating configuration, boxed vs. buffet lunches or the use of networking tools like Mixtroz and Catchbox. Or maybe hiring a new kind of speaker like Len Ferman who uses juggling instruction to promote interaction.
The world is awash in available experiences. Those experiences may become part of your event brand, or they may serve as a reminder of a great interaction in a specific destination. What’s important to remember, though, is that as events with similar customer profiles become more commoditized (meaning they all start to look the same and offer the same content), you will need to think harder about how to stand out, or you’ll end up competing for attendees on price alone.
So as you plan your 2019 events, consider shaking it up a little more than you did in 2018. Please step out of your comfort zone a little. Convince your board that your attendees are encouraging you to do something different. Try to discover new speakers, new A/V techniques, and new rules for your event sessions, and be ok leading your attendees on the new journey. You’re likely to help them change how they speak in their own heads. Embrace the new opportunities on the table, and resist the temptation to be conservative. You want to be remembered for a great experience, after all.
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