the people at your event have to pee

I will be moderating a panel discussion later in the month about “creating great events” which has prompted me to think about what’s essential in creating and marketing an event.

Events have the ability to build awareness and create personal connections that other marketing tactics can’t match. But even with their power, you know there are lots of bad events to attend. And you’ve probably attended ones that didn’t pass marketing muster. In fact, many times most conferences and meetings are a complete waste of time/money/resources for both organizers and attendees.

I think for all that can be said about event planning, a great event comes down to one simple rule: Primal first, enlightenment second.

You have to make sure the basic needs of your attendees are catered to before the awe-inspiring stuff. It goes back to our old friend, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that I based much of Brand Zeitgeist on.

You’d think the key to event planning would be to focus on the big bang sublime stuff. But those first three levels of basic 1) physiological, 2) safety, and 3) group needs are in line before the transcendent self-actualization growth occurs. It’s only in the two top levels of the hierarchy that people can learn and grow. You delight and awe in the basic stuff before you hit the other levels to wow the audience. The trouble is that most event planners see the bottom three levels as “just logistics and details” that have to be taken care of.

In simple terms what this means is, that on a fundamental level, your event attendees are more concerned about the rubbery chicken they’re eating and their need to pee …  than the $50,000 speaker you paid for them to listen to. Looking at event planning in that frame of mind could help you to focus on the mundane as a way to delight attendees.

maybe you should cancel your meeting

Here’s something that sounds weird coming from me: Most conferences and meetings are a complete waste of time/money/resources for both organizers and attendees.

I do several events a year as a marketing speaker. Since, no matter what business you’re in, everyone needs information on marketing — I get to go to meetings for a diverse range of groups and industries and be a third party fly on the wall. As I have worked at these meetings and conferences over the past several years, I have noticed a few things:

  1. Most attendees are not there for knowledge. They’re there to play golf, go to the casino, work on a tan, wine/dine, etc.
  2. If God did a session where He dispensed Perfect Knowledge, there would be at least two guys after the session talking about why His ideas won’t work in their business.
  3. During that break after God’s session? The conference organizers paid the hotel $15/person for coffee. Seems like this is where to cut the budget, not in the programming.
  4. Panel discussions and cock fighting are similar activities. Put several huge egos on a stage and see who can win with a moderator who doesn’t understand what the panelists are talking about.
  5. The amount that people corporate expense accounts pay for alcohol/food/etc increases exponentially during a conference.
  6. Instead of paying for good speakers who know the content and can be entertaining while they present it, let’s just have some executives get up and read in a monotone voice the slides that someone else prepared for them.
  7. There are hundreds of people who have mutual interests together at the meeting. Very few of them make connections with each other except for maybe a greasy business card exchange.
  8. 99.99% of presenters have no idea how/when to use a PowerPoint deck.
  9. Interesting presenters/speakers with new actionable ideas are given 10 minutes to speak. Presenters/speakers reading old information verbatim off their slides are usually given 2 hours.

There are lots more — but the biggest problem that I see over and over is this:
The entire concept behind the meeting is to get a bunch of people who think the same together and have them listen to people who also think that same way.

Mark is getting calls to come to meetings during a tough time for people in his industry and wonders why some of these gatherings aren’t just cancelled. And I agree with him. If your conference / corporate meeting will consist of the “same tired old subjects from the same tired old white guys”, then yes, you should cancel the meeting. And remember that some of those same “old subjects” include new things. If your meeting is just giving lip service to viral-marketing-facebook-web2.0-social-networking new media buzzwords, then re-write your agenda. This is not just current recession/depression/end-of-times thinking. I would say it’s an even bigger problem in boom times as more meetings attended means more missed opportunities.

Having said all this, I have been to many great meetings and conferences that were beneficial for the attendees — while they were at the conference. Even if you have a great experience at the meeting, the real danger time is the day you return to the office after the conference. The kitsch and tchotchkes that were picked up in the exhibit hall get a place on the desk, but what happens to the knowledge? Most often, it’s lost. People and companies that can implement ideas picked up at a conference or meeting are the ones that you see succeed.

I hope you don’t cancel your meeting. While everyone else is sitting on their hands waiting for the storm to pass over, I hope you use this time to put together a meeting that will cause inspiration and action — both at the meeting and when everyone gets home.

(that’s the end of the blog post — here’s the commercial)
If you’re looking for someone to present new ideas and shake up your organization’s thinking at a conference/meeting, you can find more info on how to bring me to speak to your group here.

tweet checks

You’ve probably already heard about the Zuckerberg interview fiasco at SXSW. If not, here’s a good overview and Jarvis has some insight.

After spending years in marketing and media, I’ve learned a few things that are showcased in this particular incident:
1) Every interviewer has an agenda. And every interviewee needs a plan. Sure, they’re going to ask you questions. You just give the answers that you want to get across. Politicians do this too well.
2) In most interviews, journalists already have most of the story written and just need some quotes to fill in the holes. You may have to slap them around (figuratively, of course) –but make sure that they’re getting your story right.
3) Most interviewers don’t listen to what you’re saying.
4) Don’t ever tweet in anger.
5) The audience has always controlled the conversation. If you insulted them in the old days, they canceled their subscription or changed the channel. Now they bite back.

I don’t think people realize how much communication has changed. We’ve all been in a conference where someone was doing something stupid on stage. Everyone winced individually and went on to the next session. Maybe later in the exhibit hall or somewhere else did the WOM occur that negated the presentation. It now happens in real time. You can have an angry mob on your hands and not realize it. Presenters often have a person in the audience who watches their time or body language. You now need a plant to give you cues on the meta-conversation and how the natives are feeling.

People get freaked out when this social conversation happens in a microcosm like a conference so you can actually see it. But this is happening everyday. Not everyone is in the same room. But when your company, you’re media outlet, your celebrity, your politician, or your product messes up, everyone is out there talking about it to each other.

And 99.999% of companies are doing what this interviewer did. They say I’m giving you what I think you need instead of what you’re telling me you want.

Jump Ideas

I just returned from delivering a marketing talk at the World Tea Expo in Atlanta. Hats off to Stacy and all the event staff. It was one of the best organized conferences I’ve attended in a long while.

Being a marketing speaker is one of the things I most enjoy doing. One of the many reasons I enjoy it is — that for a few days — I get to be involved in drastically different industries and worlds of thought. In the past year, I have delivered seminars and keynotes to groups ranging from hospitals and medical facilities to orthotics and non-profits.

You’d be surprised how many new ideas and methods you can come up with for your own industry when you delve into a completely different worldview.

One of my favorite business stories is the bank manager who borrowed/stole operations and marketing ideas from the fast food industry to make his branches operate more quickly and efficiently. It’s these “jump ideas” that cause your business to differentiate and stand out from the competition.

While you may not be speaking at conferences and corporate events, you can do this. Pick up a trade journal or surf the web for information about a business or industry that you know nothing about and is not even remotely related to what you do.

You might find a “jump idea” that you can implement.