What Drives You to Succeed?

What drives people to succeed?  What prompts people to do what they do – and try to do it better over time? And to compete and do it better than others? Try searching online and you’ll find that it’s the kind of question that prompts a lot of inquiries; depending on how you look, it could be in the tens of millions. Clearly, trying to understand what motivates people is one of those elemental questions. Some people look at successful people and try to figure it out that way. There are thousands of books to help.


Back in the middle of the last century, Abraham Maslow looked at things more fundamentally and proposed a “hierarchy of needs” – the things that motivate behavior. He suggested that people start with certain basic “physiological” motivations (basics like food, shelter, clothing, etc.) and they then proceed up the ladder to finally reach what he called “self-actualization” (spiritual/emotional motivations like values, faith, helping others, etc.) In the years that followed there’s been a lot of debate and criticism about the model. The reality is that it’s hard to find something that fits everyone.


Rather than try to establish some set of universal truths, perhaps it’s best to look inward. I am sure that each of you can point to things that keep you focused. For me, the types of projects in which I’m involved provide a clue. Event ‘firefighting’, launching events, and sales are all high pressure, time-sensitive, mentally taxing, and extremely stressful. There are times when circumstances reach the point at which I’d just like to give up.


Despite any difficulties I encounter, I never quit. Why not?

* Is it the challenge of pulling through when things are difficult? Yes.

* Is it the need to make money? Yes.

* Is it the need to expand my horizons and test myself? Yes.


But while all those incentives are true, they are not the biggest reason. The biggest reason is right next to me as I write this piece. It’s my daughter Annabelle.


I find that even when I find myself in the toughest situations, super stressed and beset with despair as to whether things can be worked out, picking up my daughter can make those difficulties fade away.


Who or what does it for you? As I have gotten older, it’s the people, not the things that make the tough things worth doing.


Is it the same for you?



Controlling the Tone = You Being Leader

A colleague from my past was a bit of a con man. By that, I mean he frequently pitched new schemes with little-to-no thought about what was needed to deliver on the promises he was making. The story was good, but the details on achieving the goal were lacking. Making promises that he couldn’t keep eventually proved to be his downfall in the business.


Besides being an excellent pitchman, this former colleague also had the great facility to be able to control the tone of whatever was going on. What do I mean? I’d describe him as someone who could be sitting in an office beset by flame and smoke, but you’d never know it from his attitude. His tone and mannerisms would lead you to conclude that all was serene and headed in the right direction. Additionally, he could transform the mood of a room from darkness to light, engaging with people in ways that got them excited about moving forward no matter the circumstances.


Enter the Firefighter

My memories of that colleague got me thinking about the ability of some to define the tone of a situation- even one which is potentially catastrophic. For leaders operating in challenging times, controlling the tone of a situation enables them to transcend the details – often obstacles – of the moment with a style that serves as a cue to your staff not to be worried. It’s a signal that the team should not surrender to the moment, but rather should muster the will to handle whatever challenges need to be faced.

Enter the Flight Attendant

You know what I mean. Most of us have seen this in action. We’ve all been on a plane that’s experienced unexpected turbulence. In that moment, what do we do? Look to the flight attendants and, from their expressions and actions, gauge whether the situation is serious or not. I actually believe that the airline’s onboard staff is trained to smile  and behave confidently when things are bad, thus helping to alleviate the sense of panic that passengers would otherwise have. Personally, I recall a flight from Boston to New Orleans that was forced to land at JFK in New York. In that situation, all the flight attendants were strapped in and somber, a clue to me that we might have been in for trouble-indeed I was right as they stopped all flights and had firetrucks at the end of the runway. I wonder if any stress would have been avoided if they had been instructed to act differently.


Enter the Leader = You

The ability to control the tone of a situation has huge benefits and I believe that it’s a litmus test for both identifying new leaders and affirming existing ones. If you can master this skill, you will engender loyalty and perseverance from your staff when the going gets tough, something that will pay for itself many times over.

Are you with me?

The Era of Pushback

People would prefer to engage in activity that preserves the status quo rather than pursue something new because the status quo is safer and proven. One can expend as little effort as is needed, and try to extract the biggest benefit from what’s been done previously, taking comfort and security in knowing there’s an established precedent for achieving success. Often people will do what’s been done and hope that no-one notices it’s the same. They prefer a proven path rather than blaze a new trail. The result is often an old product, packaged in a new box, with lots of time and effort spent on promotion.


Why is this considered the way to go? Because we’re in an “era of pushback.”


What’s that? It’s the scenario where your boss wants to maintain profits and do so without risking anything. That boss will push back on anything new that you might want to try because their focus is on next quarter’s and year’s numbers.

What explanations are given?

  • The opportunity cost of investing time and money on something new means you’re not investing in what’s already proven to work.
  • There’s a possibility that whatever new endeavor is being contemplated just won’t work.
  • You won’t make your numbers and anything that jeopardizes the numbers must be avoided.
  • This new idea that you’re proposing? Nobody but you, gets it.

Far worse than any of the above, is if you feel the company culture dictates that if you fail you’ll be punished somehow.


Attempting anything new is hard. Many will falter at the first obstacle. But the good news is that if you’re not stymied by the ‘barriers of no’ you will reap the rewards. Why? Because you’ll be exploring new opportunities when others won’t dare. Even if you ‘fail’, you’ll have developed the habits associated with creation, overcoming obstacles, and innovation. That predisposition is the prerequisite for exploiting new opportunities or, better yet, actually creating those opportunities.


Unlike your competition, who are selling last year’s product, perhaps with a new name….


Go get ‘em, Tiger!

An Open Letter From A Decision-Maker Attendee To A Show Organizer

To open the New Year, I am thrilled to get Michelle Bruno’s perspective on the experience of a decision-maker attendee. She’s a good friend and straight talker, so with pleasure, here’s her open letter to all of us:


Dear Show Organizer:


You’ve convinced me to register.


When I Googled your event website, it was great that you optimized your content to make it easy for me to find you.


But I had to read a lot of irrelevant information before finding out quickly what was in it for me and there was no phone number to call to speak with a human. Nevertheless, I figured it out for myself and signed up anyway.


When I registered, you made no attempt to understand who I was and what I wanted through surveys or session choices. But since you had already hooked me, I went with the flow.


I don’t have time for serendipity.


When I go to your event, I feel as if I’ve become one of the hundreds or thousands of other attendees who took the bait and suddenly I’m on my own.


I’m really busy. Taking time away from the office is difficult for me to justify. Yet, no one reaches out to answer my obvious questions—Who should I meet? What companies should I visit? What should I learn? There are no attempts to help me get the most out of the event in the least amount of time.


You track my every move with technology, but you don’t do anything with the information other than feed it into your marketing machine with the intent to lure me back next year.


If I’m really interested in a session, you make me work for the information—take notes, snap photos of slides with my smartphone, go to a website to get a copy of the presentation. Why don’t you capture the information for me and just send it to me automatically?


After the event, show me you know me.


I understand that maybe it’s hard to meet with me during the event—there are only so many of your staff and just three days. But after the event, you’ve got a whole year to continue our relationship.


Stop sending me information for the following year as if we’ve never interacted. You have data on me now. You know what I’m interested in. Let’s start there.


Change your relationship with me from transactional to (long term) relational. Pick up the phone and/or meet with me. I’ll know that you’re truly interested in addressing my needs and I’ll likely attend your event again.


Make it really easy for me to come back the following year with my team members. A good experience for me is worth sharing.


From this point on, don’t only contact me when you want to sell me.  Remember what I want and send me good ideas and information year round.


In case I haven’t made it clear, here’s what I’m trying to say.


I’m a human, not a data point. Get to know me and deliver a personalized experience to me all year round. Put yourself in my shoes and let’s get to know each other.




Your Most Loyal Decision-Maker Attendee (maybe).




As a former supplier and conference planner/trade show manager, Michelle sees the technology and evolution of the live-event industry through a unique lens. She chronicles change through articles in event-industry publications, event-tech company blogs and at Reach Michelle at


Success Requires Getting Burned

Although my business is now successful, in December of 2005 I was at a crossroads. After six months of R&R that had followed the end of a difficult events job, it was time to get back to work. I chose to open my own event consulting company, a perilous decision given that 8 of every 10 new businesses will fail within 18 months of their founding.
Yet I survived and am now thriving. Why? Am I significantly smarter than the 80% of entrepreneurs that do not? Probably not. To what do I attribute the difference? Because I have been burned.
That’s “burned” as in having failed, as in having had to grind for years, hustling and scrounging to get to where I now am. But mostly I was burned. In what ways?
  • I got my start in sales, but within months I was put on probation for having missed my sales quota – even though I had the worst territory amongst 18 sales reps. Think Glengarry Glen Ross. That burned!

  • At Lufthansa, I was told I’d never succeed as a sales rep. That burned!
  • For an assignment in the Netherlands, I was told that the project for which I had flown 3000 miles would be a failure because I lacked direct experience and was only 22 years old. It burned!
  • While working in Boston, the major sponsor of my biggest event commanded that I produce a solution to a problem that they had created, and do so by 6 AM the following morning. I remember feeling my scalp get scorched that time.
There are countless other occasions – personal and professional – when I have tried things and not succeeded. There were jobs I wanted, dates I sought, grades in school for which I worked, etc. And not getting them left me feeling burned.
If you have failed at something, yet got back up and tried again and again until you succeeded, then you know what I mean.
You can’t truly savor victory until you have been burned by failure. That experience is the best fuel to becoming better than the next guy, making your quota, or launching an event and hitting a home run with it.
Currently, I carry a part-time sales quota of $1 Million – and I’m launching successful events every year. Neither situation would be possible without the failures I’ve listed. And I anticipate – even welcome – possible future failures, recognizing that they will similarly propel me forward.
Burn, baby, burn! Keep it going and try new things. For those that do so, I salute you!

Transcending the “Culture of No”

Recently, I was thinking about two different types of change that I’ve observed in the world: progress and innovation. Both forms of change represent advancement, but in very different ways. Progress typically happens in a linear fashion, where the new is often an extension of what already exists. It represents advancement, but advancement that is measured in increments. Progress represents doing something better than the current way, but generally not doing something fundamentally different.


Innovation is disruptive and, thus, non-linear. It is the exception and it’s why those cited as being market disruptors (Airbnb, Uber, Netflix, Apple) stand out. The disruption of innovation is scarcer and, in most cases, not predictable from what has already happened – or already exists – in the current environment. It approaches an existing situation with a totally new approach or sees new opportunities and acts on the possibilities.


Dealing with the ‘Culture of No’

What is the source of friction that makes change, whether it be progress or innovation, difficult if not impossible? I would argue it’s attributable to the ‘Culture of No.’ The incumbents, those who have achieved some degree of decision-making power, don’t want to absorb the risks of changing how things are done. There’s little to no incentive to change and incumbents would rather keep doing what they are doing until it doesn’t work anymore. After all, they benefit from the status quo; with the status quo, they are in charge.


Evidence of this kind of philosophy can be found in statements like:

  • “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
  • “Keep your head down, after all we (the bosses) know best.”
  • And my favorite, from a past boss, “Your goal is to always to do the least and make the most.”


Note that I’m not the first to consider the ‘Culture of No’ and its impact. If you search online, you can find reference to it here.


The Drivers of Innovation

Innovation requires a different motivation, an impetus to change the “what” or the “how” of things in ways that are profound. It comes from an innate motivation to do things differently and more importantly, better. There must be an incentive to make a change and a willingness to try when there is no assurance of success. In most cases, the motivation won’t come from entrenched incumbents. It will come from those who are not predisposed to the current ways of doing things, but rather are open to trying new things. In some cases, they are compelled to try them.


Let’s flip the model on its head, much like Netflix and others have done. If no one is doing anything new in your market, consider that as an opportunity for someone else (a disruptive entity, perhaps like yourself) to try a new way. The result might be incremental progress (doing something better, faster, cheaper, more profitably) or something truly transformative in its innovation, perhaps with a new community developing around it. But neither result will happen unless there is an impetus to try new things and a willingness to accept that they might not work. After all, there is little significant reward without an appetite for risk.


I’d like to provide a brief shout out to Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose for their interesting book, Killing Marketing. It offers a nice blueprint for how to seize the opportunity for disruptive approaches in the marketing space.


Consider your own situation. Are you entangled in a ‘Culture of No’ or do you represent Those Who Will?

Warning: Event Launch Disaster Ahead 1


I recently read an article in Convene which captured the mistakes that were made during a two-year effort to launch a content marketing event in Europe.  For those who have not read the story, the conference manager of LavaCon – a successful, though relatively niche, US-based event – had been urged by a number of his exhibitors to try to replicate that success in Europe, where it was assumed that it could attract a new set of attendees.


In 2016, the conference manager tried to do so in Dublin, but failed. Undaunted, but presumably having learned from that first year’s experiences, he ran the event again this past May (again in Dublin, but in a different venue) only to falter a second time. Why did two successive efforts fall short of expectations? Simply put, he had some bad luck with an unexpected competitive event, but compounded the problem with some rookie mistakes.


Despite the lack of success, I still take my hat off to him. First, he had the courage to launch something new. Second, though it didn’t work, he still agreed to share his experiences in ways that could benefit others. How many of you would be willing to do that?


What factors contributed to the poor results?

  1. A lack of local market knowledge, such as an understanding that “bank” holidays in that region are not exclusive to banks, so should be avoided when scheduling a conference.
  2. The fact that a significant presence of target companies situated close to a conference location does not ensure that the right level of employee – senior decision-makers – work at those offices and are likely to attend.
  3. A misjudgment about the price potential attendees in Dublin would be willing to pay.


Why did those factors hurt his event?  In his own words, “because of the market research I didn’t do, and still haven’t done yet.” I believe that he’s correctly identified most of the problems and he has my congratulations for finally getting it – after two white knuckle rides. There is nothing worse than suffering the stress of a launch, then failing, and then suffering the same fate the following year.


Are there lessons you can learn from this?

  1. Hire someone from the target market area (or who knows it) for initial and ongoing advice about the feasibility of launching and sustaining an event. For example, Ireland is not Europe. Effectively there is no “Europe” as far as events are concerned; events are, if not local, then certainly regional.  That should guide decisions about location – and expectations about attendance.
  2. Ensure you do market testing and P&L analysis to understand the financial risk involved and the likely outcomes, given the many contributing factors. Approach any opportunity with a model that includes an understanding of what “success” is.


In addition, other questions I would ask to qualify an event opportunity are:

  1. In terms of attendee research, has any testing been done to see whether you can draw an audience to make the numbers work?
  2. What is the size of the target email audience on the attendee side and can it be expected to support the paid attendee number in your model? For example, I believe you need 100 names for each expected paid attendee, all other variables being accounted for.
  3. Were speakers and exhibitors engaged early on to help get attendees?
  4. Was there a budget with best- and worst-case P&L’s scenarios established prior to the decision to launch?


As I mentioned, this particular event manager is courageous and honest; I salute him for that.  But the things that I reference above seem common sense guidelines to me and reflect the advice I give my clients prior to a launch.


Are you equipped on your next launch or are you heading down a potentially rocky road?

Does Your Event Have a Dark Side?

The recent revelations of misbehavior by different individuals and organizations has got me thinking about human nature more broadly. For each of us there’s a public side that we want others to see. It reflects our positive attributes and generates favorable responses from those around us, both personally and professionally. But there’s also another side – a darker side – which we hide from others. This dark side often is the home of those naked ‘drivers’ of behavior that we prefer to hide or disguise. It is that dark side behavior that the press craves to uncover amongst the famous and powerful.

Within the events market there’s a less nefarious form of this behavior. Event managers promote their conferences and trade shows as venues that will engage buyers, deliver wonderful experiences, and generate return-on-investment (ROI) for both sponsors and attendees. The assumption is that you’ll want to return year after year because the events offer value.

Do You Deliver to Expectations?

More often than not, however, event organizers promote a vision that the reality does not deliver. Many events fail to fulfill the promises made by their organizers, leaving both attendees and exhibitors disappointed. Why is this?

Because meeting the needs of every attendee and exhibitor is a difficult task and it may not be in the organizer’s control. Or even in their interest, given that events must find an economical “middle ground” that delivers value while making a profit. But another, less defensible reason is that some organizers will do whatever is needed to promote a particular vision for an event, with little intention of meeting the needs of the ‘buyers’, as long as the vision allows the organizer to make money. In effect, they’re cheating the very people who make running an event possible, and profitable in the long run.

Some examples of this are:

  • A well-known event grew so large that it compromised the experience of attendees who struggled to get from one hall to another, were jostled by the crowds, and were required to wait in line for everything.
  • An organizer saved money by eliminating a convenient exhibitor lounge with proximity to the show floor that allowed staff to rest and have lunch (on the organizer).
  • Organizers who cancel conference tracks because prospective attendance is down, but disappoint those attendees who’ve registered and booked flights based on the original – marketed – agenda.
  • Shows that cram extra booths into low traffic areas that will deliver poor results to the exhibitors.


Clearly, event organizers must hit their numbers. And that can mean cutting expenses. But too often the motivation comes from the dark side of the business – greed. It’s truly short-sighted thinking that compromises the future in deference to exploiting the present.

The bad news for these types of organizers is that event attendees have become more sophisticated than ever in judging value. Those organizers who fail to recognize that sophistication and fall short of delivering that value will pay the price.


Are you in danger of going to the Dark Side?


Your Event Marketing. Is it Charming, Creepy, or Clueless?

Like many others, as a consumer I’ve come to pay attention to my email inbox in terms of what attracts me to open a message versus ignore/delete it. I’ve also begun to notice those messages that are too familiar in their tone or are too presumptuous in the way they direct me to take some action when it’s the first time I’ve ever heard from them.


After some observation and reflection, I have come to classify email messages into three categories:


  • Charming- These messages successfully identify needs, send the right message at the right time, are well targeted, and anticipate ‘move the needle’ moments in ways that are likely to prompt a positive response and ‘buying’ action;


  • Creepy- These intrusive, highly “personal” communications purport to know the score of your daughter’s soccer game and the team’s season record. They also tend to present their “sell” messages too early in the interaction[s] and are pushy and out of step in terms of their relationship with you and your organization;


  • Clueless- These messages are not personalized, or worse, they may reference actions – like a purchase – that you have never taken. They might make incorrect gender assumptions or otherwise struggle with how to address someone when gender is not known. Or they send messages with the missing/wrong job titles, send them to individuals who no longer are employed or perhaps might even be deceased. Their mistakes illustrate how little has been spent on the quality of their lists and the completeness and accuracy of their data.


Unfortunately, in our age of ‘Analyze Everything’ the availability of data and the propensity to try to leverage it does not ensure that the right actions are taken. Far too many organizations do the wrong things with the data they have, resulting in creepy pseudo-personalization or embarrassing, clueless moments. Neither result benefits the sender of those messages.


I wonder if this also applies to us in the event world.  What does this mean for you?


If your communications are ‘charming’, then you are in the top tier of organizations with messages that attract responses. You’ll have no trouble getting your prospects to volunteer information in ways that can serve both of you better. Your communications have a tone, familiarity – and timing – that invites positive response.


If your messages are creepy or clueless, you’ll also see a response. But it will be in the number of “unsubscribes” that you get. And it will be in your best interest to figure out why or end up with an unengaged database….

Are You Your Job Title?

Many people tend to consider the respect – perhaps even deference – that’s given to them as part of their job to be attributable to them personally, rather than connected to their role within a business. That belief often only lasts until they leave their position, perhaps due to a layoff or a decision to take a different position. At that point, they may find that the status they previously enjoyed has disappeared or is a mere fraction of what it was.


The Event Mechanic! has a Rough Start

I found this to be true when I started The Event Mechanic!, having left my prior role at IDG World Expo. I had believed that all I needed was to put up my shingle and the phone would ring off the hook with consulting gigs. After all, I had run one of the world’s most famous tradeshow brands – Macworld among others.

The reality was that when I left behind my Group VP title most of the status went with it. This was an extremely rude awakening as I began to build my new business and make a living as an independent consultant. As has been mentioned in a past article, the next three years were extremely hard slogging in trying to ‘catch up’ to where I was before. It required that I become an expert business developer, as in “if you don’t catch something, you don’t eat dinner” kind of business developer. I am doing fine now, but for a while it was somewhat frightening and enlightening.


The Opportunity for You

Why bring this up?  Because I see significant opportunity for all of us For those who know their event stakeholders personally, as was previously written), the benefits could be huge.

How? Imagine hiring the former VP of Sales of your top exhibitor to sell your show. Or bringing in one of your conference speakers to build the content of your program. Or have them join your advisory board and take a hands-on approach to help make your program better.

All of us know people who are in transition for instance. They are no longer their former titles. But you can use foresight to ensure that you keep in touch with those who have innate value and consider how they can help you create better events. In many cases, they may know your event market better than you!

A lesson to the wise: Learn to leverage the resources which may be under your very nose! It will certainly pay off….