Tony Compton, Managing Director
You’re pumped about your next customer event. Everything is going according to plan. Hotel, check. Meeting room, check. Educational speakers, check. Collateral, check. Catering, check. Cheesy giveaways, check. Signage, decoration, and branding, check. Sponsors and exhibitors, check and double check.
But when you invite people to attend your next event, and you don’t get the positive reaction you were expecting, it’s probably due to the fact you didn’t design a program that aligns with your audience’s expectations. Event and speaker evaluation forms from your last event may have been disregarded and are aging in a dusty file, and the outdated blueprint for event production that was used so commonly in the 1990s has grown long-in-the-tooth.
Corporate event producers shouldn’t be surprised if they receive an email with any or all off the following in response to forthcoming event invitations:
Dear Company Event Producer:
Thank you for inviting me to your next customer event. I’ve applied a great deal of thought to your invitation, and wish to share perspectives on your event, my recent industry show experiences, and my potential participation…
1. There’s Nothing Special About Your Event Experience
I know you think your event is spectacular, but the reality is that the format of your function is no different than much of the rest – right down to the coffee pot in the meeting room hallway. Spending a couple of days in a nondescript hotel ballroom with a stage, predicable seating, and fellow attendees in business casual attire listening to speeches delivered by stuffed suits is so 1995. Please, no more stagnant slides with cool industry buzzwords on big screens adjacent to the stage. I know why I would be attending, and it’s not to be reminded of catch phrases or catchy slogans.
And no, the cheesy entertainment inserted into your program won’t help.
2. The Thrill of Your Destination is Gone
I’m not 21 years old. I’ve already been to Orlando, Vegas, New York, London, Toronto, San Francisco and many other destination cities, numerous times. So have most of my colleagues. All great places. All have their pros and cons. But I’m not going to your event just to see the big city, visit a theme park, walk on the beach, or play a round of golf. It’s your content that matters to me, and the manner in which it’s presented.
3. If Your Event Is Free, You May or May Not Actually See Me
Thanks for the invite, but I only registered to get your inside sales rep to stop bothering me. Since there’s no cost to attend, there’s no risk in my registering for the event. And if I want to turn up on the day of your event, you’ll see me. If I don’t, I won’t, and you can expect any one of a number of absentee excuses which will you never have the ability to verify: unexpected meeting, last minute travel, etc. All are handy and at my disposal for excusing my absence. The risk is all yours. By the way, keep an eye out for a junior member of my staff at your event!
4. I’m Clueless About Your Food, Beverage, and Material Counts
Yes, I know I said my team would attend your last evening reception. And I also know that I said we’d be there for your dinner presentation. But something suddenly came up. It’s unfortunate that you had to tell your hotel catering manager to plan for us,
and it’s mildly concerning that you shipped meeting materials to have on-hand for my team. The fact is that I don’t even think about those things. They’re your problems, not mine.
5. Will Your Exhibitors Take Your Event Seriously?
The last industry event I attended showcased exhibitor tables lined up around a ballroom. The first exhibitor had a wrinkled table drape with a coffee stain above their logo and some brochures scattered on top. Nobody was home. The next exhibitor brought the works and had a credible presence with friendly and knowledgeable staff members. At the same time, I saw a man sitting alone at the third exhibit table wearing headphones and talking on his phone while working on his laptop. Since he was unapproachable, I wondered why he was there, why his company sponsored the event, and if anybody knew that the investment was going to waste.
6. Stop Jammin’ Me
Your event agenda looks good on paper. On paper. But locking me in a meeting room for nine hours a day, on top of networking breakfasts, buffet lunches, refreshment breaks, and group dinners is exhausting. Instead of leaving energized by my event experience, I end up mentally and physically drained. I understand giving attendees their money’s worth, but too many presentations and activities will result in an overloaded event. In the end, it’ll all bleed together.
7. Panel Discussions are for the Birds
Since when has it become compelling to watch four people on stage sit in director’s chairs or padded living room furniture and chit chat for an hour? When I see “Panel Discussion” on an agenda, it usually means that the panelists are going to wing it for an hour or so answering questions. A few of these discussions may include short, five minute slide presentations from the panelists, but those really don’t do anything for me. And it’s no secret that too many panel discussions are moderated by, or filled with, event sponsors. Please eliminate panel discussions, and put some real effort into meaningful presentations.
8. I Won’t Actually Pay Attention
Yes, I’ll be sitting in your sessions: third row, aisle seat. But while your speakers are speaking, I’ll be working on my laptop. And I’ll have my phone by my side on the table. My headphones will be on, and I’ll be listening to voice mail and conference calls while checking email, surfing the web, and typing. Your presenters don’t give me any real reason to pay attention, I can read their slides later, and I couldn’t care less if any of what I do is distracting to other attendees or your presenters. In fact, I’m oblivious.
9. You Won’t See Much of Me on Getaway Day
Though I’d really, really like to attend the last day of your conference, the hotel checkout time is Noon, and my flight is at 4:00 pm. That means I may pop in for a quick breakfast, catch a session or two, and return to my room to pack. And though the thought of your box lunch and can of soda is tempting, I absolutely, positively, must allow several hours to get to the airport. (Even though the airport is only 30 minutes away.) I might take you up on that free box lunch to-go, but I’ll need to hit the road by 1:00.
10. Your Conference Material Still Ends Up in the Garbage
You give me yet another bag of sponsored stuff when I check in upon my arrival, and it’s overwhelmingly useless. I rarely read what’s in it, and it all ends up on the table in my hotel room until I check out. I don’t want to take your collateral with me. What fits in my luggage weighs me down, so most of it ends up in the little oval trashcan in my room. I’m certain none of it is recycled. Please make an attempt to try use electronic forms of communication, and stop giving me sponsored junk that’s bound for landfills.
11. Travel Sucks. Your Event Better Not.
I have a life. I have family, friends, and things that I’d rather being doing than standing in long security lines at the airport. Driving or train travel is no bargain, either.
My company tries to save every penny on travel, so I don’t always get the perks of frequent flyer benefits on my favorite airline. I’m very fluent in the process and procedures of business travel, but I also ask that you realize that any travel is an investment of my time and money. Your event had better be worth that investment.
12. I’m Not Going for Thinly-Veiled Sales Pitches
A certain amount of these comes with the territory. I know what to expect when I sit in on a demo or booth presentation. But when it comes to educational sessions such as case studies that are supposed to be vendor/client co-presentations, please ease off of the sales pitch. I want to hear from the end-user, not the VP of Business Development for North America from HighTech Incorporated. If I want to watch sales presentations, most vendors and service providers will come to my office, and I won’t have to pay for it.
13. I’ve Already Seen Your Show
Your keynote’s terrific, but he’s on the speaking circuit and I saw his presentation earlier this year. The analyst kicking off your second day is also very good, but she just gave a webinar last month on the exact same topic. I’ve already read about your featured customer case study, and your sales team has filled me in on your upcoming software releases, product roadmap, and partner activities. Moreover, I attended your event last year. Ask me again in another 12 months.
14. I’ll Attend, But Don’t Get Too Excited
I’m a Vice President for a very large big shot global company, and I know it’s awesome to have my name, job title, and company on the registered list of attendees. But the dirty little secret is that I’m looking for a new job and will be using your event to network. On second thought, I may be looking to leave my current job to do some free-lance consulting work. Either way, don’t expect to get any more business out of me in my current situation. And though my days are numbered, I’m still going to make the most of my current job title.
15. If You Claim Innovation, You Should Reflect It
I crave exciting business event experiences. I also value continual, year-round interactions with industry-leading companies, as opposed to aging and commonplace once-a-year gatherings. I’ll be happy to travel to and participate in groundbreaking, innovative events that further advanced professional solutions which meet the challenges of executive strategy, organizational teamwork, technological support, customer interactions, and employee communities. I simply won’t get that sitting in Ballroom C in another business hotel or cavernous convention center.
Nevertheless, thanks again for your invitation. I’ll think about attending your event. In the meantime, I have to run. We’ve got user group conversations now underway on Periscope, Meerkat, and Blab, and must customize tomorrow’s sales and marketing campaigns with the feedback we’ll be receiving in a matter of minutes.
Best of luck with your event…