The best events are non-events. An event professional’s perspective.

flash_or_graphic2064“I just got back from a fantastic event. Brilliant!”

“Where was it?”

“The Whitsundays. Had a ball!”

“What was the event about?”

“Sales. Usual stuff.”

The ‘usual stuff’. If that’s what your last event was like, chances are your event manager didn’t have a clue.

Anyone can find you a great venue, stunning catering, fun activities and a memorable MC.

However, the best event managers will find out from you what you need your event to do. Or, if you don’t know, they’ll help you define the need.

The best event managers will get to understand your business, your goals, your challenges and your people.

Only then will they work with you to make absolutely sure your event does what it MUST do: motivate, inspire, foster change and reinvigorate teamwork.

You know the business imperatives that should drive your next event: sales growth, reward and recognition, education, launching new ideas and products, seizing opportunities or making your existing resources sing like the sweetest choir.

After 25 years as an event professional I continue to hear the conversation I quoted at the top of this blog. Every week I see or hear about event companies delivering the most fantastic ‘usual stuff’.

flash_or_graphic2069An event is just a day off or a holiday if it’s memorable only because it’s an event.

The event business should be about one thing: business. Event managers must be more than social organisers. They need to be payoff strategists who understand results and deliver the right outcomes.

Drawing from their experience, event managers who are true professionals will not be afraid to tell you what can work, and what won’t. They’ll talk more about targets than canapés. And they’ll ask you what you want your event to achieve long after it’s over. You see, an event shouldn’t just be an event – it should be an immersive campaign that resonates, and even amplifies, over time.

Most events aren’t cheap. That’s why I believe clients must focus on their events as an investment, not simply a cost. Event managers and their clients need to agree upfront on the risk/reward factor. The best event managers will be able to eliminate risks and maximise rewards.

Events need to engage audiences intellectually, emotionally and behaviourally. Delegates need to walk away from an event understanding and buying in to your messages and underlying strategies. Results must be measurable.

I believe that for most corporate or organisational events a new perspective is needed; a fresh perspective that demands a new approach to event design. That’s why clients need event professionals who are, in fact, professional in their approach and experience, and empathetic to clients’ ambitions for their event.

Working with your event manager you have to apply the ‘outcome blowtorch’ to every element of your event. You should ask this question of every decision you make: how will this impact on the desired results? If the answer is ‘nothing’ or ‘very little’, you obviously need to take a different tack.

There are four other fundamental questions which should form the basic strategic blueprint for an outcomes-focused event:

  • What does the audience already know?
  • What is the desired strategic shift?
  • How do we want the audience to feel?
  • What are the behavioural changes and results that we can measure after the event?

The answers to these questions will help you deliver a powerful event that guarantees a lasting effect on your people and transfers back to your business.

Rob Frank is the managing director of Verve Creative Events, one of Australia’s most awarded event companies.

Advertisements

Will technology fuel a trend for ‘unplugged’ events?

l2

unplugged:  ʌnˈplʌɡd/  adjective

1.trademark (of pop or rock music) performed or recorded with acoustic rather than electrically amplified instruments.

2. (of an electrical device) disconnected.

recent study by the research group Flurry found that people with smartphones now spend an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes each day on mobile devices, some of that potentially fuelled by the multitude of messages, emails, tweets and other content event organisers are pushing out to them on a minute by minute basis.

We don’t leave them alone while they are at the event either.  If it isn’t asking them to contribute to a live Twitter feed we’ll be sending them reminders and directionals to ensure they know about every little aspect of the event whatever they are doing at the time.

A recent study by a U.K. psychologist, Sandi Mann, shows that all of this technological intrusion could in fact be reducing the benefits we spend so long creating for the audience, not least because we are preventing them from absorbing and thinking laterally about what’s on offer.  In her study, Mann asked subjects to do something really boring and then try a creative task.  What she discovered was that the more boring a task, the more creative their ideas were. Only by allowing our minds to wander, daydream and start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, is our ability to do autobiographical planning, or goal setting, working at its optimum level.

So should we be looking to ‘unplug’ our audiences from their devices once we have got them through the door?

The continuing popularity of consumer events like Eroica Britannia, Taste of London and a plethora of music festivals in all parts of the UK shows that those which thrive are those which give their audiences a real participatory experience.  The challenge for B2B events is much harder.  Having got into the rut of believing the only way to get people to the event is to justify their time out of the office with more and more content, and that you have to remind them of what’s on offer every single minute of the show’s opening hours, it’s going to be a hard habit to break.

But if we want our audiences to fully engage with speakers, exhibitors and other delegates, and develop great ideas while they are our guests then perhaps we need to stop our constant, and frankly rather needy, electronic chatter.

Stop snacking… time to start eating properly again

Something unusual has been happening in the office over the last couple of months.  After years of seeing the volumes of free-circulation business press dwindle to almost nothing we have begun hearing the thud of magazines more frequently once again.

It started with Print Power, a publication produced by Lateral Group. The blurb at the front says that it is a European initiative dedicated to strengthening the position of print media in a multi-media world. That’s as may be, but what actually hit the desk was an extremely well thought out, beautifully designed and, most importantly, well written publication that not only made it out of the poly bag (got to open it to separate the recycling) but is still here for reference.

And then, starting the new year with a bang, along came the January issue of B2B marketing. I haven’t seen a hard copy of this magazine for a while, which is a pity because it’s a smasher.  Lots of varied content, once again well written, great layout and a tone which didn’t make the reader feel like they were on the periphary of a rather exclusive club, or reading something fresh out of the mouth of a PR assistant.

So, this got me thinking about two things: how important it is for B2B magazines that they are written properly; and secondly how we need to find time to sit, absorb and process information.

Many business magazine operations (and one of the above is not innocent of the offence) have embraced technology and decided that the way to keep their readers and consequently their circulations is to develop regular email newsletters. And then send them out to their database. Every Day.  Event magazine  went even further and sent out two email bulletins a day. Thank goodness they have stopped that.  It seemed like a great plan at the time, but it forgot something very fundamental about human behaviour: that if you give us snacks we will graze rather than engage; and that most people switch off when they feel they are being nagged.

What’s more, readers don’t even have to let on that they have stopped engaging.  While the email administrator always ensures that the unsubscribe information is included, all the recipient has to do is to classify the message as unwanted and it will forever be consigned to the junk folder.

In creating this constant stream of bitesize snippets we have created a culture of having to write something to a timetable rather than to an editorial plan.  In doing so, we resemble budgerigars: saying anything for the sake of it, not because we believe it is something that will interest the recipient or even that they will make time to read it.  So they lose interest, stop reading, and they are off to find someone who they think will give them what they want. Our marketing messages become bland, our products uninviting.

As consumers of information we are not without blame either.  This veritable cornucopia of new media has us flitting from place to place searching out the information we think we need.  But, time to ‘fess up: it’s exhausting isnt’ it? There’s a reason why hummingbirds drink pure sugar…

If we want to make good business/marketing/communications decisions, then we must pause to nourish ourselves with high quality information devoured slowly and with relish.  We must create time to sit down and consider what is in front of us without constant interruption from screen based applications, or the pressure of having to tell an audience of disinterested individuals streams  of minutiae. And noone is better placed to provide this michelin-starred content than the quality end of the B2B press.

So come on chaps… put the chips away and start cooking up some roasties.

hellen @missioncontrol

Stand up for what you believe

Jill Sheffield - Women DeliverA recent post on the very excellent BBH Labs blog* has brought me back to thinking about tigers and sheep which I wrote about in May 2010.  In that post I didn’t actually use the quote that originally came to my attention through the British mountain climber Alison Hargreaves so here it is:

Better to live one day as a tiger than your whole life as a sheep

It is this theme of sticking by your convictions and having the courage to stand out in a crowd that Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London covered in his post Who’s Ad is it Anyway? on 16th May.

Inevitably, when we discuss modern communication, we spend most of our time considering whether we are properly reflecting the truth of the brand or engaging the interest and participation of the audience.  And rightly so.  But doesn’t it help, a little at least, to be motivated by our own interest, enthusiasm and sense of pride?

While I have worked in many events organisations that have enthusiasm by the bucketload; and self-interest is after all what motivates many a sales executive with an eye on their commission cheque; I am not sure that pride in the sense that Jim uses it is often in the mix.  When staging an event, particularly one in the B2B marketplace, the team has to serve a huge number of masters: from industry bodies with committees and egos of their own; to sponsors who rightly want to extract maximum benefit for their investment; a multiplicity of media partners, exhibitors, speakers; plus the visitors themselves; while constantly reminding themselves of the need for a positive financial outcome.

How in this maelstrom of expectation do you stay true to the event and the original ideas that drove it’s inception?

It helps if you actually have a clear description of what your event actually is.  Sit your entire team in a room and ask them to define your event in a single sentence (no restriction on the number of words!).  If you have never done this I can guarantee you’ll have more than one answer.  Once you have nailed this one, decide on the personality and profile of your event. Write it down. Create your branding document, and by this I don’t just mean your look and feel, it should also define your market position and your key performance indicators. And every single one of your team needs to know that this is the hymn sheet they should sing from.

While it is essential to be embedded in your marketplace, and you should make essential changes, don’t be tempted or swayed by single voices or what other organisers are doing. Constant reactions and alterations make you look like grass swaying in the wind rather than firmly rooted and leading the way.  If your research was thoroughly executed and your key participants were eager to come on board, don’t let others tinker with or distort your original concept simply because they think they can.

Have the courage of your convictions so that when the last truck leaves the venue you can say “That was my event, and of it I am very proud.”

hellen @missioncontrol

*Well worth a read – particularly if you have been struggling with how to develop your own company blog with buy in from the entire organisation.  Admittedly they have lots of fabulous creative content to play with, but that shouldn’t be your excuse.

Virtual Shakespeare – fancy that!

My pre-teen loves Shakespeare.  It’s not something I can take any credit for since I didn’t really pay much attention in English Literature (I blame the teacher) and the sight of Denzel Washington, Robert Sean Leonard and Keanu Reaves striding around in riding breeches in the 1993 film version of Much ado about Nothing probably stopped me from appreciating the complexity and vivacity  of the language.

Despite having the RSC and Globe Theatre more or less on the doorstep we haven’t quite managed a trip to see the Bard’s  offerings live as yet, so there was little to reference when confronted by a project to design the stage setting for MacBeth.  However, we were saved from having to trawl through countless videos on YouTube by a brilliant event produced by Florida Virtual School on the 6Connex virtual experience platform.

The Florida Virtual School develops and provides virtual K-12education solutions to students in Florida, the U.S., and the world. Founded in 1997, it was the country’s first, state-wide Internet-based public high school. Today, FLVS serves students in grades K-12 and provides a variety of custom solutions for schools and districts to meet student needs. Its virtual Shakespeare festival was live on 26-27 April and once we had logged in we were able to see presentations from FLVS students as they acted favourite Shakespeare scenes or added their own interpretation.  With vignettes from other Shakespeare companies, including the very excellent Reduced Shakespeare Company, we were able to absorb a lot of content and styles in a very short period indeed, presented in a way that felt extremely accessible.

Was something lost by the presentation of theatrical works in video that was a bit grainy and certainly wobbly in places? Possibly yes.  But many children and young people (and the rest of us!)  today live off a diet of YouTube video and homemade entertainment delivered via phone, iPad and PC so  my 12 year old wasn’t remotely phased by a lack of cinematic quality.  What she really enjoyed was being able to interact with the actors and presenters in real time. Networking was easy in this virtual environment  and the fact that most of the other participants were 4,500 miles away was of no concern.  Did she learn anything – definitely.  Did she enjoy  the experience – absolutely.

The debate about virtual vs live rumbles on, and on, but what this event shows is that these environments are  not just a business solution.  They offer a real opportunity to open up access to real live knowledge and expertise for all.

hellen @missioncontrol

What exactly is a virtual event?

Just when you thought you had got to grips with all of the options available via cloud computing and social networking along comes something else to add to the mix. If you are one of the many trying to navigate your way in this emerging market there is a much opinion being shared by those on the leading edge.

Before you can even begin to think of technology suppliers or content you need to know exactly what is meant by virtual event because like lots of new innovations the term doesn’t mean the same to everyone.  The end result from using a webcasting solution would differ greatly from that produced from one of the purpose built platforms such as 6Connex, Ubivent, On24 or  InXpo.

By far the best definition of a virtual event we have found so far comes from the Association Virtual Conference report produced by Tagoras (well worth reading if you get the chance).

A virtual conference is a Web-based event that replicates many aspects of a traditional placebased conference. It features multiple sessions (not just a single Webinar or Webcast) and may include keynote presentations, training and education workshops, discussion areas, social networking opportunities, exhibit areas for vendors, and various other features. Activities in a virtual conference may take place in real time (synchronously), on demand (asynchronously), or in some combination of the two.

Which is a great starting point.  Next you need to specify your goals and then work out what you expect a technology solution to deliver.  If you are a novice reading the advice of an independent commentator like Cece Salomon-Lee from Virtual Buzz could prove invaluable.

Above all, go and have a look at some of the events currently being produced: you’ll find everything from Shakespeare Festivals to Sales Conferences; Training Days to Careers Fairs. In fact there isn’t much you can’t do in these environments.

Killing time…

The following question was posted today on the Who’s Who in Events LinkedIn group and it gives some food for thought.

Is Social Media just used to kill time and find out what old colleagues are up to or does anyone, other than social media consultants, get business out of it?

What is most interesting about the post is that it illustrates how much work is ahead of us before the marketing revolution that is social networking has filtered down to all areas of business.

While social media is transformational, the motivation behind it is not revolutionary in that it simply taps into our most basic human instinct to engage and connect.  It enables the creation of a continuous dialogue between like-minded people which in the live arena can be capitalised on to create events that the attendees truly value.

When many people think of social media they are just considering Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, but these are really just the juggernauts that are educating the masses in the capabilities of what social media can do.

Imagine what you can do if you extract the technology of social media, using it to create your own network, drawing in your current attendees, other interested individuals and partner organisations. By providing them with an open and collaborative environment you will be able to understand what it is that motivates and concerns them, and then you can deliver business services and events that match these needs.

The organisations that are currently doing this successfully are incredibly diverse: from Cancer Centers who want to know how their patients select care at their center and what they want to receive while undergoing treatment; to AFOLs (adult followers of Lego); and then on to large technology organisations who were creating an event for their users based on what they thought were the issues but when they stopped and listened they discovered that there were other more pressing topics that needed to be addressed.

Social media is no longer just a useful part of an event or business marketing campaign, it is the linchpin of an event or business marketing campaign. Organisers and organisations that stop shouting and interrupting (outbound marketing) and start listening and responding (inbound marketing) will be the winners in a world that has, despite what the ostrichs may be thinking, already altered beyond all recognition.

hellen @missioncontrol