career


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!


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!

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?


Copying Your Competition − The First Step on the Road to Event Failure

An interesting column in last month’s Convene advocated working with your competition or co-opting them as competitors so that everyone can benefit. The piece included a link to a Harvard Business Review article that has a great quote:

‘It’s not who your competition is, but what it is.’

This means that you need to consider your competition as encompassing any alternative ways your prospect might follow to solve their problems instead of attending your event. If those competitors can succeed in persuading your prospects that they are indeed a better alternative to you, then they will persist as a threat and your event may suffer.

 

What is Competition?

This led me to think about the meaning of “competition” in terms of an event. In my mind, competition validates the presence of demand for events in a particular market segment and such demand represents an opportunity to make money. However, there are many events (including some big industry ones) that merely convey the idea that they are valuable (like an Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome) than actually are delivering. Eventually their customers wise up and we’ve all seen examples of this if we’ve been around.

If you are spending considerable time focused on your competition, consider that as time that you are not spending trying to figure out the needs of your customers. And without a focus on your customers, you are unlikely to anticipate the future needs of the market or the competitors that await you in that future.  Without a forward-looking perspective, even if you are a dynamite promoter, your time will eventually come. Or perhaps better said, the end of your time will eventually come.

 

Do you know what influences your Customers? 

I believe that few event owners truly know what drives their customers, often because it’s both difficult and time consuming to find out. Chasing the competition is far easier than charting your own course. But it risks leaving the fate of these events at the mercy of decisions that competitors make, rather than pursuing a path of their own choosing.The quest for value an how to spend your limited time continues and the bar is higher than ever, given the demands of everyone’s time.

 

Be Proactive with Building Customer Relationships

My simple prescription to combating [what I call] a “me, too” event is:

  1. Care about meeting the demands of the attendees, visitors, exhibitors and partners of your events;
  2. Come to know people in each category. And know them in person, not just as a voice on the telephone or a digital message on a computer screen;
  3. Get creative about new ways to meet the demands of your customers and don’t be afraid to try those new approaches;
  4. Build a community of people outside of your company who can help you achieve the above tasks.

 

Follow these steps and, rather than following your competition, you’ll be able to see everyone else in your rear-view mirror, struggling to keep up….

 

 


Launch, Acquire – Or Die….

Before I started The Event Mechanic! there were two types of companies for which I worked: 1) an event generator and 2) an event buyer. In both situations, the owners of those companies realized that revenue growth and profitability required a pipeline of new products. Such offerings could be added to the ‘cash cow’ events upon which they relied, as well as stem the revenue loss from those events that showed signs of declining.

 

My experience in this business has found that event generators are rare and far more valuable over the long term. The assessment of value is attributable to the fact that these generators are in complete control of the events they choose to launch, rather than having to wait for a property owned by someone else to become available to purchase. Of course I certainly acknowledge that an event buyer has some options available to them to initiate events: they can choose to clone existing events and execute them in new markets or do niche events that are marginally different from those that they already operate.

 

I believe the failure to frequently launch or acquire events is a recipe for failure for event companies.

 

For those interested in avoiding that failure, you should attempt to invest in a number of creative people who can conceptualize new events and help build the business case needed to support their launches as part of your organization’s strategic plan. In a recent article, Eventbrite provided guidance on the way to correctly launch an event. Their instructions include advice on how to:

  1. Find your audience,
  2. Develop a unique and effective value proposition,
  3. Get your pricing right,
  4. Set a realistic budget,
  5. Build momentum by creating an early support network,
  6. Set up your web page for success,
  7. Promote your event with great online marketing,
  8. Deliver a world-class onsite experience for your attendees,
  9. Go from strength to strength after your first event.

 

Obviously, the toughest steps are the first two. For further insight about the need for creativity in the process, check out some of my previous postings, including one about the “3 Guys” needed for events and another on the importance of the “creative” role.

 

The challenge you’ll face is the scarcity of creative types (which is why you should cultivate your own). If only 5% within the event industry qualify as ‘creative’ and that person is not on your current staff and you can’t seem to hire any, what can you do?

 

I’d suggest:

  1. Look at your current event portfolio and investigating whether you can hire or contract with someone who can conceive a new event.
  2. Challenge someone on your current staff (likely someone younger whose experience will not hinder their creativity) to develop your next concept.
  3. Continually network outside your comfort zone to meet and engage people who may have a new twist on an idea that can be developed into something that could make you money and hire or engage them.

 

Pick one of the above, or find your own way. But remember “failure to launch” is an assurance that your company’s final days will be sooner, rather than later.

 

 


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.


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: http://www.tangentknowledge.com/philosophy.html

 


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?