We sat down with event expert, David Adler, and were not disappointed! David came with great event pet peeves which ended up turning into a hot tips list!
Tell us your story.
I am definitely one of the oldest people in our industry at this point. I was a startup guy, I started a magazine. So at the age of 21 I put on my tuxedo and I started covering events and parties and built a media company there where we would cover the event for the power and society of Washington DC. Everything was about black tie. I met the greats of the world that are no longer with us. I worked from the Gerald Ford administration to the Carter administration, to the Reagan administration, to the Bush administration and then sold my media company and got headhunted to work for a British media Lord by the name of Robert Maxwell who was like Rupert Murdoch’s arch-rival. He would host events all around the world on his yacht and his yacht was, he and Donald Trump had the same kind of yachts. So we had all these events on yachts. I would do events within three hours notice, call the president of the United States and set up a meeting, that type of thing. So I really learned that the CEO’s of the world really think of events as an real strategic tool. This was back when I thought the event industry was sitting at the children’s table for Thanksgiving. Nobody cared. Now what they realize is that this is where the action happens. So I ended up doing all the events for New York magazine, 17, and soap opera digest, and we had, we had so many magazines and we did all the big events and we kept them at the corporate level so that we can use it for investment purposes so we can show off our events to our analysts and things like that. I really got into the event industry and I was spending millions and millions of dollars on events.
We started covering events in New York city. We did that for about three or four years and then we just exploded and go, went to other cities. We started out as an online property only. Then we decided to do a trade show at the Javits center in New York. Then we decided to do a magazine. Then we decided to go into Los Angeles. We expanded. Then we decided to go into Toronto and we expanded. And then Miami and then expanded and then Washington and expanded. And so we went into these major markets because that was kind of where the action was. It was kinda like being in the real estate business by the hour. Cause the first thing people need is a venue. So they’re basically buying a venue like you would search for an apartment, you’re going to search for a venue for your event. So we kind of used that and we added this really strong editorial voice to it. So we didn’t say, okay, here’s the florists. We said, here’s this cool thing that they’re doing.
Then 9/11 happened and devastated the industry. So I gathered about 300 event organizers and companies and we brought together this group called the convention exhibit meeting coalition to help bring New York city back after 9/11. I spent six months working for the city to do this and we hosted events at the mayor’s house, Gracie mansion, where we brought all the meeting and event planners together and we flew people in from all around the world and we lit the empire state building in yellow so that Snapple would be encouraged to do an event. We would do all of these different types of leadership roles. We found that when you get these people together and you go to Gracie mansion and a Broadway singer is singing New York, New York, after 9/11, you get goosebumps. Right from that, I started a magazine so that convinced people around the world that they should come to New York to do their events. So we added this emotional element to our business. I do think that that is kind of the key. I mean, it’s kind of what you’re doing with your podcast too when you think about it, because you’re adding an emotion to something that doesn’t have emotion. Events have emotion, but they’re also something that that goes away. My whole career is driven on the Maya Angelou quote, but people don’t remember what you said. They remember how you made them feel.
Our whole industry is driven by that. Everything that we do has gotta be about that. So I started out covering events and we now are the largest website for event organizers in these major markets with about 200,000 users a month come to our store. They get ideas and they love it. They really love it. We do trade shows in New York, LA, and in Florida.
Let’s talk about things you see in the event industry people are doing well, and things you see could be improved on.
What is an event, first of all? An event is a conference, a trade show, a party, a festival. It really is the way humans gather in any way, shape, and form. In fact, when when 9/11 happened in New York city, while the big commercial events didn’t happen, there were more events than ever because people wanted to gather. That is kind of a part of the core of, we need food, shelter, clothing, and we need socialization and people want to gather, especially in things. So I believe that event organizers can not be just event organizers and worry about logistics anymore. They have to be collaboration artists. They have to be taking their audience in one way and making sure that they talk to each other. Because when people talk to each other, things happen. The most powerful word in the English language, I’ve stolen this from somebody else. It’s not my original idea is the word. Let’s L E T apostrophe S because whenever people get together, they say, let’s go to lunch, let’s go to dinner, let’s hook up, let’s start a revolution, let’s get married. When people talk, they get together. So if you are on a stage and you’re just talking at someone and don’t give the audience the ability to connect, you’re going to lose the let’s, so my feeling what’s happening with Ted talks and things like that, people are doing shorter programs to allow people to absorb and then talk amongst themselves. That’s why at at trade shows and conferences, the white space is in the hallway, we always thought that was just the doorway. But it’s really where the action happens. And so I’m seeing that happening more and more that that smart event organizers are giving people time to germinate these ideas that they’re hearing from the stages. And so you’re seeing more of that.
So you judge an event by not how many people attend, but by how many conversations that you’re curating. And you can almost do it the way the web is doing it, where if they’re like 300 people and there’s a bunch of conversations, you can actually sort of say there’s 20,000 conversations happening. It’s a whole new way of thinking about what an event is. So that’s one thing. The idea now is that you have to value people’s time because we’re busy, we have choices.
The other thing that I think that is on the collaboration side, is that CEOs and corporate guys suck at being hosts many times. Millennials, they go into a room and they never even meet anybody. They never talk to anybody. So you have to give people permission to talk to each other. And one of the ways to do that is to be a better host. I’m seeing that that is like something that’s happening now or they’ll just sort of sit and they’ll be looking at their screen and not having to interact. So the idea of giving people permission to talk to each other is an important part of the event industry now. I do it on stage. Before a speech I say okay I’m not the important person in the room. You are, talk to the person next to you like you do at a church or synagogue and you never know you can get to the less you can hook up with them. You have to kind of give people permission to interact cause nothing is more boring or less satisfying than going to an event and never talking to anybody.
Summer camp is kind of the model for what an event really should be about. Well that’s what people are wanting. That’s what these big events are, people spending thousands of dollars to going to an event. They’re returning to summer camp. So learning becomes fun again. We’re also trying to figure out how to get over what they call the forgetting curve, which is 99% of the time you go to an event and you forget everything by the time you leave. And so then you go back to your office and you forget everything that you said. So a lot of people now are figuring out when they videotape their events, they’re sending people a snippet every day for a week so that you remember, it gets top of mind. And so that’s a big problem that we’re trying to overcome. That’s huge.
I was at an event the other night, the sound system was terrible. If you cannot hear, don’t even. It was too big. The sound system didn’t work and I wanted to jump out of my skin. People don’t realize the value of sound. They don’t realize the value of looking at all different parts of a room so that you can hear the sound in all different parts of the room. I heard this blaring at my table and the lighting was bad and they had a singing group up there and they seem to have the wrong microphones for the singing group cause they just sounded terrible. The worst singing I have ever seen in my life.
The other thing that was a pet peeve was they kept the lights so dark and they started serving food. I couldn’t see what I was eating.
The idea that type, the programming. The other thing that is two type programming that goes on for hours. Nobody gives a crap about half the things you say. So keep it really, really tight and make sure that you’re a little bit entertaining because you’re getting bored. Boredom is the worst thing.
Oh, here’s another one. Big hors d’oeuvres. It’s two bites, one shoe. Like sometimes they give these huge hor d’oeuvres that you like are like, it’s spilling all over you and things like that. And like you can’t do that. You don’t know what to do with your napkins. At the end of the day you have your pocket stuffed with, but there’s no place to really put it.
Super Power: Thinking on his feet idea guy
David, are there any last things you want to leave with our audience?
Our BizBash newsletter that comes out every day has so many ideas for people that inspire so many people that I encourage as many people as possible to go to bizbash.com start reading our stuff because our end users touch 30 million people. If you’re an event organizer listening to this, that’s the lesson: How do you respect your audience and how do you do everything with integrity and everything with sort of a sense of the higher purpose.
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