The Traits of an Indispensable Event Person

There’s been considerable discussion in recent years regarding the imminent replacement of many elements of the labor force with robots. The proposition got me thinking about times in the past when I managed a staff of seventeen people who executed four reasonably-sized events in a year. Now, I would have to do the same number of events with just half that size staff.


Phil Fersht, in this recent blog posting on Horses for Sources, writes about the trend of businesses within the IT market to proactively downsize – with no urgent, imminent need. Automation is conspiring to make people less and less necessary. It’s a trend that used to be concentrated in manufacturing and other “blue collar” industries, but now is making inroads within the service sector.


Given the threat of this new paradigm, what attributes are needed to become indispensable at work? Or, should things happen and you were to end up out on the street, what’s needed to get back into the game?


Here are my thoughts:


  1. Project the right attitude. In my mind, this is the number one asset any person can have. What’s the personality and style that will convey that you can get things done: Eeyore (from Winnie the Pooh) or John McLane (from Die Hard)?


  1. Have an eye for the numbers. Do you know what it takes to make a profit? Can you create revenue? Can you build something from scratch? Do you know how to spend just enough to make something great while not wasting money?


  1. Be someone who listens. Do you have your head down, oblivious to what’s happening, or are you alert so that you can pivot in response to outside feedback or changes in the market?


  1. Persist – and adjust – in the face of difficult circumstances. Can you change direction midstream? When things are going badly, can you positively influence others and alter the dynamic? Are you aware enough to know what must be changed – or stopped altogether – when the numbers are bad and flexible enough to take the requisite action?


  1. Be attuned to the inevitable politics. Can you avoid the pitfalls, while dealing with the inevitable challenges that are found in every company? Or do you risk being the fall guy because your focus is exclusively on the work and not other influences?


  1. Act with a sense of urgency. Can you accelerate the pace of activity and deliver results more quickly, as needed? Can you close a sale today, thus freeing up tomorrow to sell to someone new? Can you get the ‘meat and potatoes’ stuff done early, so you can develop something new?


  1. Have the network. Have you mustered the resources to ‘break your fall’ if such a fall looms ahead of you? Could you secure another position, one with comparable compensation, were you to be let go today?


  1. Know the value you deliver. Do you know the financial value of your contribution to the company? This should be easy for sales people. Are your calculations based upon past success or do they reflect what you are delivering today? Can you make your case clearly and confidently?


I’m sure that all of us can find something in the above list deserves attention. I know I can. If you want to stem the tide of obsolescence and ensure you do not become dispensable, consider focusing on the areas where you are weak.


Or await your fate.

Six Factors That Will Kill Your Event

During my time in the events business I’ve seen a fair number of successful events, as well as witnessed some failures. In my experience, there are some key factors that, in some combination, will guarantee the failure of your event. Here’s what I believe are the critical mistakes that event organizers make.


1) Taking attendees for granted

This can mean that you don’t seek their feedback or, even worse, if you do solicit it, you fail to take any action in response. If you are not paying attention to your customers you are also not likely to be paying close attention to the direction your market is heading in either. You are likely not that attentive to the attendees’ onsite experience as long as you succeed in getting them onto the exhibit floor. And you have probably never picked up the phone and spoken to an attendee with the intent of engaging with them vs. responding to a problem that they bring to your attention.

This is the ‘build it and they will come’ factor.


2) Taking exhibitors for granted

You fail to go the extra mile for exhibitors when something is needed onsite or you ignore them until it’s time to rebook. You raise prices without good supporting reasons. You have no idea what creates the ROI that will attract exhibitors to return to your event. You don’t have personal connections with any of CMO’s or VP’s of Marketing that make the decisions about coming to your event.

This is the ‘my show is more important than you’ factor.


3) Hiring the wrong people

I’ve hired many people and the best were those with a “can do”, rather than “9-5” attitude – regardless of their skill or experience level. These are the staff members who will dig in when things are hard and will find the answer when it’s not obvious. The good ones are those who allow you to sleep at night because you know they have your back. In contrast, the wrong people are ‘the throw you under the bus’, the ‘it’s not my job’, or ‘it’s not possible’ people. They will fold under pressure and disappear when their effort is needed.

This is the ‘not my problem’ factor.


4) Not doing your homework

When doing your annual forecasts, do you understand the market conditions or the state of the competition? Are you able to react when something changes or are you unaware of what is really going on?  Do you know the strengths and weakness of your show and are you in a position to do anything about them?

This is the ‘what me, worry?’ factor


5) Not building and tapping into your network

Most people only tap into their network when they need something, often then finding that the network is not extensive enough to address what’s needed. There is enough expertise in this business such that you should be able to find expertise within or outside of your network and gain assistance quickly. If this is not the case, get out of the office and meet some people not just sit behind the computer.

This is the ’Me Myself and I’ factor


6) Not taking care of your database

Do you know what the bounce rate of your attendee base is? The opt out rate? Have you segmented your database so that you can easily send out targeted messaging to your top personas? If the answer to any one of these questions is “no”, then you have some back office work to do. If you don’t understand the numbers, or the content of one of your prized assets, your event will suffer.

This is the ‘my tools don’t need cleaning’ factor.


Having any one of these factors will damage your event, but two or more in combination will eventually kill it. Beware and act so that your event does not become one of the victims….

The Four “Forks in the Road” of an Event

Recently a client asked how I would describe the lifecycle of an event. The question prompted me to ruminate that an event involves decisions that must be made at various stages, with its ongoing viability governed by those decisions.
What are those stages?


1) Do you launch the event?

You’ve got an idea and think it could make a good event, one that can make money. Do you move forward?


Yes, if you have the right database, the financial viability in terms of prospective exhibitors/sponsors, content that can fill an agenda, and support from experts whose knowledge can help ensure that your event’s theme and messaging provide the right – as in audience attracting – perspective on the topic. Additionally, you’ve done the due diligence of testing your proposition with an ‘event resume’ to determine whether attendees/visitors will come. Lastly, you’re able to assign execution to someone who can manage the many challenges involved with launching an event. You are aiming high but could afford to break even financially.

No, if you have not done your homework. It may be that you’ve skimped on the requisite testing and are unable to capture the essence of the event – and who will benefit – on a single sheet of paper. Or you have not analyzed your database such that you can distinguish the ‘buyers’ from the ‘sellers.’ In fact, you may not have figured out the buy-sell relationship of the event which means you could lose a lot of money

For more reference on launching an event, check out this past article: Launching New Events Without Losing Your Shirt



2) Do you continue the event?

You’ve launched the event and it went reasonably well. At least, you didn’t lose your shirt. Do you continue on?


Yes, if you know how to identify and repeat what went well and eliminate/improve what didn’t. You can see areas where you could expand your offering (and perhaps charging more) and improve the bottom line. You have people who’ve expressed interest in future participation and exhibitors who are enthused to sign up.

No,  if the opportunity cost (relative to other things in which you could invest your time) proved to be negative and you don’t see that changing. Or if you anticipate continued or even greater struggles, perhaps from competitors who are introducing alternatives that would threaten your event. Another signal is wavering commitment from your Top 5 sponsors/exhibitors. Lastly, if the profits weren’t there and you cannot forecast that the situation will improve so that it matches the original three-year projection that prompted you to pursue the event.

An article on competitors moving in on your space: Stop New Agile Competitors From ‘Eating Your Lunch’




3) Do you enhance it?

At this point your event has been around for some years and is earning nicely, no longer a fledgling novice in the market. Perhaps, it’s not the top show, but it’s doing well.  Should you “double down” and commit more effort or be content to let it cruise on as it has?


Yes, make the commitment if you can see the potential for the event to become the industry leader, were it supported with investments in cutting edge content or an evolution/expansion into a new area. You may find validation of that decision in expanded commitments from existing sponsors that could put you over the top.

No, if your sense is that the event is “good enough” – perhaps as good as it will be. You may choose to treat it as a ‘cash cow’ until the market changes, at which point you will likely need to start from scratch. Or your competition is upping their efforts and you lack the will or the capital to do battle. Or perhaps you believe that your will and capital are best committed to other events with better returns on your investment. This might well be the point at which a sale of the event is a wise decision, particularly if the financials are solid and the forecast is good.


Some past article with perspective on enhancing your event:

How To Make Event Profits When Creativity Is Hard To Find- The Blue Ocean Way,

How To Create Profit in Tired Events



4) Do you kill it?

It’s a hard thing to do, particularly when your event has been around awhile. But sometimes the old must make way for the new. Do you end the show?


Yes, if you’ve lost momentum and, though different tactics have been tried, your event’s excitement and profitability are declining. It’s become harder to run the show every year and your important customers are moving on to other things.

No, if something or someone can refresh your event in ways that bring you renewed optimism with new topics, sponsors, or a twist on running the event(see item 3 above)


These ‘forks in the road’ represent the four most important decisions you will have to make during the life of your events. Make the right decisions, and profitability and success are yours. But choose otherwise and misery and lost opportunities could be your fate.


Past articles on killing your event: To Cancel Or Not Cancel Your Struggling Event: That is the Question


Choose wisely…

No One Wants to Exhibit at Your Event

No one cares what you have to say

It’s funny that in my 25+ years of working in this industry, I’ve come to anticipate that frequent demand that “you’ve got to get [fill in the blank exhibitor] to sign up. They must be there.” And for many years my quest was to find the perfect email to write or the phone script to recite that would get these targets to buy. Was there some word or phrase that could make it happen?


The internet changes everything

Over time, it became apparent that on the other side of the computer screen or phone, out of my sight, something had happened. While I focused on my message, my prospect was making evaluations of me based on different factors whether I knew it or not.. Through the Internet, the prospect now had access to all the information they needed to make their own buying decisions and could do it without my assistance.


Listen and qualify your prospect

Given that situation, my challenge was not to push my message, but rather to gain my prospect’s attention and then listen carefully, asking the right questions such that I might elicit enough information to continue the conversation. I learned that what I was selling wasn’t as important as understanding what motivated my prospect. This was a conversation with someone who didn’t know me, nor didn’t care about the event I was selling. And unless I could make the connection between their needs and my offer, they would never care(or pick up my phone call again).


A light shines on Expo! Expo!

Given my understanding of this new reality, I was thrilled to attend Rick Farrell’s session at “Expo! Expo!” this past December. His session, “Selling Has Nothing to Do With Selling,” was easily the best one I attended.. Rick’s presentation reminded me that rather than focus on what I was selling, the important thing was that I understand the fears and drivers of my prospect. That meant understanding my prospects’ concerns about “how am I going to pull in my lead numbers for the quarter,” or “how am I going to get all my work done so I can go on vacation,” or “how am I going to look good in front of my boss so I can get a raise.” Before, such questions were not part of my thinking; yet if I am going to understand my prospect’s side of the interaction, they are crucial to know.


No one cares what you have to say

A traditional selling situation often forces the customer to knit together all the pieces of what you are saying in a way that makes sense to address their needs. But they may not be interested or willing to make that effort. That’s why many ‘deals’ fall through; the burden is placed on the prospect and they are not willing to assume that burden.


Can you pick out the buyer?

But if you listen closely to the prospect, you may find out what they need and then determine whether what you offer is a match. Also, whether they are in a position to buy. After all, there is no assurance that the person with whom you are speaking is either a recommender or a decision maker. Or the dynamics might be such that that they will never buy from you. Separating out those who might buy from those who never will is crucial to not spinning your wheels


Unfortunately, the truth is that no one wants to buy what you are selling, unless you can serve it up for them in the right way, at the right time, to the right person, and for the right reasons.
Do you have the discipline to change your approach?


Here’s more about Rick’s philosophy:


Is Your Show Remarkable?

Unfortunately, the answer for most shows is ‘no’, which is not unlike the chicken or beef entrées served at the last ten wedding receptions you’ve attended. They’re entirely forgettable as soon as you leave the reception/event.


Here is how it is from an event attendee’s perspective:

You’ve certainly spent enough money to attend the event. Is it part of the circuit where one show is as good as another? Or maybe it’s a top industry show? Or perhaps it’s a new show with potential – a shiny new object – that is prone to disappoint. Too often the events fall short of expectations and you wish you’d never left the office given it’s going to take two weeks to catch up on the work that you missed. And that’s not to mention that terrible hotel mattress or the delayed flight or the lost bag, etc.

For too many events, a bad night’s sleep leads to the 8:30AM keynote, followed by a walk to a session at which you learn nothing.  Then there’s a trek down the hallway and up the stairs to another session at which you again are told nothing new. So, you get up, stand in line, grab a bun, and get coffee. And then the day continues – rinse and repeat.

When the exhibit floor is open, you walk the show floor with hundreds of others. Untrained vendor staff try to cajole you into their booth or take the opposite posture, one of disdain that makes clear their disinterest. It’s not clear who has the products and services you want. And despite the lanyard with your name and company, no-one seems to know anything about you.

The late afternoon/evening reception is full of cliques, where people who are from the same company or who have history from past events seem content to speak to each other. If you are not part of a clique you grab a beer and end up speaking with someone who’s trying quite hard to sell you something. The beer is free, but your time?

Then you leave, with expectations that the same sequence of events will be repeated the next day.
Why is it like this? Because organizer profits are good and an event can’t possibly cater to every attendee and their unique needs. Your job as an event organizer is to create the same comprehensive experience for everyone – since you know better than they do. But still, unremarkable.
So, what makes an event remarkable?
I experienced one a few weeks ago. Was it the best content? No. Were the exhibitors offering products or services that I needed? Not really. But was the event remarkable? Indeed, it was.


The reason had little to do with the content, the food, or the venue(although the fact that it was only a two hour flight for me was appreciated).  It was attributable to the intentional structure of the event, a dynamic that I would distill to two key elements:


1) Its structure compelled people to engage with each other;


2) Attendees were encouraged to craft their own experience rather than adhere to a rigid conference schedule that offered little time to breathe.


Some examples of how this was done:

1) Speed networking-sessions where everyone sat on one of two sides of an enormous table and had five minutes to speak to the person opposite them. Upon conclusion of the five minutes, each side of the table moved in opposite direction – and the networking started again. You concluded having met 12 new people, none of whom you likely would have otherwise met.


2) Roundtable sessions at which tent cards were set up at approximately 12 tables, covering a range of different topics. When the sessions started, the moderator polled the table for questions, all of which were addressed during the roundtable. For many participants, this alone made the conference valuable. These were followed up with theme-oriented receptions and longer break times (and shorter session times) so that people could spend time with new friends and continue to craft their own custom experiences.


These were just some of the tactics used, and I am sure I unknowingly missed others.
The event was valuable, memorable, and thus remarkable.
The organizer crafted the event with this intention, one which had the attendee as their own experience creator, together with the structure to make it possible.
Have you crafted your event with your attendee’s experience in mind or have you defaulted to what is the easiest to plan? I challenge you to make your event remarkable. Your attendees will thank you by returning year after year.


Five Elements of a Successful Event

I have been thinking about the elements that would, if all were present, make up a perfect event. Such speculation recognizes that only 5% of all events would ever fit within this category. So perhaps these events are more elusive ghosts than reality for most of us.

Here are what come to mind:


1) The amount of money you make is far greater than your opportunity cost
Your return far surpasses what you could attain by pursuing other projects. Thus, you’re glad to put in the effort (regardless of the amount) for this event, because it is profitable and successful enough to want to do it again.


2) It’s not hard to attract attendees
Examples are TED, SXSW, perhaps CES or NAB. Despite the many hassles (hotels, travel, crowds, and costs), registrations pour in as soon as these events are announced. For me, Macworld fit this model. Regardless of obstacles, everyone wants to be at these events because they are magical.


3)People line up to speak
When you issue the call for presentations, you receive proposals that overwhelm the available slots, perhaps by many multiples. Your event has a ‘Good Housekeeping Sign of Approval’ and a spot at the podium is recognized as delivering business to the speaker.


4) Your exhibit sales staff operate as order takers
Perhaps controversially, in a talk once given to folks in the industry, I said that only one of every ten members of a sales staff was truly a sales person, with the rest serving as order takers and account service reps. I think my comment even prompted boos from the audience. But I stand by my estimate. The good news for these events is that the orders roll in and your numbers can be achieved, regardless of the composition of your sales staff.


5) You can run the event in another region and not detract from the original
You can clone the event and not affect the original event’s attendee, delegate, or sales numbers. This sounds easy, but many a clone has damaged the primary event. Have you done your homework on this one?


You might consider other attributes that I’ve not mentioned as key to a successful event. So, let me know if you think I’ve missed anything important. But if you have all five of the above, I salute you!


To Cancel or Not Cancel Your Struggling Event: That is the Question

Recently a number of my industry colleagues have had to make decisions about whether or not to cancel their events which were struggling. In my twenty-six years in this industry, I can count on one hand the events that I’ve had to cancel after launch, so I count myself lucky on mostly avoiding the scenario.

What are the factors that should determine whether you should cancel event, once you are rolling?


1) Have you done your research?

The biggest reason to prompt an event’s cancellation is not hitting your numbers.  If you foresee a financial loss that could not be tolerated or if running an event risks a greater loss than what would be incurred in terminating it, a decision must be made.  This situation usually stems from the absence of detailed surveys of both potential sponsors/exhibitors that gauge whether they will support your show financially. If you can’t accurately forecast your exhibit revenue before launch, you’re in for a harrowing, white knuckle ride.

Likewise, on the attendee side, have you done response testing to see the interest level? Are you right about conference/expo fees to charge – or not?  Do you have an ‘event resume’ that summarizes the event and its value on a single page? Do you know the acquisition cost of each attendee and established the appropriate marketing budget?

These are just a few of the things to consider. Check out a past article, inspired by Sean Guerre, for more insights on this area.


2) What is your rebook rate?

At a former company, we achieved a 100% rebook rate on most large events, primarily because we were selling many shows 24 months in advance.  Rebooking was our metric of success. But if your rebook rate is below 50% it‘s that your event is churning and burning exhibitors. Do you know why this is happening? Remember that rebooking current customers frees your time during the year to focus on getting new ones.


3) What do your analytics say?

Are you getting between 10-20% open rates on each event email you send out? If not it could a lack of interest in what you’re doing. What do your website page views look like? If your analytics are on the downswing, it may be a sign it’s time to pull the plug.


4) How many financial milestones have you missed?

This is a hard and fast rule for Sean, as noted in the mentioned article. You must be tough on yourself. Once you’ve missed three or more important financial milestones, it’s time to look carefully whether to pull the plug on your event.


5) How many attendee milestones have you missed?

What is the ‘tipping point’ in terms of the number of attendees needed to satisfy your sponsors and your financial expectations? If your goal is to get 400 buyers to your event, will you be OK with just 250? If you think you can hit your tipping point number, it may be best to keep on going.


6) Can you absorb the financial costs of cancellation?

Is there a large hotel or facility contract that you must swallow if you cancel? Do you have labor or other fixed costs that you can’t recover? Or have you bootstrapped things in a way that allows you to back out gracefully without losing your shirt?


7) Can you afford reputationally to cancel or not the event?

Once you cancel an event, it’s quite hard, if not impossible, to resuscitate it. That said, consider your reputation if you run an event with sparse traffic in the exhibit hall and empty seats at the keynote?  You must consider your relationships with key stakeholders if you do or don’t cancel.


8) What is the opportunity cost in continuing the event?

Sometimes the best reason to cancel an event is that it frees you to pursue other opportunities or invest more effort on the healthier events in your portfolio. What is the best decision?


Canceling an event is something I hope you never have to do. It’s extremely painful and the fallout can last for months, particularly if it’s handled poorly. The best antidote to canceling an event is doing your homework beforehand. Before a new event kicks off, do pre-launch attendee and exhibitor tests and think seriously about the opportunity costs and the upside/downside of moving forward. On an existing event, do the evaluation – financially and otherwise – before deciding to continue.

Let me close with a tip of my hat to those who have cancelled an event for the right reasons: when it saves the time and money of speakers, sponsors, attendees and others who will pay the price if you continue with something that is just going to be bad….


For extra credit reading from Lawrence Dvorchik on this subject:

and a few from me:


A Neat Trick to Ensure You’re On Top of Your Market

Pick up the phone and make 10 calls monthly to your customers. Or preferably, visit them in their offices.

That’s it.

And do this consistently – every month – not just occasionally.


I am guessing that, if you are a top executive, you sometimes become so focused on the running of your team, group, or organization, that the result is an inward focus. Likely this is not your intention, but it does indeed happen.

Meeting with your customers will help change the focus from the “how” of your current activities to the “what” of future ones. Are you trying to understand the things about which the customers of your customers care?

When I worked on Macworld I found myself somewhat detached from   customers until I started to attend local Boston area user group meetings. There I found what Apple users were doing and how Macworld had helped them become more creative, to build their businesses, etc. These visits were far more eye opening than were the evenings I spent analyzing spreadsheets or project charts.


How can you achieve the same?
Speaking with 10 customers monthly is not difficult, if there’s a commitment to do so.  In-person visits may not be feasible for each, but don’t rule such visits out. If it is important to know what is going on beyond your doors and outside your event dates, you must find the time. And what’s more, you should challenge your staff to do so as well.

After approximately three months of consistently connecting with customers, your worldview may very well change. And that may well put you ahead of competitors who ignore such sage advice.


Are you up for the challenge?

How to Kill Your Competitor

For many of the events that I am brought in to launch, a key challenge is to create something that does not mimic others in that market segment.  If you create a ‘me-too’ event – one that is not differentiated from everyone else in a substantive way – you are destined to fail.

But how can you become the top event in your marketplace? Here’s handy list of eight things that can help you kill your competitor:


1) Have a better relationship with your buyers than other events do.

Do you regularly call up your buyers to maintain an ongoing conversation about the challenges they are having? Do you engage with your on-site attendees? Does your staff telemarket attendees as part of their duties (there are multiple benefits for doing this)? Taking these actions will help gather data that improves your event, as well as demonstrating that you care about those constituencies who will determine your success. Events with a plan to do this regularly are the top events, whether they are big or small. And whether your attendees take your call is a test to how loyal your attendees are.


2) Make sure the decision makers of your top 10 exhibitors will take your call.

How? If they believe you have their best interests at heart, they will. Otherwise, you have some work to do. But if you happen to be someone who takes your clients out on the golf course, I’m betting your calls to them  get answered.


3) Make sure you have a tighter P&L discipline than your competitors.

When starting an event, I ensure that an expert is quick to negotiate with the event venue (e.g. the hosting hotel) to eliminate any surprises and keep F&B on a short leash. Could your staff manage receivables as part of their responsibilities?  At my first events job, I began by making collection calls to both attendees and exhibitors. I now have a good understanding of the value of cash flow and how it drives the event.


4) Consider this Litmus test: Does your staff enjoy what they do?

All events have an element of stress and grind, but, even with this consideration, does your staff enjoy ‘delighting the customer’? And not just in the customer-facing areas, but also with the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff that eventually makes its way into the event ‘product’?

I had a period early in my career during which the entire year seemed a grind. But I remember getting a wakeup call from a particular onsite incident, after which I learned to enjoy both the product of all my work, as well as the process. The work became much easier thereafter. And even if not always successful, at the very least, I have some great ‘disaster’ stories to tell!


5) Don’t copy your competitors on format, location, content – forge your own path.

The certain way to become a ‘me too’ event is to copy a competitor in terms of venue, content, location, speakers, etc. This is a sure way to kill your event at its inception, since it’s almost impossible to position yourself as better when you behave the same as everyone else. Take a chance and try something new!


6) Understand your market – have better market friends than your competitors.

Frequently, you find organizers who are already in a market (associations, media companies, etc.) and others who ‘serve’ the market, but are neither native to it nor understand it initially. The first type of company has the advantage, as they may inherently know what’s happening when things change. If you are in the latter category, what do you do? Get (or hire) the experts and make the friends necessary that will allow you to take advantage of opportunities before your competition can.


7) Develop useful content outside of your event.

Being a media company or association gives you an advantage here, since you can repurpose all kinds of content throughout the year, thus sustaining interest in your event. But I’m quite happy to report the death of the notion that you need to have year-round 24/7 content about your event and push it to your prospects though. If anyone is still contemplating such nonsense, just stop.


8) Understand the ROI that your attendees and exhibitors want – and deliver it.

This has been mentioned directly and indirectly in points 1) and 2). But do you know how many leads your exhibitors expect? Or what value your attendees expect to get? If you don’t know, how can you correctly market to these folks?


Here’s the ugly truth: Most events are lazy copies of the events they did the prior year. Don’t fall into that trap! It’s far better to be the hunter, not the hunted.


So, which are you?


Is Building an Event an Art or a Science?

Are you wondering about what the ingredients of building an event are?   I asked my friend, industry renowned journalist and thought leader Michael Hart on the art/science mix on starting a conference. Here’s what he had to say:




The answer to the above question is “yes.” Yes, it is an art; yes, it is a science.


That truth has never been more evident to me than over the last six months as I have worked to prepare a conference program. I started with a blank slate and the task to develop the content for a conference and recruit its speakers – all for an event focused on a topic I knew virtually nothing about. In other words, building something from scratch.


As is the case with any artist, there have been moments of great satisfaction (when, for instance, I nailed a commitment for a keynoter I at one time had no confidence I’d land), great frustration (when I went days without engaging a single potential speaker) and even great embarrassment (when my ability to wrap my arms around a subject I didn’t know much about did not keep pace with my need to speak intelligently to people well versed in it).


What kept me from jumping off the metaphorical cliff was the scientist in me, who knows that simply making a to-do list and steadily working your way through it will keep you out of a lot of jams. On top of this, building an event is exhilarating!


Finding the right balance, knowing when to employ the artist in yourself and when to rely on the scientist, requires a fine touch.


At the very beginning, the investigative scientist in me knew where to look for information that would quickly acquaint me with the subject. The artist helped me determine which sources to take seriously and which were a waste of my time, who could give me good advice and who couldn’t.


The artistic part of my brain helped me calculate what the audience this conference will serve would be talking about, not now, but when the conference takes place nearly a year in the future. The scientist employed the trial-and-error process to compile a list of potential conference session topics as I shared my ideas with an advisory committee that could tell me when I had hit my mark and when I was off track.


The scientist in me knew at that point where to go for suggestions about who might make good speakers for the session topics I had finally come up with. The scientific side of my brain kept me going through the often tedious process of connecting with people I didn’t know, explaining my goals and inviting them to participate.


The artist in me learned how to draw information out of potential speakers as I spoke with them, discern whether they would indeed be correct fits for the conference I had come to visualize and, in some cases, whether they even knew what they were talking about. The artist in me realized through some of these discussions that the person I was talking to might be the right speaker for a topic that had never even occurred to me before but would likely be a good draw for the conference.


The scientist in me understood the need to make deadlines on a schedule, knowing that certain elements of the program had to be filled by certain dates – no matter what. The artist in me anguished when those deadlines drew near and I did not yet have the quality speakers I wanted.


With still nearly six months to go, the scientist in me has just put 90 percent of a conference program onto a spread sheet and passed it on to my marketing colleague who will now use it to entice potential attendees to register for the event. The artist in me is pleased with what I have created, but also sees the gaps still to be filled.


If I’m successful, I’ll know exactly how much attention I must pay to the art of organizing a conference program, and exactly how much time to spend on the science. That hypothetical “success” will be elusive and is always hard to come by but, in the end, I expect to achieve it.


Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at