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Event and Video Production

How to Build Profitable Relationships in the Events Business

How do you make the most out of the relationships you make with people in the events world? We had Jessica Barrett and Beth Plates sit down and talk about ways that they have fostered relationships to create successful events.

 

Welcome back, we have two people from two different businesses. I’m going to start by introducing Beth Plates. The other is Jessica Barrett.

 

We’re here to talk about relationships.  You are both good at building relationships with key people, how do you define a successful relationship?

 

Jessica:  In the industry I would define that as someone that I trust and I know will deliver.  It’s on an intrinsic level, not something I have to worry or question they will pull through even if it’s crazy.  No matter what it will work.

 

Beth: I agree I have to reiterate the trust factor is huge.  You almost develop your own language or no language at all. You start reading eachothers minds. You understand that’s the direction it’s going and you end up clicking and look at eachother

 

Jessica: And when you can look at each other when something is not looking and figure out how it’s going to look and roll with it.  No one’s looking at it like it’s your problem not mine.

 

Beth: Exactly, you’re in it together, you’ve got a partner that has your back.

 

How would someone who is newer start to develop relationships?

 

Beth:  First of all volunteering.  At events, put yourself out there.  Especially if you are looking to gain experience.  It’s huge to go to non profits and work their galas, golf tournaments.  See behind the scenes how it works. That’s where you will meet people, like minded people that want to be apart of and support these organizations.  That’s when I got my start it was volunteering and helped immensely. Professional organizations as well.

 

Jessica:  I would agree with that. That’s one of the first things I say to people when they are looking to burst into the industry.  Every gala is looking for volunteers. It gets people in the industry and gives them an opportunity to see you working and if they want to work with you in the future.  If they have a job available it’s a warm introduction. You get to see people from so many facets.

 

It’s easier to sell yourself if people see how you work and how hard you work.  They would feel more comfortable to have coffee with you. You have to be able to contribute.

 

Jessica:  The professional organizations are key, that’s the easiest way to get into the door and talk to people without having a job. You could still be working at Caribou but go to the night of the hour and start talking to people and building those relationships before you have a leg in the door.

 

How are you supposed to start attending these events?  Do you need a pitch and cards?

 

Beth:  I think it helps if you have somewhat of an elevator pitch.  If you are new and show passion and sincerity, people are going to understand if you don’t have it all figured it out.  

 

What about when you are working for a venue and it’s highly sought after and everyone wants to have something to do with it, how do you develop the right relationships?

 

Jessica:  It helps that I have been in venues for a long time.  I’ve been in venues for 14 years. I had a lot of pre existing relationships before I started Machine Shop. Honestly it was integral to our success, we hit the ground running because I could reach out with people we worked with in the past before I had our website and asked them to see how it would work for them. And getting other people involved.  A lot of times its people hired by clients and and we get to see them and get to know them and see if they fit. We don’t keep a public vendor list on our website because we like to match our clients with the best vendor for them.

 

I’ve had some vendors reach out to get on our list, it can be a catch 22.  You cannot get into the space unless someone hires you and you’re not going to get hired unless we refer you.  There’s other ways around that, like if we work together on something through ILEA. If you’re connected in the industry you hear about what’s good and what’s bad.

 

The word of mouth portion is so much stronger than being on a list. Tell me more about friendships. How do you cultivate those friendships and develop them into something real?

 

Beth: I believe with events, we work such interesting hours, an interesting industry.  We are up at 3 am before an event or we are cleaning up at 3 am. Or sometimes both for the same event. You’re working together these long days shlepping together.  Our clients are looking to us to be resourceful and as you are bonding with your person at the venue, or A/V team, or event planner you are putting your heads together to be creative and it cultivates a very eclectic relationship.

 

You become friends with these people.

 

It doesn’t really matter how good you are if your attitude sucks.

 

Jessica: Yeah that’s one of the things i go back to.  We may book something once and get away with a lot, but if you want to have that repeat business those things won’t fly.  You can only get away with that once or twice or people feel burned.

 

I love that in the event space there is so much competition that it forces everyone to bring their A-game. Not only are they great, but they are also great people.

 

Beth: I think Amy Zaroff said it well in one of your podcasts, “we’re better together.”  as a group we kind of raise the bar in what we are producing.

 

Jessica: And putting Minneapolis on the map, I think it is really shifted in that last couple of years.  That has been amazing to be apart of.

 

We do events all over the country and some clients go from city to city, and I keep telling them they have to come to Minneapolis.  They are now starting to listen.

 

We have a lot of listeners asking how to do I be better.  How do you do that?

 

Jessica: For me, I’ve been trying to refocus on, before I do anything I isolate what are our goals and objectives in this so you know everyone on your team is working on the same thing. As long as you know what those goals or objectives are you can return to that and say “are we meeting those?  Are we making choices that will lead us there?” That will always lead to being better and doing better. Be very clear about those things. People don;t think about the logistics of how you got from point A to point B.

 

One of my pet peeves is when people walk in the door and assume they know more about the space. It’s good to touch base with the people that know alot and come in with an open mind because there might be things that can go a lot better.

 

Beth: And to your point, it’s respecting the knowledge you have.  That’s where I’ve see the most success with events is when you regard those individuals who are working within the space as an expert or the A/V team as the expert.  You can collaborate or question but also respect that they have years of experience and a team of experts they have brought on, they may have a difference of opinion.  We are there looking out for our best interests.

 

Jessica: Right they all want to see this be successful.  No one is trying to sink your ship. There is a paranoia that someone is going to sink the ship and they are going to tighten the screws on it.  I learned a long time ago with A/V companies, I never ask a lot of questions until they are done setting up because a lot of times if you get into the mix they are like “We are not done yet.”  Unless it’s something that is for sure not supposed to be there. I let them do their job and usually when they are done the questions are resolved.

 

The point of respect was interesting. Every corner of the events business the experts you bring in you have to give them the respect that you chose them to do this and they know more about what they are doing.

 

Beth: The outcome is grander. Most of the time if you are hands off and let people do their best work, it’s better than you expected.

 

Jessica: One of the things I love about working with Beth is that when we have initial meetings you love getting input and haven’t made up your mind about every detail.  

 

Beth: You as a venue, you have so much more access to some resources because everybody wants to get into your space, and be seen in your space. Not only are you great about putting together a great venue but you are a great resources, you are full of names and numbers of people that are creative, undiscovered and I look to you as a friend to bring those to the table.

 

Jessica: I love having a relationship where I can give you my options.  Sometimes in the venue we see things that are similar time after time. It’s fun to bring in new elements and try new things.  There’s always ideas in the back of my head. I have to convince someone to do it so I love when people are looking for options.

 

Talk about empathy

 

Beth: Taking into consideration who you are working with, your partners are not just business partners but they are humans who have things going on in their lives. You have a life outside of work. Occasionally we have that personal life that sneaks in but its recognizing it, it goes back to relationships.  You realize people are putting in 100% but there are things that come in in life.

 

Jessica: That goes back to trust.  If you trust them you know they are going to do what they need to do. You can give them the grace when they need it.  We struggle with that because it has become a 24 industry, the world has become a 24/7. People expect you to have things turned around in 15 minutes and if we have a relationship where we trust each other and I send you a message I trust you will take care of it.

 

If you want to add to your reliability, you also need to take on more responsibility.

 

Jessica:  With our team there’s no such thing as that’s not my job.  I don’t care. I have cleaned vomit more times than I care to admit. I’ve never turned around and said clean this up.  If you are the closest person there you just do it.

 

If you’ve taken the responsibility for something follow through on it.

 

We tell our guys not to tell a client they can’t help them, but instead to assist them.

 

Jessica: When people start out there’s a fear of admitting you don’t know something.  That’s why you hire experts, even if it’s the most well oiled machine there will be hiccups you don’t know the answer to.  It’s ok to say I don’t know but let me find out. Let’s figure this out together.

 

Tell me about mentoring, how do you find a mentor or become one?

 

Beth: I think a great way to mentor is to take interns. Sometimes it does require a lot of work on your part as well. If you have the right intern, some will stay on.  Some interns I’ve told they will have to hire me someday when I’m too old to do events. Someday my interns will hire me. It’s a great opportunity to have a fresh perspective on something you’ve done for years. It makes you rethink the process on why you do something. It’s a way to mentor the next generation.

 

Jessica: It’s ok to ask, but to ask with a humble attitude, “I know you’re busy but do you have time to sit and have coffee with me.” 99% of the time if people ask to have coffee with me I’ll say yes. If you ask for an informational interview and if you click and have a great relationship that person can become your mentor.

 

When you ask someone, make sure you’re making it convenient for the mentor. Show up on time, bring value, and be prepared. Don’t waste the mentor’s time.

 

Jessica: Absolutely, those are more relationships you are forming. No matter where you end up that’s a person you have the second nature conversation.

 

There are a lot of great industry organizations, talk about their value they bring.

 

Jessica: I am on the board of ILEA MSP I am the director of strategic sponsorships which plays well into this conversation, it’s all about relationships and building relationships. It’s been amazing.  I got involved 4 or 5 years ago, it was kind of transformative for me. It helped me expand my circle of people. I don’t get to spend time with people who don’t do events at my space. I got to work with caterers, producers, and one of my employees, that’s how I met her. We were working together at star Awards. Our first conversation was me overhearing what they had planned and being like “what’s that?”  But now we’ve formed a relationship and when I was looking to fill a position she was one of the first people I thought of.

 

Our chapter here in MSP is super active we won for the 5th year, Chapter of the Year. We are are hosting ILEA live next year which is really exciting. It’s been all over the place but it’s coming here in August.  

 

It’s been interesting when we are talking with the ILEA live board of governors, they were really surprised to hear how much sponsorship we have here. They struggle with that other places. We have such a robust industry of people who are willing to give and have an excitement for that.

 

You can contact Jessica Barrett at

jessica@machineshopmpls.com

Machineshopmpls.com

 

You can contact Beth Plates at

elizabeth@ecreativeevents.com

minne-golf.com

 

 

Meeting Minds by EideCom

 

Episode 17: Event Production Traps

Wanting to know tips and tricks straight from a partner in production?  This week Lisa and Charles sit down and go over traps event organizers can fall into.  They use their experience in the industry to create a “cheat sheet” for you.

 

Charles:  So glad you joined us on this special edition. This is the first time Lisa and I have sat down the two of us to share what’s in our brains.

 

Lisa:  I think this will be great cause we can finally share with you who we are, what we do, and how you can get better without anyone here to interfere.

 

Charles:  Here’s the deal, Lisa and I work in the production side of events.  I don’t know if you know that. The company I started back in 2003 is EideCom. It’s basically a full service audio visual creative organization.  Lisa has been with me about a year and a half. It’s been great, a lot of fun.

 

Today what we’re going to do, we’re going to talk about what Lisa and I run into, every mistake and scenario organizations do on accident that end up hurting and screwing up their process, costing them more money.  I said to LIsa the other day, we need to an episode that helps people understand some of the stuff so they don’t make these mistakes.

 

Lisa:  We just talked to Kris Lindahl about leadership in our last podcast. He talked a lot about how event organizers typically dont see through the lens of an attendee. We take a different approach where we sometimes come to the conference or event to just view it and see it and help make notes.  We’ve seen a lot of things.

 

Charles:  We have.  If you start as an attendee in your mind, you’re going to always put the visible things right on paper.  In fact often times I say if I’m not doing someone’s show, “Hey how about I come check it out.” I’ll sit in the audience and make notes. It’s not just all negative, I make positive notes too, like what went well.  I think one that I really want to kick off with, choosing the venue before you understand your production. How often do we have people that have chosen the venue, it’s a new one, and wants to know how much it will cost to produce the show.

 

Lisa: And it sometimes isn’t a great venue to do production in.  Sometimes it’s already set in stone and we think, do we tell them it’s really bad?  Or do we think, great we will work with this? From unions to the in house internet fees, things like that, you have to take into consideration what comes with the venue.

 

Charles:  I’ve always been blown away by some of the internet fees that have been charged to some organizations, it’s been $75,000 to $100,000 to provide internet to their attendees.  Wait for internet for attendees for their whole life forever? No just for three days. You mean in the ballroom? It’s just crazy to me!

 

The other big pitfall with your venue is understanding what type of requirements they have.  Like the in house – PSAV is a large organization and is in house in a lot of places. But there are other organizations that are in house at some places as well.  They have their own set of rules. Some places will require you to use them for any rigging, anything that’s going to hang from the ceiling. That rigging often times, we’re allowed to bring in our own motors and trussing, but we are required to let them rig it because it’s their building.  There are other scenarios where they require us to use their motors, truss, and rigging. We literally have to have contract to them. A lot of people when you book a venue don’t think of these things. You sign the deal and it says rigging power internet to be assessed. We come to help you with your show and they say $100,000 for rigging. There are other venues that wouldn’t cost that much.

 

Lisa:  It’s kind of a double edged sword because for a lot of our clients that aren’t doing rigging, we recommend they move into that rigging scenario because it adds a lot to their show.  But it adds a lot of expense so you have to realize what the investment actually costs.

 

Charles:  To those of you who don’t know what rigging is, it’s the stuff that hangs lighting and projection and other elements over your head.  You can make better use of the space because you are not using the floor to support things. It’s safer actually, you don’t have things hanging in the air ground supported that can topple over.  Not that they usually do but, nothing usually topples over. The possibility is lower.

 

The next one I want to come up with is underestimating what it takes to do a good production.  A lot of people they don’t realize how much staff and equipment it takes.

 

Lisa:  Or even just the lead time to set the room up.  We usually ask for a whole day prior to the show for our medium to large shows.  Our clients are like we only have the room the day of. That puts strain on your people and doesn’t make for the best environment and you don’t have time to run through the show.

 

Charles:  We have some really large shows that take up to four or five days to just load them in.  To your point, I think it’s important to note, if you have a four day load in and you are trying to do it in 2 days, you’re not really saying anything.

 

Lisa: You’re stressing everyone out and to go back to our episode of sleep, you’re team is going to be running at two percent.

 

Charles:  Basically human working hours to put it up, if it was going to be 10 people for 4 days now its 20-30 people for 2 days, if it’s even possible.  Don’t underestimate the cost involved in bringing in the right stuff and give yourself enough load in time to strike the show, AND load out show. We did an event recently very large in a new stadium, we had 2 hours to strike a show that took 2-3 days to set. How are you supposed to do that? This stuff takes time.  Don’t underestimate the cost or loading/out time. That’s really important.

 

Choose a venue before you choose your production company.  A lot of people say I use the inhouse team wherever we go. That is ok up unto a point, until you want a cohesive ongoing consistent look and feel year to year, show to show, city to city.

 

Lisa:  When your brand is a high level expensive beautiful brand, you want it to be consistent wherever you go.  If you are working with a new team, it’s hard to keep the brand on point.

 

Charles:  The relationship you have it’s not the same.  The people that are doing your production arn’t as invested.

 

Putting your budget into the wrong things.  #1 most important thing in my opinion is that everyone can hear when it comes to production.  Don’t sacrifice the quality of the audio. There’s science to back this up. If people can’t hear or there’s an echo or slap back that’s really annoying.  SLap back is where the audio is hitting the back of the room and then hitting you again, what you’re doing is you are exhausting your aducience quicker. WHen the human brain has to hear something and decipher and decode it, it requires a lot more energy for someone’s mind.  Take 5000 in an audience not every person is having to listen closer and try and decipher what’s being said.

 

LIsa:  Just think about someone where english is their second language, another level of decoding.

 

Charles:  If you don’t have good audio that is strong and clear the problem you are going to run into is audience exhaustion and you don’t want that.  Have you ever been in an experience that is 2-3 minutes long and you’re tired? There’s other times where you could sit there for hours. Even in restaurants and other places, think of places you can be there for a long time.  It’s requiring less brain power for you to be you and sit there. That is a real thing.

 

The next thing is understanding unions.  Unions are a part of what we do. They are apart of the events world.  Some people have their opinions some hate and love them. It doesn’t matter what matters is that they are apart of it.  For those of you that are anti-union, don’t go into a union situation and be a jerk. It doesn’t help you. Don’t try to go to the negotiations mat without respect from the people in charge.  This is their livelihood and the way of doing business. You chose a venue that has a union and you’re going to change it. You;re not going to put up and fight and they are going to give in.

 

LIsa:  If you’re willing to talk to your production company ahead of time, we have a good handle of this, certain towns have unions, others have less.  Just have that conversation in the beginning. Get some advice on that before you choose the prettiest coolest place.

 

Charles:  Totally, Chicago is notorious for having lots and lots of union.  It is what it is. They also have fabulous venues, centrally located, and a hub. There’s lots of reason’s to have a Chicago meeting, but know that when you work in chicago it’s going to be a part of life.

 

I have a client who did an event in Chicago and they were not aware of the cost the union would occur on the event.  I don’t need to speak numbers or names but it was a huge shock. They had already signed the deal, we were basically stuck there.  know the union situation. That has a huge impact on budget. The fees can be as large as the production fees.

 

Lisa:  Let’s talk about equipment.  Most event planners don’t know the difference in brands, but it matters.

 

Charles:  I don’t need to go into specific brands.  Each production company boasts they have the best brand.  Let’s look at vehicles: you have your regular american brands – Ford, Chevy, then you have your higher lines – Mercedes Benz, BMW, then you go even higher – Maserati, Aston Martin, then you have Lamborghini.  You don’t want to be using a go cart. A lot of companies they realize the meeting planner doesn’t really know so they show up with a go cart they bought from guitar center. Or they underestimated and rented the cheapest equipment.  

 

My perspective is there’s maybe 3-4 players in production

  1. High level creative companies that are full service production
  2. Mid level production company that own junkier equipment.  They take on small to medium shows but charge full service rates on junkier equipment
  3. Producer then who calls on different companies that specialize on things.  The producer knows the really good players and you don’t care because you trust them.
  4. Then there’s another kind of producer.  They are someone who pretends to be a production company and source out all of the production to one or many companies.  Which is to usually the 2nd company. They are trying to make as much margin as they possibly can on the show. They sell it for a market rate but bring in a second rate production group that does lower end stuff.  It’s so the lower end producer can make more money.

If you want us to take a look at who you are hiring reach out.  That stuff does matter. If you are tiny conference with a small budget, you’re not going to hire a group like us because we are way out of your budget.  If you are a large multi day conference and you are looking for people that can manage all the high level details that you probably would. We run into horror stories where people don’t realize what they are hiring.

 

Lisa:  If I went out on my own as a producer, I wouldn’t want to hire crappy people, even if it cost more I would hire a better production company because it will be a better experience.

 

Charles:  The other thing is being extremely picky with making sure that the crew is well trained.  For example I don’t mean just trained in the skill that the person should know already. Don’t be afraid to see some of the work that they have done.  The other thing is training in customer service. We spend so much time talking about customer service and communication. Unfortunately the production world is not focused on that.  The production world is generally focused on gear and knowledge and logistics. We built our business to be about the customer service experience. For those of you that are my competitors, listen up.  Read the book the Customer Rules by Lee Cockerell. I’m giving my secrets away.

 

Lisa:  I think instead of keeping the competition down get them to do better, it keeps us accountable to work on ourselves.

 

Charles:  Let’s talk about not doing enough pre planning.

 

Lisa: I just met with a client yesterday that said they rushed through rehearsal then during the show had issues with a video.  You need to make sure you save time to rehearse the show and that comes with making sure you have enough time in advance.

 

Charles:  That leads back to the first point we were making which is don’t be hasty when you choose your venue.  These are things you need to negotiate. Enough time. Before you sign the contract you can negotiate these things.  If you have to pay you have to pay. Budget enough time to load in/out and also to rehearse. Your executive team and leaders who are going to be apart of your event are not only going to feel special you invited them to a rehearsal but will also feel relieved when they walk on stage for the show.  It will be you who says it’s going to cost you a day in venue but if we’re not rehearsed what’s the point in general?

 

Lisa:  If the show does’t flow your money is in vain.

 

Charles:  Not having accurate drawings.  Lisa and I are sticklers about making sure the drawings are extremely accurate so when we show it to the customer and they show up on site there’s zero surprises.  Remember, this is a big one. Surprises are bad. I know when you were a kid you loved surprises but surprises when the client shows up are not good they are bad. A good way to fix that is to have good drawings that are accurate.  Even if they are not photo real have them accurate.

 

Lisa:  Also if you have the budget for it, do an onsite meeting.  Even if your shows in california and your production is in Chicago.  Take a day to fly out there and see the spaces. Sometimes there are hidden things you didn’t know about that day of could ruin things.  

 

Charles:  Don’t be afraid to ask your production company to do the drawings for you that include other elements.  “Can you do a drawing with chairs in it?” Don’t be afraid to ask because they will help you to see and not show up surprised.

 

Not requiring uniforms:  As the meeting planner organizer, make sure that everybody on the production crew are dressed professionally.  Ask your production provider how their people will look on site. That is huge. Last thing you want is your executive team saying “hey what’s with the guy in the hoodie holding the camera. We’re at an executive summit, no hoodies allowed.”

 

Lisa:  The branding aspect of it, especially if you’re in a venue with union, you want to know what crew you are talking to.  If they don’t have an identifying mark how do you know who is on the team.

 

Charles:  Some people will hire an independent security company going around making sure everyone is following the rules.  On certain shows I do that. I have an independent security consultant and make sure everyone is dressed properly and identified properly. When you are dealing with audiences and crowds you want to make sure everyone is safe.  I know I veered off on the safety issue but that comes back to a sharp looking crew.

 

Lisa:  On thing we’ve been really talking about as a team is, a lot of people go to their production company and share what they did last year and it was fine and want us to do the same thing.  We take a different approach, we ask how can we create a better experience. Everyone that comes to these yearly events already expects something new and exciting. If you’re production can’t come to you and help you to make it more engaging, it’s same old same old.

 

Charles:  People always ask what I do for work, people come to us to change their event game.  I think it’s important as a meeting organizer that you’re expecting out of your vendors and partners, we consider ourselves a partner, that they are bringing you new ideas.  You have to match that with a healthy budget. If you are expecting your production company or designer to bring you new ideas but you are a cheap-wad, they may not because they know you don’t have the money for it.  Make sure your appetite and budget are close to each other. I know they will not be the same, just make sure they are close to each other. Put the budget in the creative. We didn’t use to charge for the creative services, we’d come up with ideas, but I realized that is where the values.

 

Lisa:  We could be the nicest people and that’s how we won our customers, but if you don’t have any new ideas or anything different, why would people keep paying their friend if they don’t have anything new.

 

Charles:  Don’t take this the wrong way, you don’t want to get into the flavor of the month club where you are taking the wheel and trying to reinvent it.  Certain things like audio, if it’s working well don’t change it. When it comes to giving your audience a fresh new feel and look every year, it’s worth it.  You want to remember everyone who attends your event, you are competing with other things. Not only are those other things entertainment or discretionary income or family functions that could interfere with the need to go to the conference you’re putting on, remember you’re competing.  If every year they know it’s a treat to go, that makes a huge difference.

 

Lisa:  I’ve signed up for things and didn’t go back because it was boring, hopefully your conference doesn’t fall into that.

 

Charles:  We were just in our new presentation theatre and it’s funny to think about how many different ways you can put on an event, it’s unlimited.  We were watching the Adobe Max conference, the opening sequence was inspiring. We were like “oh my gosh it is possible!” Make sure you’re gathering inspiration from other things.

 

Lisa:  If you’re an event organizer look at things for inspiration.  See what other people are doing. If they are doing something cooler than you on the same week as yours…. Just saying.

 

Charles: Lisa and I are not involved in the operations side of the business.  That’s for good reason. It allows us to think about the customer and what they need and allows us to come up with new ideas.  The production and operations side of the business, they love when we hand them a new idea because they can draw it up and it’s cool.  They didn’t have time to think up things because they were busy at shows. Make sure as you’re working with your production company that you are being fed new ideas and they are staying up on the trends.  But do not sacrifice things that work. What else do you have?

 

Lisa:  Familiar team.  If you have a team you know and trust, can bring to any venue, and know what you’re getting that’s invaluable.

 

Also, a lot of people nowadays are looking at multi-year multi-event contracts and how can that help your business have a more consistent budget, product, and relationship with your production team.  

 

Charles:  There are economies of scale and they are cost saving.  There is a cost of going out and finding new business. It costs something.  If we have a multi-year agreement with someone, you’re removing the need to replace that business every year.  We are willing to give special perks and discounts so we are not worried about winning the business next year. It works fantastically for you as the client because then you can ask them to add value and save cost if you are guaranteeing them business.

 

Lisa:  DOn’t do that right away, just because you don’t know how you will work with a new company.  Do a trial event or a couple and if you like what we are doing, then let’s talk about it. You’re not going to get married on the first date.

 

Charles:  Some of our great wins have come that way, from starting out something small and realizing it works really well!

 

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Find Lisa on Linkedin or email her at lisa@eidecom.com

 

 

Meeting Minds by EideCom

Episode 16: Event Leadership with Kris Lindahl

This week on Meeting Minds we are joined with Kris Lindahl. He shares with us the importance of core values and vision to each event and how it all starts with leadership.

 

What are the biggest problems you’ve noticed when you’ve been at events?

 

I think of our organization and how what we stand for and what our core values are and I try to translate that to events.  I never feel what an event stands for. There’s no vision or mission statement or values. You don’t even know why they are doing the event. It hasn’t been communicated, there are no takeaways for what the event stands for. It’s frustrating because you don’t know why they are even doing it.  Throw in a big event, you don’t even know where you are going to don’t have a target for what you are trying to accomplish, you’re never going to get to where you want to go. I go to these events and I ask, “what exactly are you trying to do?” and no one can answer that question.

 

I look at events like you’re running a business as well.  It’s different than my real estate business. When you start to lead a big organization of people you have to communicate what you stand for so everyone starts to go in the right direction. Whether  that’s the attendees that show up are clients and we need to experience this, whatever that is I’ve found out no one has it. What is key to success is having your core values that your company lives by, but you also need to communicate that to the consumer as well.  Really successful organizations, are ok with their core values being exposed to the public.

 

When you attend an event where you can feel the core values, how does it make you as a speaker and an audience member feel about being somewhere where it’s clear.

 

It’s no different from the RItz Carlton Four Seasons.  Really good service is really rare which creates the greatest opportunity.  When you get great service and you can feel it and it feels good, it’s memorable.  I remember those moments at those events where i could feel a difference in service and I could feel what they are trying to accomplish.

 

There’s a hotel in LA that has 4.9 on tripadvisor, the number 1 reason is they have red phones at the pool.  It’s the popsicle line, at any time you can call and they come with white gloves and deliver popsicles to the kids.  It’s not the nicest hotel. They realize when you are traveling with your family, the worst part is laundry. They do free laundry for you, they come back and wrap it up in twine and bring your laundry.  The popsicle line and the laundry are the two things that make the big difference and that’s what got them to 4.9 out of 5.

 

You could spend millions on the best rooms but if the service stinks you’re losing.

 

That’s the same thing in the events world, you could have all the right equipment and everything look super beautiful, but if you drop the ball on the human experience, we forget that we are actually leading humans, and when we start to remove that and focus on the technology, how things look and feel and we don’t focus on the actual connection, that’s the most important part.

 

That’s the part that signs or cancels deals.

 

It’s funny you bring that up, the best locker room wins everytime.  I think of the Las Vegas Knights, they were never picked to be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  They were 5000 to 1 odds to make it anywhere. They far surpassed any expectations. That’s the dangerous thing of any organization, when you pass what people expect of you, then you are playing nothing to lose.  That’s what we are focusing on, having the best locker room. You look at any organization, any sports team, the ones that win the championships aren’t the most talented, they have the best locker room. To your point, when you have someone in your organization that is trying to grandstand the place, it’s not effective for the organization, it can take the whole place down.

 

No greater lesson have I learned than putting my own team first. When you put your team first they will put the customer first.  Help me understand as a leader, how do I take the Chris Lindahl philosophy of leadership and apply it to my organization?

 

Really good culture you can’t talk about, you have to feel it and experience it.  For us it started with me, it starts with the leader. The amount of personal development and training I went through to become a better person is where it starts. You start to get transparent and vulnerable because anything that you’re thinking privately will show up publicly. If i don’t explains something to my company they know something is off. I need to go in front of my company whether good or bad and say, “here were our challenges, here were our success are.” And constantly communicate with the team because it’s not just about being up on top and leading.  We were talking beforehand about having bottom up leadership where everyone is at the same level. I didn’t have any experience when I first started in leading people. I look at people that have started companies around the same time and I look at the different progressions and mine’s been focused on personal development and theirs has been about money and growing the organization, we have surpassed everyone that has started around the same time. Not because I was driven by money, but because i was becoming a better person. Then when I started to become crystal clear on who I was, then I invested in growing my people and my organization.  I really started to shift how I think about every action every move I make, I don’t think as much about my team as much as I think about their families. Every move I make I think about their families and how everything Kris Lindahl does or says affects their families.

 

I have personally met the people on your team, it’s very rare you find people as passionate about what they are doing as the people on your team. It’s hard to build a culture around that.  What is the difference between top down and bottom up leadership?

 

Top down leadership is most of corporate America today.  You have this typically older CEO trying to lead a younger generation of people.  There is this huge disconnect, like “how do you do this, why do you do this?” Instead of walking along and helping them get better it’s dictatorship.  There’s this huge disconnect. I started asking questions to people at different corporations about their leaders. “How do you feel about your leadership, what do they do?” Rarely was it positive, rarely was it “Oh i love that person, I will do whatever that person does whether its this company or not!” more it’s “oh yeah they are rolling out more corporate initiative.  I go there till 5 and leave.”

 

When you have bottom up leadership people will work when they need to to get the job done.  When you have bottom up leadership you have people connected to the organization emotionally, at the heart. You won’t have turnover when they are connected at the heart.  There are always going to be better opportunities where people can leave for more money. But there’s so much to it, especially the younger generation, they want to be apart of something that’s bigger.  They don’t want to be in this individual cubicle or working from home when they have a CEO that’s barking orders down from the top down. What I’ve always found, you can learn a lot about leadership during bad times.  When everyone is having success and things are great, leadership can slip and things are still good. When things get bad and it’s all hands on deck, we’re losing money, things aren’t working, what we rolled out isn’t working, a key player left our organization, those moments are the pivotal moments.  That’s where true leadership shows up, when you’re willing to go boots on together and go through it as an organization. Most CEO and leaders are pointing down and giving orders, they aren’t actually doing it. It’s not the words, it’s the actions. It’s the actions the leaders take, people see what you are doing.  They are willing to do more if you’re willing to march alongside them.

 

It seems like a lot of people will blame that it’s a large organization, I don’t think the size has anything to do with it.

 

It’s very easy for me to see now when I speak at different organizations.  I can tell how long their company will stay intact. You can tell how people respect their leader, the type of culture the type of energy.  That’s emotional intelligence. Sometimes when I’m speaking at an event I’ll tell them, you better fix this leadership problem or you’re not going to any people not long from now.  And you know almost every single time.

 

As an event organizer, how do they make sure that vision and core values of the event or organization are being played through?

 

I’m not in that space but i’ve been on the other side of it.  I don’t think that most people that are planning the events plan for what the experience is going to be.  I walk in and I get this gift I don’t want to carry around. I get these things that are irrelevant from what I use or want and I have this bag to carry around.  They are giving things away because I don’t believe they have walked through their event from the otherside. There’s a huge difference [from hosting to attending]. When I walk into these events I’m always interested in what’s the plan?  What do you want people to experience and no one can answer them. It’s funny because the experience will build the event to the next level. The key players that you want to bring more people to your event are already there. It’s so rare that I’ll go to an event that’s super emotional, they look nice, but there’s an element missing, the service the connection.

 

A lot of these events i go to, they are so focused on the short game rather than building that long game, the audience that will come forever that will tell their friends that will organically grow.  They are not thinking about the brand they are building and what the vision is. Bringing in the wrong speakers is because they don’t know what they stand for. And when you don’t know what you stand for it’s hard to bring in the right speakers.

 

Let’s talk about leading people. How do you manage and lead people that do not know me?  

 

Number one is you have to assess the current people in your organization that are very successful at the positions you want to fill or add to.  Once you figure out what their personality is, you need to hire others that are just like that. You have to make sure that the assessment matches the type of people you want.  If they fit your core values and the assessment fit other people, hire that. Too often, it’s really hard to find good talent, it’s very difficult. We can get as leaders, a tendency to hire people or believe in them and don’t do any core value checks or assessments. If you bring people in that fit those two things, it’s rare you’ll have problems because they fit your organization and have the skill set to get it done.  When I look back to when I first started, I’d sit down and interview and make a decision right there. That’s how most people hire.

 

What I’m hearing you say is as long as you have the similar core values, you should be able to lead  and manage these people well.

 

There’s a couple parts to that.  There’s variables to the event. I think I would assess the company’s, who’s going to be on site from different companies.  We want to assess everyone that is coming into this place. Here are our core values, I would record a video that I would give to anyone on site saying here’s what we stand for this is what we want the experience to be at the event. I would have them sign off before they ever got on site.

 

The challenge is when you have people you haven’t met.  There needs to be an education process. A video is at least some sort of training.  When I go to these events I can tell that there is a disconnect and that they are from different companies and areas and no one knows anyone and nothings consistent.  The best is when I have a question for someone and they are 20 feet away and no one comes up. If you’re not doing it [a training video] you are relying on another company to do that for you. Their expectations may be completely different from what yours are.

 

A lot of people make the mistake of not introducing themselves when they should.  I always go and make a point of meeting people in my crew that I don’t know and thank them for being on the show.

 

Here’s another idea, survey the attendees but also survey the workers. When you get those surveys back, you go how was your experience working with our company.  It becomes a good recruiting tool because they care about the people working they care about the attendees. The biggest thing right now, Uber the company satisfaction, they started with tracking drivers, what’s the review what’s the consumer experience.  Then over time they have the rider reviews. They have both and that’s public information and helps them to figure out how we are doing. A lot of areas where there’s a lot of vehicles and you have a 4.8 you can’t have a black car.

 

The second part to what I would do is id’ have secret shoppers to attend the event and record what the experience is.  I’d hire them to figure out what’s happening and figure out what are the areas we have to get better. You’re never going to get it perfect it’s an ongoing journey but you’re going to try to get better and better. Having secret shoppers focusing on those events is important. I think a lot of people listening, the challenge is people will be scared to do it, scared of the feedback, but the feedback is going to make you better.

 

If we don’t have satisfaction in the work we are doing, you’re clearly doing something wrong.

 

We just rolled out another customer satisfaction dashboard and there were a few scores for a few of our more experienced agents that are amazing that had lower scores. There’s a tendency when you’ve been in an industry for a long time that you start going through the motions.  You don’t go back to what made you sharp. Those scores were good for those agents to see maybe their service isn’t as good as it was before. We now have that as public face to our organization. It makes such a huge difference having those scores because it shows who’s providing the best level of service, which to us i the most important thing.

 

I realize in our organization everything is my fault.  Everything that happens there is something that’s my fault whether it’s training or consumer expectation.  We’ve been talking a lot about taking accountability for things that has happened. That’s how you get good leadership.  We used to blame the customer, and now the analogy that comes to me is, you’re driving down the road and a car comes out and t-bones you, whose fault is it?  In our organization it’s always our fault because we were still driving. That’s how we look at everything that happens. Whether someone hits us or we hit them, it’s always our fault and it’s something to learn from.  Maybe we were going to fast, or didn’t stop at the yellow light, or should have stopped because we saw the car coming. I’ve found that most organizations want to blame someone else, mostly the customer.

 

I love when someone owns something.  That’s what most customers want to hear.  “We messed up.” correct it and move forward.  It’s ok to make a mistake once but don’t make it twice.  That becomes a problem. I want people to fail, we call that learning opportunities.  That’s where people grow. I look back as we’ve grown, the mistakes I’ve made, those were the pivotal moments in our growth where we became an elite company.

 

If you continue to ignore and blame others you are fostering more failure down the road.

 

Constructive feedback is the most important thing.

 

When you’re building and leading your team, how are you ensuring the core values are instilled in your team daily?

 

It’s not words, its the actions.  It is what people see me doing, where people see me commit my time. I’m on video all the time communicating what I’m doing why i;m doing it.  You mentioned earlier the podcast I am doing, Behind the Billboard, I did a video last night to our whole organization telling them why i’m doing this.  Our number one core value is to be generous. I say we have our time treasure and talents to give back. To continue to be a thought leader in our industry this was the natural thought progression for us, and this was going to benefit every family in our organization.  The doors have already opened up, from the podcast, that we wouldn’t have had before if I didn’t have a podcast. I’m always communicating to our company so they know what i’m doing. When you start to cast that vision, they start to feel apart of it. The problem is, leaders are working on these crazy ideas and don’t share the blueprint with anyone else. Then hey let’s go we’re going I’ve been thinking of this for 4 months.

 

Last night I got done with flag football, I returned from speaking at an event in Vegas, I was exhausted but I needed to launch this to facebook and social media but I need to go internal first and tell those in my organization why i’m doing this.  “I’m extremely exhausted but I want to get into here and tell you guys how I feel about this why i’m doing this.” Notice I said feel there because feel is important to culture, it’s the emotional heart connection. Most organizations the feminine energy is a huge part of it.  Super alpha males have been scared to get vulnerable and talk about feelings but that’s what people want to be apart of. They want to feel what’s going on, that’s where it grows. So I communicated to them, that’s why i’m doing this most people would be confused on why Kris Lindahl is opening his playbook and sharing it for free and I said I feel it’s important to give back our time treasure and talents. Yes some people will take the information and use it, but I don’t think anyone can beat our locker room.  The thing is, when you help others it helps you more. We are always students, by no means do I think i have it figured out. Even though in some moments I become a teacher, I can still learn just as much. It’s like becoming a mentor, giving feedback, you learn as much as they learn.

 

There are female leaders that really get it that sometimes we fall short, putting the emotion part of it as a true part of the equation.  I look at the emotional part and I think that’s how people are making decisions, and we have to be mindful of that. You have to lead with heart.

 

Here’s a super short story of something that happened at my organization a few years ago.  Our leadership team is almost all female. I had a conversation with one of our leaders. We were doing a review and trying to determine what the next level was for compensation.  I made a comment, “I think you deserve this number.” She said, “Kris you don’t understand, I’m not motivated by money.” It was the first time i realized there was more happening in my organization than money.  You think for high drivers the motivation is a pay increase, but when someone said that, it was one of those moments where I had this completely raw, it’s more than just money. If people come to your organization for money they will leave for money, every time.  If you really take your core values and what you stand for and communicate those to attendees and staff, it really starts to take a life of its own and that’s why people come to your organization, attend your event, things happen. They won’t leave because they want to help get that organization to the next level.

 

The right people, when you start to broadcast what you stand for the right people are attracted by that and the wrong people are scared away.

 

Final thoughts?

 

Leadership is a commitment to becoming a better person first.  If you can’t take care of yourself you can’t be a better leader.  I look at the early days of my organization and what really helped me was investing in personal development but it was doing video early on.  I’d do 100 videos everyday to improve my communication. Id do a video and it was so bad I’d run into the hallway to make sure no one heard it.  Then what I did, I started speaking. I was doing the boring powerpoints that every speaker does, then I’d do a little more. Then after that I did 30 minutes with just notes.  Then it was 40 minutes light notes, than an hour with nothing, two hours with nothing. Now I can speak 3, 4, 5, hours with nothing no notes, no plans, no powerpoints. It’s because of those videos speaking in those uncomfortable environments where I’ve continued to grow my brains so I can fire at the highest level, all of those things have helped me become a better leader.  Because I am a better communicator. Most people aren’t willing to do that.

 

None of us are natural born leaders, we have to invest and expand our brains to become better people and leaders.  Most people aren’t willing to do those things.

 

Find Kris at Kris Lindahl

 

Behind the Billboard Podcast

 

Episode 15: How to Succeed as a Corporate Events Planner

Kelsey from Lynn David Events joins us to talk about her experience in corporate events. She shares her story getting her to the point of starting her own corporate event company.

 

 

Tell us about you.

 

I have been a corporate event planner for 13 years. I absolutely love it. I love partnering with organizations to bring their dream to reality.  I spent the last 8 years working for an amazing company, John Wiley and Sons publishing company. Its 215 years old. Thomas Jefferson was president when they opened their doors. I was able to manage 150 events a year, just me with them. I got a really well rounded education and experience. Everything from a 700 person conference all the way down to an 8 person board meeting. Runs the gamut of everything. I’ve taken what I learned from them and struck out on my own this year, and started my own event planning company (Lynn David Events). I named it after my children, Neva Lynn and Brooks David, my 3rd baby.

 

How do you become successful in corporate meetings?

 

I think what separates a novice event planner to one that will go the distance and succeed is understanding that as an event planner you have a responsibility to understand the corporate goals and objectives and how the events support those goals. Ways that you need to do that is really be apart of the leadership discussions don’t be shy to ask to sit in on meetings, the non confidential ones of course, ask questions. So many corporations hold the same conference every year or convention just because that’s what we do, that’s how we do it. But why? What are you trying to achieve? What is the overall corporate goal or objective that this one event is trying to satisfy? How can you change this event to make it better and better? What are you trying to get the attendees to walk away with?

 

How do you set yourself apart and how do you add value?

 

Once you can understand what the goals are and why you are holding these events, the executives will look at you in a different light. You’re not just executing on this event every year, you’re playing into their goals and objectives and they’ll see you as more of a team player for the company. Then you are able to have those strategic conversations and look as more of a strategist in the company. What’s the goal of the event and you can better allocate your budget to achieve that goal instead of googling it and saying “30% of your budget should be spent on food and beverage”. What’s the goal? Are you trying to elevate the event to be looked at as educational experience, playing in that realm, then you will want to spend more money on a quality keynote speaker that people will recognize. What if you are trying to launch a new product or elevate a new brand? Then you will want to spend more money on A/V and production to really make that that product or that brand come to life, really play up the colors of this brand. But you also need to know your audience right? So if your audience is a bunch of foodies you’re going to want to still maintain a very healthy budget for the food and beverage while you’re trying to elevate your brand. Or take brand elements and put it into the food and beverage, like putting the new logo kind of showcased on top of the cheesecake would be adorable like ways to achieve your objectives but also strategically spend money to do so.

 

I feel like I almost can remember, to like the day, the turning point in my career when I was stopped being looked at like a party planner “oh she’s an event manager, she’s strategic”.

 

How do you sell a keynote to your organization?

 

Bring it back to the overall goals and objectives. You gotta think the executives your leadership team they’re getting pressure from higher ups from the CEO from maybe a board to achieve these goals and objectives and if one of them is to really become a player in education space or to build attendance and the attendees really value content and education it is a drop in the bucket $100,000 for a keynote speaker that’s going to maximize attendance and really put yourself, the company,and the event as a major player in education or content that’s a drop in the bucket.

 

What else do you have?

 

I think one of the biggest tips I can give anybody starting off in the corporate event space is you really need to create mutually beneficial partnerships with suppliers and vendors, and I want to repeat mutually beneficial.  Because I feel like early on in your event planning career, you think the way you succeed is you negotiate the cost down as far as possible right? And you need to understand you want your partners to make money you want them to look at you like a partnership where they are really caring about the project and also making a profit on it so they’ll  want to work with you again. Having a partner is a one off you’re creating that long term relationship that this is what you do. You should interview suppliers whether A/V or production or what have you, that share the values that your organization does and somebody you want to be in the trenches with. Tell me one event planner that has been at it, at an event that didn’t have something go wrong, and the reason why they’re always  fine in the end, it’s because of your partnership. We’re in this together and we are succeeding together. You want to have someone you click with that’s going to also look at you like “I’m your partner and I’m excited about this event excited about the next hundred events we partner on”.

 

For new planners in the corporate realm, it’s a very  controversial topic among event planners but I believe you should be transparent about your budget to your partners. So many people think “but that’s my power. How can I negotiate, how can I get the price down, how can I get more for less?” You can’t have a good partnership unless you’re transparent, open, and honest about the budget and  the scope of the event. If you do that right away you’re already going to be in a better spot when the event actually happens because you’re going to get the quality you’re going to get the equipment that you need and you’re going to be within budget because the partner that you decided to work with at the beginning they signed up to be that budget.

 

What else do you have?

 

What I didn’t understand early on in my career which I would love just to make sure that all your listeners do, is not every corporate event  planner has a very clear career path outline for them by their organization. I mean maybe you’re blessed to be working in an advanced division for a company where there’s  40 other event planners and maybe it’s a little bit more clear where you can go in the next 5-10 years, but I didn’t have that. I was really the only one corporate event planner. My advice is you need to know that you can look outside the organization for professional development, opportunities, education for networking and you’re not on an island.  You’re able to turn to organizations like MPI or ILEA or what have you, to seek out professional development to network with your peers. It’s an incredibly giving industry like you’re saying with you know somebody that might be a competitor as an independent planner I have been amazed by how all the other independent planners in the Twin Cities are so willing to help.

 

I think breaking out of the walls of your office exposes you to so many things in the industry because you know if you’re doing the same 5-10 events every year and you really are kind of craving new ideas, you’re craving like new technology going to industry events going to these annual association meetings and talking to other planners about what they’re doing, it sparks so many great ideas and not only introduces you to new people like new suppliers it can maybe bring in technology for you. You can also talk to people openly. I encourage people to not get stuck in the walls of their cubicle. The industry is very giving and you can seek elsewhere for networking and education.

 

What else have you got?

 

Also breaking away from your office, getting out of your typical 9-to-5. What’s incredibly important and if you’re a planner you understand that there’s events always held by different venues our national sales manager, Hilton, Loews, Omni, Independence they all hold events and invite planners to them over the course of the year and I encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities because the whether again you’re you are in a division of 40 event planners, or you are a team of one what’s incredibly important is to stay up to speed on the other different venue options out there and hotels are changing every day.  They’re changing flags, they’re renovating, there’s new hotel popping up, there’s new venue a special event spaces in every market. So many times I’ve had someone from the corporate leadership team come to me and is like “we wanna hold an event in three months, we wanna wanna have it in Nashville”. You don’t always have time to hop on a plane is scheduled to be great no I got a handful of properties that I have on the phone with them.

 

Large corporations often have event teams and planners inside, how often are those people also contracting external planners to plan things?

 

It’s actually becoming more and more common.  So as you know event plans for a year or budgets they ebb and flow from year to year based on the plans and those goals and objectives for the corporate organization so you don’t always want to hire another head to be a full-time employee.  We don’t know if we’re going to need that additional person the next year, so a lot of times they’ll save one or two head counts on their team to contract out other planners like myself and other amazing ones in the Twin Cities. But what’s great, is good quality independent planners, can be an extension of your team in any capacity if you need that ,if you need them to understand the product the clients the attendees whatever so they can actually interact with your guest they can do that, if you need them just behind the scenes doing the grunt-work that frees up others on the team they can do that, there are resources out there.

 

How do you choose the right independant planner?

 

I think really going out and being a part of these associations and networking like we  discussed before. I think that’s incredibly important because you get to know who is in your industry and as we were talking about everyone has their niche, right, like what they’re really good at, what they focus on, what they really excel at, what they bring to the table. You can get to know someone and see if you have a need and you have someone as a resource who would fit what you’re looking for.  

 

As you gain experience in this industry, you can’t do it all, and you don’t want to do it all. As you get more experience you become more self aware and figure out what your passion is and what drives you, you’re able to focus on that one area that you can bring purpose to.

 

What other tips do you have for being great and succeeding as a corporate events planner.

 

As corporate you have to think every company has a brand identity and that needs to be brought to life and consistent through the events. If you went to a target event and it didn’t have red you’d be like who is this?  Everyone has a brand a core identity, brand personality, but also quality and consistency needs to be in events.

 

 

You can contact Kelsey at kelsey@lynndavidevents.com

 

Meeting Minds by EideCom

Episode 14: Mergers & Acquisitions: How to keep growing your event when your business chang

What happens when your business merges and your conference grows 4x larger? Emma Bica, Event Marketing Manager for PeopleNet/Trimble talks us through her company’s event growth and how to work collaboratively with a new parent company.

 

Tell us about you and your background.

 

To set the stage I have worked PeopleNet/Trimble for 8 1/2 years.  I was hired on as an intern when I was still in college and they had a marketing team of 2. They had a conference coming up for the customers that they were going to need help with, one was going to be out on maternity leave. I jumped in and saw part of the benefit of being an intern was getting to go to the Boca Raton Resort in Boca Raton. I started doing that and long story short, I’m still there, they haven’t gotten rid of me. Really grown threw my career, it’s been exciting to see things change.  Our department is now 6 people.

 

I focus on trade shows and events. We attend in some form or fashion 80-90 trade shows a year. Were in the trucking industry, its  heavily trade show oriented. I also manage our social media and do my organizational ninja data spreadsheet organization as well.

 

Can you give us a quick summary for what PeopleNet/Trimble does?

 

It is in the trucking space.  We create the on board technology that goes inside the trucking plate. As you’re going down the road and you see the semi’s going by you, tip your hat to them.  I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for this industry. It’s one that’s super easy to take for granted. We help to make their job easier and their businesses to run more efficiently.

 

Without this industry we wouldn’t have the clothes on our back it’s so easy to take for granted.

 

Yeah there are all these statistics that if all the truckers stopped for a day, the pharmacies wouldn’t get the medicine, hospitals wouldn’t have what they needed, there wouldn’t be milk at the grocery stores, or gas at the gas station. It’s one of those that is super easy to take for granted but we needed. They are working hard and there is a shortage because it’s’ a tough job to do.

Tell us about the event you had and the progression of it.

 

When I first started the user conference was about 400 people. It’s always been an annual user conference it’s really geared towards our customers. Heavy on education about our products and services as well as the industry as a whole. Having an expo hall for our partners and sponsors to be able too showcase what they can do for our customers, and our employees are there and available in one spot.

 

If we rewind to about 9 years ago to the first one I was involved with, in Boca Raton FL.  We had about 420 people it was super exciting and super stressful. My boss and I did everything from bringing the projector into the room every morning and making sure they were set up, switching the signs in-between sessions everyday.  Every little thing, we made sure it happened, we coordinated transportation for all our attendees.

 

It’s really grown and evolved over time, to skip over what I’m sure we will go over, we just finished an annual user conference it’s called The Insight User Conference, it’s with a sister company.  There were 2200 people there. It’s a few more people involved. We have an event managing team that helps us do a lot of the work. I like to say we’ve grown up a bit, but it’s crazy to think about where we’ve come to where we are to where we’re going to go in the future.

 

Tell me more about the conference itself.

 

It’s about 3 days long, start on a Sunday evening and end on a Wednesday afternoon. We have over 350 educational sessions during that time. We have an expo hall with over 70 of our vendors to chat with our customers. We have what we call an insight lab a hands on place for our customers to dig into the software service and employees there to make sure its being used to the best of their ability.  We also have a lot of fun.

 

Who’s attending your event?

 

It’s customers, its a really customer focused event. We want to bring them all together to have a lot of education on what is new, what the products and services we offer and we’ve been focusing on the industry. We have a lot of industry experts to talk about overall the transportation industry  whats new, what’s coming up, what do they need to be aware of, tips and tricks, and best practices. We are getting more into business best practices. Things that don’t only apply to people in our industry. We are trying to expand our educational repertoire. We are going for a more holistic approach.

 

To people buy their own tickets, how does it work?

 

It’s a registration fee that covers food, beverage, and evening entertainment, as well as all the education, access to the expo hall.  They just have to pay to get themselves their and their hotel and we cover the rest.

 

Tell us more about when you merged these events together.

 

Three years about in 2016.  Leadership said it would be best. There’s some efficiencies you see, we were serving similar audiences.  We were a month apart. When you look at it from a more logistical financial side it looked like it made sense for us to take these two conferences that were similar in nature and combine them into one to create a more powerful joint conference.

 

The planning began about a year and half before the conference started. In general these conferences are complex a lot of detail to put together. But now you have two planning teams who each had their own way of doing things. We’re located in two different offices, who’s best practices are you going to follow?

 

We couldn’t have done it without google drive.  Our company had just migrated to google from outlook. I don’t know how we could have managed a budget and all these things without it.

 

How did you put the two together?

 

It’s been an evolution, and change is hard for anyone.  We came up with messaging for our customers letting them know we were bringing these two conferences together and really focusing on the value that was going to bring them by not having to spend time out of the office two months in a row they could invest in sending more people there. They were going to have that value add of having one conference they could go to.

 

Did you have to change the cost of registration?

 

We did. We did some analysis and setting some bench marks. We were in similar places on somethings and some things we were a little off. The very first step to do if you are combining conferences is to do a state of the union. Where are you at?  What are you charging for registration? Demographics? Content? Etc.

 

It’s got to be difficult.

 

It’s a learning process and communication is key. We had one way of doing it and they had a way of doing it and neither is right or wrong but their are different. How can you work together to find a new way to do it? Thats what we focused on, lets create something new. We’re not trying to make your conference better or our conference better but we’re trying to create something new and keeping the focus on the customer.

 

I always tried to think of the customer. Who is the end user of this conference?  And whatever decision we make is to service them and what ever is in their best interest.

 

Did you have to go to your leadership because things weren’t turning out?

 

One of the things we learned, is there weren’t as many efficiencies that were long term generated.  In the first year there were some created taking two conferences and combining them into one. What we’ve seen as we’ve gone, we have it as our user conference so we don’t have competition there. With 2 companies there are more companies as potential competitors which lessons our sponsorship revenue possibilities. That’s one of the big ways we are able to put on our conference is by sponsorship revenue that was something we saw as increasing or staying the same, but that’s been opposite of the case.  From a budget standpoint we’ve been decreasing the amount of sponsorship revenue due to competitive concerns.

 

What is your strategy for the content during the breakouts?

 

Right now we’re really focusing on having the folks at the event to gain that content. I know being able to live stream during the conference or people to sign up for web versions is popular.  To be candid it makes me a little nervous. We are dipping our toe in the water of picking some sessions that may serve a mass audience because we understand our customer is busy for them to take time out of their schedule, we do want to serve them. Right now we really focus on at the conference is where the content is. We do send it out as PDF forms of our presentations for our customers to have available for a month after.  Also that content could get stale we don’t want it out there forever and ever.

 

Do you ever use celebrity power?

 

We have a handsome budget.  The things that are super expensive have not been in our reach.  But we figure out where we want to invest that money, maybe in a key note speaker. We try to have it with a purpose, we have a theme in our conference.  You want someone who fits with that. Obviously big names are going to be a draw, people are going to be attracted to that. We don’t want to have someone random where our attendees are saying this person is cool but I don’t understand how it fits.

 

One of the things we focus on when looking for a keynote it doesn’t have to be someone who knows our industry. People don’t like when someone pretends they get what they do we’ve had speakers do that. It come’s across in an unsettling way. We want to know where you have come from. We want someone who is a master in their area. If they do that well enough our audience can pick the pieces that matter and how it can apply to them.

 

What other things for the event planners thinking of combining conferences?

 

We do not make any money off of our conferences. Never meant to be a revenue generating event. We charge a registration fee to only cover the cost. That is one important thing we were both on the same page about. The integrity of the event, this is for customers, we want to have a quality event but this is not a revenue stream for us.  So what we are charging is just to cover the cost of food and entertainment and hopefully the rest can be covered by our sponsor revenue.

 

If you could give our audience a little bit of advice what would it be?

 

Embrace your inner organizational ninja and document and have data for things.  As much as I love the emotional side of events things can’t continue or change if you don’t have any data to support. Decisions needing to be made need data, if you are going to present it to leadership or colleagues all they are going to see is you had a nice party the party went well.  To help get some meat behind you do is to have the data behind you it will serve you well and help you to grow and see where you have grown.

 

The second piece of advice is being able to when you get to show time, let go and try to deal with things as they come.  You prepare for months or years to get to show start and when you get there you don’t have time to make a decision in that moment you can’t put it off or send an email. You need to make a decision and move forward.  

 

Meeting Minds By EideCom