Are You Producing Yesterday’s Event?

1998 Called.  They Want Their Event Back.

You’re in charge of the annual (insert your event here).  It’s long since become a staple of your organization’s calendar, the event around which everyone plans their schedule.  It takes up several months of your time, and the time of numerous other staffers, vendors and consultants.  It’s taken on a life of its own, and its success is based on how it compares to last year’s event.

The only problem is, nobody can remember why you’re doing it.  Or, if you do remember the event’s goals, nobody can explain why the event is configured the way it is.  All you know is, we do it this way because we’ve always done it this way. Which is probably the worst possible reason to stick with an event or an event format.

Because eventually someone else will create an event that makes more sense, formatted in a more logical way, and your event may become obsolete.  Or, if your event is an internal one, someone up the food chain will cut your funding and deploy it elsewhere, where it will be spent more efficiently.

The Sony iPod That Wasn’t

There was no logical reason for Apple to become the hub for digital music sales. The company that should have owned this space was Sony, which had both tons of music through its various labels, and experience in manufacturing portable music devices through its Walkman brand.

So why didn’t we have a Sony iPod, and a Sony iTunes?  This is the stuff of business school case studies, but the short answer is that Sony’s various divisions (music and devices) were too busy protecting their existing turfs, too caught up in executing on yesterday’s business vision, to seize the future.  Had senior management stepped back and said, “If we were to configure our business from scratch today, would it be set up the way it currently is?” they would surely have reorganized their company to capitalize on the new digital opportunities.

Asking The Hard Questions

It’s easy to get caught up in the timeline, the planning meetings, the doing.  It takes discipline to step back and look at your event from 30,000 feet, and ask the questions:

  1. Why are we doing this event?  Given the organization’s goals, is this event the most cost-effective way to accomplish them?
  2. Why is the event configured the way it is?  If we were to create an event from scratch to achieve the goals outlined, would it look like this?  If not, why are we clinging to this format?

In fairness to Sony, and most meeting and event planners, it’s much easier for a third party, with no vested interest in protecting anything from the past, to come in and take a fresh look at everything.  When I ran my event agency for 20 years, it was very hard for me to do it as well.  However when I joined boards of directors of both industry and non-industry organizations, it was much easier.  In fact I became known as they guy who would ask those existential questions at meetings, which didn’t exactly endear me into the hearts of my fellow board members, though it did earn me their respect. [Just ask my colleagues from MPI, ISES and Every Child A Reader.]

Whether it’s someone on your team, or an outside adviser, you need someone to ask the tough questions, the why questions.  Better those questions are asked while you still have a chance to evaluate and respond, than someone asking them without your knowledge and making decisions for you.




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