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10 Reasons It’s Hard to Change the Meetings Industry

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. Business events haven’t transformed much in the last 30 or 40 years, so change isn’t natural to our world.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

4 Responses to “10 Reasons It’s Hard to Change the Meetings Industry”

  1. Trisha Mentzel

    Kristen,

    Think your comments are so true. When managing an event one tends to follow what the client wants and to keep them happy so that they will come back with more business. Once a good realationship is established maybe one can change things a bit more with suggestions and actions.

    Reply
  2. john nawn

    much has been written in academia and the business literature about resistance to change and the change management process.

    what we know is that regardless of the barriers to change, some of which you’ve identified above while acknowledging there are indeed more, it really matters little to the solution side of the equation.

    perhaps the best and most well-known change management methodology is kotter’s 8-step process. http://www.kotterinternational.com/our-principles/changesteps/changesteps

    as an organizational psychologist by training, who has been involved in more change management initiatives than i care to remember, i’ve yet to come across anyone who has said (or done) it better.

    as kotter (and others) explains, any serious change management process is accompanied by an assessment and evaluation component so you can actually determine whether change is taking place or not. our industry’s historical lack of experience with – and sometimes aversion to – measurement has got to rank up there in terms of key barriers. i have many clients who regularly implement ‘change’ to their meetings and events but few who can say with any certainty whether that change is having any impact whatsoever – positive, negative, or otherwise on the attendee experience or their business.

    if you’re going to ‘change’ but not measure that change against some type of outcome(s), there’s really no point, is there?

    Reply
  3. William Thomson

    John, a great solid point about measurement and I’ve written before about the lack of evidence being a barrier to change (I mention that in point 5). I couldn’t agree more about the importance of measurement. I actually had a very enlightening conversation with Jon Bardshaw at the meetology group. He spent some time with his team of phycologists and they explained just how incredibly difficult it is to measure the impact and the value of change from attending a meeting. On the macro scale it is a massive challenge. But less so on the Micro. I believe there are simple steps every organiser can take to measure the change at an event. Start small. Did you meet more people than you have at pervious events, did you enjoy yourself more, do you think you learnt more, …..These are all the small steps we can take. And then share. Building the evidence base. And thanks very much for the link to Kotter: it’s my afternoon reading.

    Reply
    • john nawn

      myth: it’s really really really hard to measure meeting outcomes, including macro outcomes like organizational change.

      truth: it’s not difficult at all. jack phillips wrote the book on this (Proving the Value of Meetings & Events, 2007) and 7 years later and folks are still talking about how hard it is. that’s b.s.

      folks, like jack, who know measurement do this all day long. he’s got plenty of case studies in the book that ‘prove’ it.

      folks who don’t understand measurement are the ones who talk about how hard it is. where’s their ‘proof’?

      i don’t know about jon’s team but as an industrial/organizational psychologist, i have extensive training in individual and organizational performance assessment and measurement. trust me. this is very doable. the project i did with bill voegeli for MPI (again, years ago) on determining the business value of meetings and events validated jack’s work (and the work of plenty of other measurement and assessment professional) and laid out a simple, well documented path for measuring business outcomes of all types.

      this is basically a performance improvement process, which has been standard operating procedure for as long as there have been businesses, applied to meetings and events. too hard? again, where’s the proof?

      why no traction to date? why aren’t more folks measuring meeting outcomes?

      the research showed there’s still a lot of misperception and misunderstanding about what effective measurement takes (again, most think it takes more effort than it actually does). why do meeting professionals misperceive and misunderstand despite the overwhelming amount of information available on this topic?

      there are a variety of reasons from being too busy to being too lazy (both of these are ‘choices’, really). bosses who aren’t asking for more accountability certainly bear some responsibility.

      but ‘hard’ isn’t one of them.

      Reply

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