Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Changing Nature of Business Events

Business events are changing. They're still called the same things; award dinners, seminars, receptions, annual gala's, etc., but they don't happen the way they used to. Mostly, the change is in the way that attendees conduct themselves.

When I first started going to business events (too many years ago) everyone stuck to agenda's and schedules. When it was time to sit, everyone sat. When it was time to listen, everyone listened. Events were more formal and people were more reserved in their actions. These days events feel more like a free-for-all networking activity with an event struggling to happen in the background. I've witnessed time and time again speakers from podiums fruitlessly pleading with the audience to find their seats. The chatter usually drowns out the PA system.

Now I don't believe that this change of attitude is a bad or good thing. It's just a thing that event organizers need to recognize so they can adapt to what's happening. Here are my recommendations, and what I am doing with events I organize:
  • Plan more time for socializing. That means cutting back on content, but people will appreciate a more relaxed schedule. Give them enough time and they may talk themselves out and pay attention just to take a break. Careful though, give them too much time and they will drift away.
  • Make entertainment the number one priority. Not education or ceremony. Of course both of the latter need to be present but, an entertained audience is a rapt listener. Pick your speakers, panelists and presenters based on their ability to connect to an audience.
  • Stop letting sponsors near a microphone. Period.
  • Change the order of activities. Do the official stuff first, then the reception. Call random people out of the audience to read the award presentation and give them an official "honorary presenter" pin before they sit down. Do a table change. Give everyone two table numbers. Sit at the first for dinner, sit at the second for dessert. Anything that will make their experience different from the last kazillion events they attended.
  • When the audience won't sit get away from the podium with a wireless mic and talk from the middle of the room.
  • Challenge your panelists using slides to limit the content on each slide to one word. Yup, that's what I wrote. One word. Presenters reading bullet points to an audience is the most horrific thing indeed! If you want to see how good this works come see my presentation on building a brand at the '07 LMA conference (if I am accepted to speak of course... I have applied).
  • Instead of a panel moderator, ask the panelists to end every answer or statement with a question for another panelist.
  • Have event ambassadors whose duty is to wander among attendees and facilitate introductions. "Is there anyone here you'd like to meet ?"
At least for the time being events have become much more social. Recognize this and plan for it and you will be far down the road to creating events that people will line up for.
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