March 11, 2011 by Jeff Hurt
And now, I am just trying to change the world, one sequin at a time! ~ Lady Gaga
Whether she’s hatching from an egg at the Grammys, strolling down the red carpet in a meat dress or being photographed in a dress made from stuffed animals, Lady Gaga knows how to stand out from the crowd.
She is memorable. Odd. In your face. Unforgettable. Unique. Totally different.
And her tunes are catchy. They make you want to get up and dance. Unlike ear worms that echo in the bowels of your mind and drive you crazy, her tunes make you smile. They are shareable, repeatable, unmistakable, spreadable.
Lady Gaga is not your average ordinary plain-Jane female recording artist.
• She has sold more than 15 million albums and more than 51 million singles.
• She has won 5 Grammys and held 12 nominations.
• She was Billboard’s 2010 Artist of the Year and top 2010 selling artist.
• She was #7 in Forbes list of 100 most powerful women in the world. Time included her in the top 100 most influential people in the world
Regardless of your opinion of her and her team, here is how to take some tips from Lady Gaga and make your conference stand out from others.
You don’t just show up at the Los Angeles Airport wearing a skimpy outfit, a chain and a pair of handcuffs. You know you are going to cause a stir. You know you are going to get photographed. It’s all part of a plan.
And you are willing to work your plan 24-7. You don’t mind always being on!
Conferences need to get a plan. They need to allow leaders (not just the association’s current board chair) to speak on behalf of their conference. They need to unveil things and show some oddity. They need to work their plan.
Have an opinion. Take a stand. Yes, your conference and its leadership are allowed to have an opinion!
Lady Gaga regularly speaks out about issues that she is passionate about. It keeps her in the public’s eye. Picking a side helps you attract similar minds. Passion is contagious.
I am so tired of attending conferences where board members and speakers are giving away soggy melba-toast lukewarm opinions. It’s time to shout your controversial beliefs from the rooftops. Get some passion. Hire speakers that will stir the pot.
Sure you may alienate some. Those are the people that should be alienated. They are not your loyal followers any way. They don’t care for you. They were never going to come to your conference anyway.
And you will attract new followers in the process!
“You’ve got to create some kind of stir. You’ve got to say something that’s got to upset some people, and that’s the risk-taking that makes music so fun.” ~ Lady Gaga
Gaga has more than 8 million Twitter followers and 29+ million Facebook fans. She engages with them on a regular basis, sometimes right before stepping on stage. She finds the time to talk with them and answer their questions.
If Gaga can do it, surely your conference organizers can do it. Come on, it’s all about relationships.
Gaga also has Perez Hilton and other well known supporters on her side. She befriends big online influencers.
Gaga didn’t start out with all of those followers and influencers. She worked them. She met with influential people in the industry. She met with radio show producers. She played clubs. She embraced her fans and created evangelists.
“We fought and we fought and I played every club. I had chicken dinner with every program director I could get my hands on.” ~ Lady Gaga
Connect with your conference industry influencers. Meet with them. Network with them. Share your vision with them. Heck, have chicken dinner with them.
Get them on your side and equip them with information and empowerment to share your conference vision. Invite them to invite others to join the team.
Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate.
There are too many average conferences offering average speakers with traditional schedules attracting average people. It’s all too predictable. It’s all so normal that it feels like leftover cold soup with stale crackers.
Be different. Show it. Flaunt it. Be extraordinary. Stir it up. Be striking. Be the talk of the town!
The recording industry is filled with artists that embraced being different: Elvis, KISS, Twisted Sister, Madonna, Grace Jones, Liberace, Queen to name a few. Follow their formula.
“Give them something to talk about.” ~ Lady Gaga.
Gaga’s Telephone has ten sponsors embedded explicitly within the video. They don’t scream at you by pitching their product. It feels natural.
Conference organizers need to embed sponsors within the experience. Stop introducing each session with a sponsor. Work with sponsors to find new ways to integrate them in the conference experience.
Gaga says her secret to success is to fail good.
Failing good is to be in a position to look at the failures and mistakes, and determine the good lessons learned from them.
Conference organizers and hosts need to take risks. They need to mix up the traditional stale conference model and do things differently. Leadership needs to encourage risk taking and that failure is ok. Failure is part of learning.
Loyal fans will also embrace risk taking and failure. They will stand by your side and say with you, “It’s ok. It was an experiment. Maybe next time, try this.”
Professional photographers are banned from Lady Gaga concerts. But she allows fans to record and distribute videos of her live performances. She treats them well and they reciprocate. It is a love-love relationship.
Gaga calls her fans little monsters. They identify themselves with a hand in a claw shape. They share a common bond.
Find ways to love on your loyal conference attendees. Give them the ability to socially share everything that is happening at your conference. Encourage them to tweet it, video it, photograph it, blog it, post it, talk about it.
“I feel not only connected to them, but I feel responsible for them in many ways. They’re very smart, my fans. They’re very full of life. And it’s an important thing for me to listen to them. And when they say, ‘I feel disenfranchised,’ I speak for them as much as I can.” ~ Lady Gaga
Gaga writes fantastic hits. She doesn’t produce a huge amount of them. But what she does produce is done well. People talk about it.
Cut back on the number of conferences you are producing. Cut back on the number of sessions you are offering at a conference. Invest in the ones you are offering. Consider increasing your registration fee and decreasing the number of people you allow to attend. Make it exclusive for a few and follow the TED model.
Make sure the content you offer is unique and different. Make sure you are offering a killer experience. Make them hits. Get people talking about them.
Everything Gaga does is intentional and on purpose. It is all very calculated.
Gaga and her team did not reinvent the wheel. She just took the tools available to her today and used them to her advantage.
Become fearless in how you engage your customers.
How do you want people to remember your conference experience?
What are you doing to build a legacy?
Hat tips to JesseDee for his original PPT about marketing like Lady Gaga that sparked my thinking.
What are some other tips we can learn from Lady Gaga that conference organizers can embrace? What other recording artists have been inspirations for your conference planning?
Filed Under: Event Planning
Great stuff, Jeff. I’m so glad you posted this. I shared a link to this post with other leaders in GaMPI. Some of these points may be controversial. But like Lady Gaga discovered, they made her attractive to a surprisingly wide audience. What one would think narrows her appeal actually expands it.
The main point here for me is that there are simple and effective things that we can do that make our conferences stand out and allow people to enjoy them but organisers have to pull them away from the ‘same as last year’ mentality and managers have to realise that confernces have to be allowed to do things differently and to provide more value.
I like the idea of not avoiding controversy but this is sometimes hard to persaude stakeholders that it’s worth the risk: it take an experienced organiser to pul this off! I remember inviting WWF to a Chemical Industry conference, but it turned out to be a highlight.
Keeping with the Lady Ga Ga theme don’t be scared to steal / borrow other people’s ideas and present them as your own!
Loved these suggestions! What a breath of fresh air in the meeting world! We’ve even posted them on our facebook page for our meeting planner clients at http://www.facebook.com/LocationSolvers
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