September 6, 2011 by Jeff Hurt
As a conference organizer, are you focused on checking off your daily to do list or focused on fulfilling your participants’ needs?
When you focus only on completing your task, you deliver what’s required. But not what’s expected.
You follow the standard operating procedure precisely. And yet you miss the point completely. You comply with the process but usually do not satisfy the need.
Tamsen McMahon discusses how many people satisfy orders but not their customers’ needs in her post “Stop Shipping.” Her post sparked my thinking about how many event professionals are nothing more than glorified schedulers.
To paraphrase McMahon, “Placing a check mark by a task or crossing something off your list says you’ve completed the task. But that is just not enough. Not really.”
When you focus only on accomplishing the task, you deliver what’s required. It’s the minimum amount of work. But it is usually not what your customer expects from their conference experience.
There is a big difference between completing a task and fulfilling a need.
Checking off a task is about finishing things. Satisfying your conference participants’ needs is about meeting, maximizing and going beyond their expectations. It’s about eliminating the gap between what is and what could be.
Checking off a task is about completing a transaction. Focusing on fulfilling your conference participants’ expectations is about building a relationship. One is transactional and the other relational.
Of course you need to complete your tasks and finalize your logistics at a basic level. Yet if we are only focused on room sets, scheduling speakers, food and beverage, and AV, we lose sight of the big picture. Our attention gets monopolized by the little details and eclipses our customers’ needs.
Satisfying our conference participants’ needs is hard. It’s much harder than completing the logistics partly because it includes fulfilling the logistics.
It’s harder because it requires a different set of skills. It’s about more than just finishing a task. It’s about understanding why it’s being done. It’s about evaluating if it should be done.
It’s harder because it requires us to get to know our audience. We have to understand what they expect and want. It’s about taking risks and focusing on the people, not just the tasks.
Satisfying our conference participants’ expectations means abandoning the routine, customary way we’ve always done it. It means questioning those things we do because we “think we should do them.”
It means asking tough questions. Why are we doing it this way? Is it because we were told to do it? Was it a decision made long ago that is now out of context?
Satisfying our customers’ needs means dumping the tyranny of should, as McMahon says, and finding your own path to what is, what needs to be and what deserves to be right now.
It’s about fulfilling your customers’ expectations and doing what needs to be done to get you there. It’s about becoming a strategic meeting professional!
What other questions should meeting professionals ask to transition from schedulers and order takers to strategic team members? What skills should meeting professionals develop to be seen as strategic instead of logistic only?
Filed Under: Event Planning
Good stuff. It raised the question: what is the industry, and especially our membership bodies doing to support these planners, and to allow them to become more strategic? It’s not like they don’t want to be better, but taking that step for a lot of planners takes time, support and some hand holding.
I think this sits at the core of the problems facing the industry: if we see ourselves as administrators and logistics people, how can we expect people to see us any differently?
We have a long way to go persuading others, but I have been concentraing on helping organisers realise that they are educators, strategic people who can have a massive impact on their organisations. It’s taken time but it’s getting through.
I think my last Blog on conferences makes that point:
This is a POWERFUL blog post because it goes way beyond the meeting business. Our society has taken away decision making power from most workers. We say we want strategic thinkers on our team, but the moment they actually come up with a fresh idea it is put down.
I had a meeting planner who had intended to hire me say that a board member was not comfortable with any presentations that were not “normal” (Ummm, huh?). She said the idea was not to rock the boat too much during the recession. I think it is just the opposite — NOW is the time to rock the boats.
I think this topic would make a great panel discussion at a conference!
So true that our society does not empower workers to do the right thing and ask the tough questions. That meeting planner that allowed the final decision of a speaker to be made by a board member was definitely not thinking about what was in the best interest of the conference participant. That board member is in the wrong position as well. Sad, indeed.
Great point that we need to start seeing ourselves as strategic thinkers in the conference design process. It must start with us first before others will see us differently.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
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