This post was written by William Thomson, Head Honcho at Gallus Events. As a UK based event consultancy and training business, Gallus Events also hosts their own industry events through out the year. With over 20 years experience as an event organizer, William has developed two events to enhance the industry: Who Stole My Audience will help event professionals to create stand out events for their audience, while Tech Fest 2014 focuses on giving its’ attendees the tech tools to add value and revenue to their events with invaluable data. William has looked back at his time in the industry to show us how it can be hard to change in the meetings and events industry.
In the meetings industry, we are used to doing the same thing time and time again for each event. We return to the same venue, the same speakers and the same formats. We are used to one way of doing things. And as an event planner myself, there is one very simple reason why this is the case: we are becoming busier.
Over the last 20 years our industry has seen an explosion in the number of exhibitions and conferences. Each event planner now tends to manage more and more events. We are so busy making things happen that we struggle to find the head space to think of a better way to complete those tasks.
We all know that there are many ways in which we could improve how we manage our events. We also know that we could change a lot of things at our events, if we could only find the time.
I want to identify some of the reasons why we find change so hard. By identifying those reasons, we are one step closer to challenging them and a skip and a jump away from changing them:
- The discipline of event management is not regarded as a skill by a lot of people. As a result, everyone thinks that they can run a conference or an exhibition, and this makes it very difficult for event planners to have the power and influence to suggest changes.
- Business events haven’t transformed much in the last 30 or 40 years, so change isn’t natural to our world.
- Most conference and exhibition businesses are set up in some way as a production line. As soon as the organizer finishes with one event, they are on to another. This approach has little room for change.
- For some organizations – I am especially thinking about big associations – the congress is the one area that earns a lot of revenue for the organization, so they are VERY risk averse. For publishers and corporate conference organizers the situation is similar: the revenue from their major event is so big that it is deemed too risky to change. Even when numbers are falling, many organizations will default to past ways to solve the problem – for example, paying more for higher profile speakers rather than looking at different solution.
- There is a distinct lack of evidence for change in the world of events and meetings. This means that we aren’t really able to present research to our stakeholders to prove that change positively impacts our events. This evidence base is building but for the moment a lot has to be a leap of faith.
- Most event organizers by nature are people who like being out of the limelight, so making these bold moves that often go against the culture of the industry and the organization are a big challenge.
- Many organizers are simply acting on the brief from a client. Even if they wanted to change, persuading the client that their vision is lacking is a very tough position. Even though the event planner is the expert, very often they will be told by their internal or external client how to run the event (see point 1) this makes it very hard to influence change.
- Often the case is that delegates, sponsors and exhibitors who attend events are not crying out for innovation, so it’s exceptionally hard for organizers to take the lead in changing their events.
- Events aren’t seen as being particularly strategic, so when planners talk about the event having the potential to have a much bigger impact, they are often dismissed. You just pack the delegate bags dear, and don’t worry about ROI or member recruitment, is the type of answer we often hear when asking challenging questions.
- Change is frightening but natural. We are designed to have heightened senses in new environments and we are designed to feel much more at home in places we are used to. So it is no surprise that we often shy away from change and in this case we are exactly the same as everyone else!
With so many reasons (and I am sure readers could add a lot more) it is no wonder that change for event planners is particularly hard. However, without change our industry will stagnate.
“Event managers must
take control of their events.”
How we can make change stick
Event managers must take control of their events. They can do this by implementing the changes they think are necessary to keep up with the competition and to improve their events: we must lead by example.
If our organizations listen to their event experts it is very likely that there will be half a dozen or more ways that events can be delivered more cost effectively, more efficiently and with better results for your guests or delegates. This is the message you have to lead with. I often quote Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
It is unlikely that your delegates will be screaming for these improvements and your organization may be slow to react, but you are the expert. Design something that your organization and your attendees don’t even know is possible. If you drive the changes your attendees can be driving a faster car rather than riding a faster horse.