I'm sitting here at Denver International Airport (using its free WiFi, by the way) a bit bleary-eyed after a long U.S. Election Day. I'm headed to Baltimore to run a conference and I'm thinking about what effect, if any, this election has on the events, meetings, and conferences industry.
A suffering economy, an energy crisis (despite recently low oil prices), and a comedy of errors (otherwise known as the airline industry), all tell us there will be an effect, but I am quite certain the differences of opinion about what the effect will be are as divided as the differences of opinion on the candidates, so I'll sidestep the political punditry and talk instead about some lessons we can take from Barack Obama's candidacy.
It's not about you. It's about them. Obama framed this as an election about the people. His supporters therefore took ownership of the campaign.
What if your attendees took ownership of your events? What if they believed in your event so much that you received emails and calls from them throughout the year about ways to improve it? And what if they actually believed that you cared enough to listen?
Word-of-mouth is like gold. Those supporters who took ownership also talked about Obama. They put in countless hours (formally as volunteers and informally) talking to everyone who would listen about Obama and why they support him. Their enthusiasm proved contagious.
Are your attendees talking about you? If not, you're doing something wrong and you're missing out on a huge chunk of powerful (and free) marketing potential. Find out what makes them tick and get them talking.
Don't settle for the status quo. Wherever you stand on the results yesterday, you cannot deny that history was made. In fact, this entire election season has been historic. We saw our first serious female candidate in Hillary Clinton, our first Republican Vice Presidential candidate in Sarah Palin, and, now, our first black President in Barack Obama. None of this would have been possible if these individuals had not been willing to buck convention, as hard as that fight can sometimes be.
I've been thinking a lot about bucking convention in the events industry lately. I think complacency is comfortable. It's easy to blame falling attendance on the economy. I don't deny that slashed budgets are an obstacle, but a faltering economy does not reduce the desire to connect with others. In fact, I would argue that the urge to network is bolstered by the weak economy. Connections are a security blanket for the uneasy. Maybe their companies won't cover all expenses, but could you get prospective attendees to reach into their own pockets to participate? Could your event be that good? Or can it be unique enough to convince a company to expand its budget? I think it can, but you have to be bold and take risks. The payoff might just be worth it.
What do you think? Any other lessons I'm missing?