Many years ago, I was hired as a ‘secret shopper’ by a large conference company that did not feel it was ‘gelling’ with its audience at a particular event and sought help in figuring out why. What I discovered during that experience was a set of behaviors that showed me what not to do if you want to engage your audience for the long term. I’ll recount some of what I found, though I’ve omitted the names to protect the guilty.
What I found was:
- The event team spent little time speaking with attendees and more time either ‘running the show’ or holed up in the show office during the event;
- The team spent little time at conference sessions listening to the speakers, hearing their ideas, gauging either the reaction of the audience or the richness of their questions. Though they had spent twelve months crafting the content of the event, the staff spent little on-site time monitoring the results of those efforts or appreciating their own work;
- During the different event receptions, the team spent more time with other team members, leaving the attendees to interact with each other;
- The staff knew few of the speakers nor most of the attendees by name other than to eyeball their badges if necessary;
- When I asked attendees about their experience at the event, they indicated that they felt somewhat rootless, walking from one session to another to the exhibit hall with little sense that the staff cared whether they attended the event or not.
Now an admission of my own. My first ten years in the business proved to be fun times, going to new cities, experiencing the exhilaration of being on site at six in the morning for five days in succession, working 12-15 hours each day. But over time the repetition, together with additional responsibilities, began to transform my experience. The events became more of a grind, as I perhaps lost sight of their purpose: to generate revenue by bringing people of like interests together so that they could learn and do business with each other.
That mission is a magical thing. It’s easy to become jaded when you do this kind of work, because it’s hard and stressful and there are no “do overs” available to you the week after everything is done. I rediscovered the magic once I realized that to be energized by these things we call events requires that we are connected to them. That means being part of each one in a way that delivers an enjoyment and value even if we, as the event managers, are not the main players.
The problem with the client who sought my secret shopper insights, and indeed the problem with my own experience years ago, was the lack of energized awareness which only comes from being truly connected with your own event. Considering the many man-hours spent and the money risked as part of launching and maintaining an event, such ambivalence is a shame and especially dumb if you are trying to build a valuable asset. Can you expect your attendees to be engaged with you when it’s time to register if you are not engaged with them at your own event?
If you have an engagement problem with your event, is your detachment due to having forgotten the magic you originally saw, or is it truly gone forever and you are trying to fake it, hoping that no one figures it out?
I hope it’s the former rather than the latter because your attendees will always figure it out. And sooner or later, if it is latter, they’ll abandon you. If it’s the former, I challenge you to re-discover the magic of why you do what you do. The tactics on how to re-engage will soon become obvious to you if you truly seek them.
Enjoy your re-discovery or suffer the consequences…