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What Is the Point of Your Event?

Okay, first I must admit that the question in the title is a bit of a red herring. But I couldn’t resist using it, since it is so poignant and relevant to our profession, even though the phrase itself is misleading since it is popularly used in a nihilistic manner, mostly by angsty teenagers.

So, by choosing it for the title of this post, I basically wanted to ask you to revert to a more simpler time, to take back the original meaning of the phrase and to ask without cynicism: “What is the goal of this thing I am doing?

This blog has so far been almost exclusively dealing with event organization from the POV of the event professional. That’s all nice, but a true professional should know the basics of what constitutes a job well-done. And in every service-oriented industry - and doubly so in event production - the basics boil down to: what does the client want?

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What’s the goal they desire to see achieved or at least the direction they wish to go?

I’ve seen it become the norm of many an experienced event manager to insist on tried and true approaches, even when it means shoehorning complex sound systems into venues with inadequate (or irrelevant) acoustics or, even worse, recycling scenery from previous clients, Who’s gonna know, right?

An event is by definition a living thing, because it is made out of people.

Wrong. Doing it by the numbers is okay if you are doing accounting, but an event is by definition a living thing, because it is made out of people. Having some clear calculations is good, procedures and experience are fine, they should all serve a single purpose - and that is defined by the client. But you always need to adapt and improvise and be customizable. You are there for the client, and the event is an expression of client’s needs. It is for you to help them take shape, but not for you to shape them.

So the key thing for planning and executing a successful event customized to the specific needs of a particular client boils down to the ultimate question since time immemorial: why?

(Un)fortunately, in event management and planning this question is quite easy to answer. And better yet - it is not for you to answer.

It’s what you need to ask your client.

You may have difficulty obtaining a useful answer to this seemingly simple enquiry. In my experience, corporate clients are the most frequent culprits here, since their representatives are usually only vaguely aware of the true purpose their event serves, let alone of all the possibilities for increasing their brand’s equity that a properly tailored event brings.

So ask them repeatedly. Insist upon it. Sit them down and help them define a purpose, a KPI, a target, something, anything that makes the whole undertaking worthwhile. For both client and yourself. But above all, worthwhile for the attendees.

When dealing with corporate clients, as most of us do, the “purpose” of the event usually depends on the department or role that has the ownership of the event, and those are usually Marketing or HR.

Depending on which of these departments you’re talking to, you will either be hearing a lot of talk about “touch points”, “cross-channel integration”, “customer education” and “blue sky thinking” or about “team building”, “conflict resolution” and “proactive attitude facilitation”. Okay, I made that last one up, but it seems (too) plausible.

So, to grossly oversimplify, the point of an event is basically either “to sell” or “to have fun”. And this applies to all events and all clients, even non-corporate ones.

There’s nothing wrong with this simple dichotomy. It neatly groups every kind of event into two attendee-oriented categories (and it cannot be overstated: it’s the attendees, stupid!)

Concerts, jamborees, team building, corporate getaways, cocktails… All of these are ultimately designed for people to have fun. You play games, you eat and drink, you enjoy music you like with people you like. The good stuff in life.

Seminars, sales conferences, exhibitions, fairs… All exist because they are a great sales and marketing (so, sales) channels. At a seminar, researches and scientists “sell” their knowledge and purchase academic stature; Artists display their work at exhibitions, selling their vision and creativity in both cultural and literal sense. And for any company representative there’s nothing like some conference face to face with clients and customers to help build a better relationship and boost the bottom line.

Of course, some events fall into both categories – a film festival which doubles as a trade fair, for example, where a distributor can be both a customer looking for the next profitable investment and an avid moviegoer enjoying the latest productions from around the world.

Clients should know their goal very well - and if they don’t you should probably be asking for a hefty advance

Anyone can come to grips with this simple and intuitive divide, so the first thing you need to ask yourself and your client is whether the primary goal of the event is for people to have fun or for people to buy whatever the client is selling. This should be easy. Clients should know their goal very well - and if they don’t you should probably be asking for a hefty advance.

From there you can build further up, always keeping this basic purpose in mind and applying it as a criteria to judge the ROI of every aspect of event production – and to ultimately improve attendee experience.

If the purpose is to have fun and the event is not of the type that lends itself to wild times by default (a team building as opposed to a concert, for example) then it’s up to you to make if fun.

For that, you need to be creative - but more importantly, you need to know your audience. And then, you need to really think through every aspect of the event and see how you can make it more memorable, interesting or just plain ol’ enjoyable.

Make waiting in line at the entrance fun by hiring a motivational speaker to cheer on the attendees while they queue. Make snack breaks fun by hiding prizes inside meals. Make networking a part of the fun by introducing some ice-breaking games. Make even the water cups fun by adorning them with event-specific graphics and messages.

If the purpose of the event is to sell, then facilitate the sale in any way you can. Check out these 11 tips on how our brains work (horribly) when we are shopping and you will see that many of them can apply to the event.

The key to applying them is to understand that a sales-oriented event is more of an environment than an event. So, creating the right atmosphere and mood, using space in an optimal way in order to highlight the most important features or offers, helping attendees to both relax and get excited (hot girls at gamecons and auto shows, anyone?) – all those things should be a part of your repertoire when you are planning and organizing an event focused on sales.

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