The HIPPO In The Room: You Are Not Your Audience

dopo mangiato ci si lava i denti!

Dear Conference Organizer:

You are not your audience.

You are not your customers.

Yes, you have your own preferences, your own likes, your own tastes. But you are not planning that event for yourself. And what you like is probably far from what your audience likes.

You have to get out of your own mind. You have to get beyond your personal inclinations. You must get beyond your own fondness for things done a specific way.

You are no one except yourself. You are but one bit of anecdotal evidence in a world of data from your paying customers that waits to be explored.

You need to remind yourself that you are not your audience! And your conference is not for hundreds of your clones. You need to get out of the way!

The HIPPO Problem

Chris Penn says some failures are the result of the HIPPO Problem.

HIPPO – the highest individually paid person’s opinion.

Many organizations have a HIPPO in the room and no one is willing to talk about it. No one is willing to confront it. And that HIPPO has a huge ego!

HIPPO is often the reason some conference’s fail. The highest paid individual of the conference host organization let’s their personal preferences dictate whether or not something is worth trying, or some speaker is worth hiring, or some content is worth sharing, or some program is worth implementing. Their personal interference becomes a cause of failure.

Oh yeah, they will use the excuse that the buck stops with them. They will say that they have a right to veto and have earned their position.

Who Is Your HIPPO?

In the association world, that HIPPO may be the chair of the Board of Directors, or the chair of the conference planning committee, or the annual conference committee itself, or the CEO of the organization, or the Executive Director.

If it’s one of the volunteer leaders that has a huge HIPPO, then it’s time for the association staff to take that HIPPO away from that individual. It’s time to allow the volunteers to advise and recommend to staff. Then staff makes the final decision taking into account the volunteers input. Staff ultimately decides because that’s their forte. They are the experts in that area…or at least they are supposed to be.

If you are an organization executive and you feel that you know what is best for the conference experience, and your conference has reached a plateau in attendance and evaluations, perhaps it’s time for you to get out of the way. Perhaps it’s time for you to shelf your personal preferences and let those that know, understand, respect and analyze their audience’s needs plan the program. Let those that focus on the conference audience’s experience take the lead.

Conference organizer or organization executive, do you have an opinion of who your keynote speaker should be? Is that opinion founded on data you’ve collected or your HIPPO? Do you force your opinion on your education director or senior meeting professional? Do you mandate a must-hire speaker? That’s the sure way to have a HIPPO failure.

If you are the CEO or Executive Director of an association and you are involved in the details of hiring your keynote speakers, maybe you need to trust your employees to do that. Maybe, just maybe, your personal likes and dislikes are actually the problem.

How can organizations identify and remove HIPPO without offending a leader? What tips do you have for combating HIPPO?

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  1. Great advice, Jeff (and I like the pic, too). Planning for your audience, however, doesn’t always mean dumping “traditional” methods for newer ones. Sometimes it requires the reverse.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Great advice. Some traditions can be a great source of new experiences for people. Thanks for reading and commenting too.

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