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Mice Net : February 2010
16 mice.net presentations WANT TO IMPROVE YOUR EVENT? Look at it through the eyes of a child. IAN WHITWORTH A LIZARD DRINKING & SCENE CHANGE Don't worry, this isn't one of those folksy columns about how creative children are before we burden them with the restricted thinking of the adult world. No, what will help your event is the relentlessly annoying side of child thinking: the constant, grating repetition of the question 'why?'. "We're holding an event." "Why?" "Because we have one every year." "Why?" "Because everyone has to get together and meet." "But why?" "BECAUSE WE JUST DO, THAT'S WHY!" It's a fair question though. A lot of organisations just have an event just because they always have one. Nothing wrong with that, but someone grumpy upstairs has to pay for it. Surely it's better to be able to clearly justify doing an event rather than the company spending its money on, say, new office chairs. Ask why you're doing the event, and keep digging deeper. Ask until everyone in the room screams for mercy. Consider Christmas parties. You've probably spent the last month or so sweating on food, beverage and decor. But why do you have a Christmas party? That's easy, you say. It's to reward staff for another year of hard work. Is it? Running a business is all about investing to get a result. This year is history and you can't change it. But what of next year? January is traditionally a time for holidaying staff to sit on the beach and reassess their life. Then they start browsing for a new job. If you have a really great Christmas party, your staff get a surge of job contentment that will last them through the danger period. So you, the event organiser, should talk to the HR department and find out which staff demographics are most likely to switch jobs. Plan the sort of party that will appeal to them. Now take your plan to the boss and show how the party can save a fortune in recruitment and retraining next year. Your party becomes an investment rather than an expense, with a return that can be understood rather than an intangible feelgood factor. Now the boss sees you as a strategic thinker rather than a party planner. That means more respect next time you're discussing budgets for other events. There isn't an event that can't be improved by asking 'why?'. And the answer: 'Because we do it every year' isn't good enough now, when conferences compete with so many other sources of professional information. There's no information shortage today, but there is a shortage of opportunities to hang out with lots of other people from your industry. We all assume that people go to conferences to hear speeches, but maybe what your delegates want is to chat informally to industry associates and swap stories and ideas. So why not set up the ballroom like a giant café with decent baristas and just leave them to it for the whole morning? A lot of conference management thinking seems to be based on the idea that delegates are still at school, and that idleness is a sin. You'd be amazed by the contacts you can make and how much you can learn through free-form idleness. Asking why can be painful, like psychotherapy. People are resistant to change. We all work with people who will fight to the death to preserve some antiquated policy just because it's always the way things are done around here. They're the same people who put laminated signs in the office kitchen saying: "You're mother does'nt work here so wash up your cup's!" Those people are seldom the boss, so push past them. The further up the budget approval ladder you go, the more they'll be interested in 'why?'. For corporate clients, it will always have something to do with making more money, or saving it. Stop talking about how much applause or how many thank you letters your last event got, and think about helping their business. You learn a lot from asking why. It clarifies the real issues in the organisation, so you can design events around them. It'll set you apart from all the meeting managers who only consider the 'how' rather than the 'why'. Which means you won't always have to be the cheapest of six quotes. Wouldn't that be nice? Ian Whitworth is principal of creative marketing consultancy A Lizard Drinking and director of audiovisual group Scene Change. He writes on presentations and communication at www.scenechange.com.au/blog. QUESTION everything