Straw poll: what percent of the events (personal or professional) have you worked on, been to, shown up to would you say were done purely because it was done last year. I’m not even talking about “we do it this way because this is the we always do it” (which is terrible in a whole different way), but simply, “the 2012 event worked out, so let’s do another one in 2013.”
Fifty percent? More than that? I bet it’s a high number.
Even events that seems like they should be so much fun start to lose their magic when they get industrialized and commoditized. Concert series Lollapalooza, once was an amazing collection of music, political, experiential acts you couldn’t imagine seeing anywhere else. Ten years of following the same formula killed it. Re-launched as a Chicago-only weekend festival, it regained it’s magic because it had to reinvent itself to a whole new audience. It needed to define itself and give itself a reason to exist. Again, after eight years, it seems like the magic is faded. The event, once an exciting and anticipated announcement of bands, is now an excuse for large brands to market to 24-year-olds. Has your annual sales meeting, trade show, convention, executive meeting or any other regular corporate event lost all of its magic in a similar fashion?
Here’s a way to force yourself to rethink your event: Hire it.
Think about your event as a person. Her job is to help you train your sales staff, or to energize your support staff, or facilitate the creation or promotion of a strategy. When you hire her, you have a list of job duties and expectations of results, right? You know what this new hire should be able to accomplish in 90 days, 180 days and 360 days, and if they don’t meet expectations, an unpleasant meeting is called.
You screen your hire for the skills and personality traits that indicate likely success at the job. You look for experience in similar roles. You see if they’ve been able to achieve success in the past and how accountable to failures they’ve been.
Why don’t you do the same thing for your event?
A quick to re-think your event, to get out of the “Well, it’s March, time to think about the annual retreat” rut is it think about your event as a person: Would you hire this event?
Yes, this means you have to do the hard work of thinking about what you want the event to achieve, both for the organizers and the attendees, but without such thinking, a billion dollars in spectacle is wasted money. Have J.D. Salinger come on stage, riding a purple elephant, throwing handfuls of hundred dollar bills into the audience and no one will forget it (nor will your CFO). But what did it accomplish? What did you want it to accomplish?
You wouldn’t hire someone without knowing the purpose of spending all that money in salary, benefits, infrastructure, and training, would you?
So stop doing the same thing with your events.
Think it’s crazy? I noticed that people at the Harvard Business Review are saying the same thing about products: You don’t buy a product so you can keep it in your life for fun, you hire it to accomplish a goal. You buy a computer to get more work done, so aren’t you really hiring the computer to help you get more done?
It goes back to Ted Levitt’s theory that customers don’t want a quarter-inch drill bit, they really want a quarter-inch hole. They hire the bit to accomplish the goal.
So have you figured out how to hire your event, yet?
(Image by Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void. Used without permission.)