Let’s Dance! How to Create Win-Win Events

Creating a successful event takes a team of people of working together. It can also be a competitive and stressful environment to work in. In this article we look at how you can create events where everyone wins without compromising on quality or profitability.

Lets Dance

In the US alone 1.8 million meetings, trade shows, conventions and congresses happen every year. Each of these events brings together a huge network of people – planners, attendees, sponsors, exhibitors, venues, technology partners, caterers, entertainers, speakers and many others – who work together to make the event happen.

Meetings and events rely on great relationships and co-operation between all the people involved. However, it is also competitive environment. With millions of events to choose from, attendees have a lot of choice and each event competes with the others for their attention. Planners compete with each other for the best and juiciest opportunities. Suppliers compete with each other for contracts. Contract negotiations are a push-pull to get the best possible deal.

How do we navigate a landscape where we have to work together and yet each person is also working in their own self-interest? In this article we look at some of the research in this area and what it tells us about building great relationships.

Do Nice Guys Finish Last?

We have a tendency to think that other people are like us. People who are selfish tend to think other people are selfish. People who are generous assume other people are generous. In fact, there is a wide spectrum of personality types, from nice guys who will always cooperate to sharks who are only in it for themselves.

Being too nice, or too cooperative, can be a problem. Research suggests that men who are kind, agreeable and co-operative make less money than men who are disagreeable. The problem is that if you are too nice then you can easily be taken advantage of.

Sharks, on the other hand, want to win at all costs. This thankfully small group of people don’t just want to win, they also want you to lose. Interestingly sharks tend to be outgoing, have attractive personalities, are confident and are great negotiators. This makes them very dangerous! Sharks eat “nice guys” for breakfast.

Most of us sit somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. We are co-operative but we also keep an eye on our own self-interest. We base our relationships on reciprocity or a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” approach. We enjoy building cooperative relationships, we play well with others and at the same time we take care of our own interests. Steven Covey describes this type of thinking as “win-win or no deal”.

Bake a Bigger Pie

The “win-win or no deal” approach is highly successful and leads to a sense of deep satisfaction in our business relationships. When we play a win-win game we can let go of the idea that we are all competing for the same slice of the pie. Instead, we have the opportunity to bake a bigger pie.

So, how do we build more of these kinds of win-win relationships and what can we do to make sure that they prosper?

It Takes Two to Tango

Win-win relationships are built on reciprocal exchange between two people. It’s a kind of dance, where each person takes turns in sharing their time, attention, energy or money. Each step of the dance is a display of our commitment to the relationship. The more costly the step (the more time, energy or money we invest) the louder the signal that this relationship is important to us.

Generally we begin a relationship with small gestures. We use these small exchanges to test the water. For a planner who is considering a product or service, the first step of the dance is to visit the supplier’s website. If the supplier has a good website then you might proceed to sending them an email. You then wait to find out how quick they are to respond and whether they give me you information your are looking for.

If the first couple of steps go well you might progress to a phone call, a meeting, a lunch date, a tour, a demonstration and proposal. Each step requires a bigger investment of time and attention for both parties. Ultimately if all these exchanges go well then these small steps will lead to cementing the relationship with a formal contract.

Reciprocity Begins with You

The best way to get someone to dance is for you to take the first step. For most of us when someone gives us something we feel an obligation to reciprocate. If you can get someone to take just one step in interacting with you then you have entered into a dance.

You start with baby steps. Tweets, retweets, likes and other social media mentions are simple first steps that don’t cost a lot to provide. Posting useful content on your website is another great first step. Studies of how people use the web have shown that people are more likely to sign up for your mailing list after they have read great content, as compared to making people sign up first and then delivering the content.

Building Reciprocity with Your Attendees

Attending an event can be a big decision. A convention registration may cost upwards of $500. Factor in other costs such as travel, accommodation, food and drinks, child care and time spent away from work and the total cost can run into thousands of dollars.

The decision to register for an event is the climax of a long series of exchanges between the event organizers and the attendee. The first small steps are just as important as the big decision to register, because they begin the process.

A good starting point is posting quality content on your website, sharing on social media and sending out an email invitation. If your content is good, then the potential attendee will reciprocate by reading your content or even signing up for your mailing list. However, the attendee is still a passive participant at this point. If you really want your attendee’s attention then you need to find ways for them to more actively invest in the relationship.

If you can get your attendee actively involved with your event in any way, however small, then the chances of them registering greatly improve. A great way to do this is through social media. Find ways to create discussions and involve your audience. You could do this around a particular speaker or topic.

Very often networking and interacting with attendees and speakers doesn’t happen until after someone registers. However, if you turn this around and encourage contributions from your audience before they register you will increase their investment and sense of buy-in to the event.

The Shadow of the Future

Reciprocity thrives when we know that a relationship has a long future. Conversely, co-operation breakdowns when the “shadow of the future” is short. That’s why you can have a client who always pays on time but then defaults on their last instalment.

If you want to build effective win-win relationships you need to make sure that the shadow of the future is long. In other words, find ways to keep the dance going in the build-up to your event, during the event and even long afterwards.

Your relationship with your clients, suppliers, sponsors and exhibitors will be greatly improved if your conversation includes possibilities for the future. Yes, we want a great event this year. But what about next year? How will we continue to build? What opportunities do you see coming down the pipeline?

Include your attendees in a conversation for the future. One of the most powerful ways of doing this is by asking them for feedback, testimonials and reviews. People who write reviews are more likely to engage with your event in the future. An added bonus is that testimonials greatly increase your credibility with your future audience.

Beware of the Sharks

Most of the people you meet and do business with are “good guys”. However, from time to time you may meet a shark who is really only concerned for their own self interest.

The best way to protect yourself from sharks is to stay connected to the wider community of meeting professionals. People who do not deliver on their promises quickly gain a bad reputation.

More common that sharks are people or companies that are well-meaning but fail to deliver on their promises. A way to protect yourself from this is to pay close attention to how the other person engages in the small steps early in the dance. If someone is late for a phone call, the chances are they will be late in delivering when it matters. If there are typos in a proposal, they will probably make slip-ups and errors when it comes to the main event.

To be really a really successful co-operator it is important to make it clear that while you are committed to a mutual win, you will not tolerate broken promises. If someone doesn’t deliver on time then talk to them about that. Let them know the impact on you and the event. Don’t be a jerk about it, just make your expectations clear and find out what they are going to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Ultimately, if a relationship isn’t working out or you have reached a stalemate in a contract negotiation remember that the second element of win-win is “no deal”. In other words, a key element of a win-win partnership is that no-one loses. If you feel like you are getting a raw deal, then find an elegant way of closing the relationship.

In Conclusion

Co-operation and team work is the foundation of the meeting industry. A co-operative, win-win approach is more fun, more effective and creates abundance for everyone involved.

To apply the win-win framework to your event, focus on building up reciprocal relationships with your attendees, suppliers, exhibitors and sponsors. Start with small steps and keep the shadow of the future long. If you do this you will build a culture of co-operation and strong relationships that last.

About The Author
Cathy Key
Dr Cathy Key has been working in the event technology industry since 2002. During this time she worked side-by-side with meeting planners and built her own successful conference software platform. She is now an independent consultant and writer for Online Registration Review.
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Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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