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Sometimes event planners can learn a lot from those that haven’t had a formal event education and training. Here are seven important things non-professional event planners can teach, or at least remind, event professionals.
Not everyone has a lifelong desire to become an event manager and work their way through the ranks or study for years. Some people simply fall into the role of an event planner or have a vision to produce an event so strong that it forces them to take action.
Kelvin Newman is one such success story. He started out with a desire to bring together people who “work in SEO” in a room above a pub. Seven years later Brighton SEO is the biggest SEO conference in Europe, it sells out tickets in 4 minutes, attracts 3,500 people from all over the world and runs twice a year.
Other accidental event planners include Michael Eavis, a dairy farmer who set out to run a music event which developed into the legendary Glastonbury Festival and Comic Con, which was started in San Diego by a bunch of enthusiasts and has become the largest show in North America, with 130,000 attendees and spin off conventions around the world..
So what can professional event planners learn from these enigmas?
A common driver of these non-conformist event planners is that they have passion and a vision. They know exactly what they want to achieve and will not compromise or deviate from their objective. They are determined to find a way to make it happen and remain true to what they picture in their “mind’s eye”. Of course, they may not know initially what this dream could develop into but the event outcomes they are aiming for at the beginning often remain the same even as the event grows, just happening on a much grander scale.
Of course professional event planners successfully deliver events and event objectives day in day out, but the subtle difference is that event planners are generally executing the vision of someone else. Be it the CEO of your company or the precise wishes of your client, event planners are more often than not making someone else’s vision become a reality, and not their own personal passion.
The authentic story behind events that have grown from a passion instantly grabs people’s imagination and makes it seem a whole lot more genuine somehow than a commercially-driven professional outfit ever could. People love a human interest and success story. Sometimes there seems to be almost a distrust of private business motivations perhaps looking to run a profitable event (shock horror!). On the other hand an individual with a dream is a great plus in terms of media coverage and possibly even in terms of sponsorship “saleability” as their intentions are (or seem) more honourable to people. There is often also a genuine humbleness from accidental event planners, maybe not always appreciating fully the enormity of what they have created and achieved.
Content and Learning
When it comes to conferences such as Brighton SEO, Kelvin lives, works and breathes search optimization. He knows intimately the new developments, trends and influencers in the industry and how to get them to his event. This is also reflected in the content and social media activity, a constant stream of relevant information and updates, which is lapped up by attendees.
Professional event planners work hard researching any event topic that is thrown at them, and hopefully also surrounding themselves with a team of people that have the specialist knowledge if they are lacking. Nevertheless, however much interest you take and however much tireless research you do event planners can sometimes still feel at a disadvantage and out of their depth in terms of detailed subject knowledge if it isn’t their specific area of expertise.
At most conferences no one wants to sit at the front. Participants hang at the back, ruining the pictures and making the poor speaker look out to a row of empty seats immediately in front of them. At Brighton SEO seats are in demand and available on a first come first served basis. As a result the seats in every room are filled and people sit on the floor or crowd down the aisles to hear the wisdom of the speaker. Likewise at Glasto and Comic Con people are pushing and clamouring to get to the front, they want the best spot they can get.
What is the secret I hear eventprofs ask? Clever programming of the conference tracks and knowing the audience helps to allocate conference rooms effectively, and sheer numbers and motivation to hear the speakers fills the seats. Perhaps the audience know that they will not be asked to “participate” in anything against their will too, which they perceive to be an ever present risk if professional event planners are involved.
Whether it is Glastonbury Festival, Comic Con or Brighton SEO, one thing they do well is bring out the party vibe. It is easy to get bogged down in corporate challenges and forget to prioritize fun and playfulness but actually this can strengthen the message, rather than diminish it. By bringing down barriers it can enhance the connections that people make and ensure the event is memorable. After parties, fringe events, and good times all add to and enhance the event experience and the fond memories created.
Sometimes event planners are held back by their rational voice. Suggestions and ideas are dismissed immediately because it wouldn’t work, it’s too risky, or (if we are being honest) we fear it would cause too much extra work. This means that sometimes we are limiting ourselves from exploring new and exciting possibilities to push the boundaries and do things differently. Training and experience is great but sometimes it can be counterproductive. Perhaps one of the reasons that festivals and events get off the ground with accidental event planners is because the brain behind them doesn’t know the reality of what they are letting themselves into and so they can’t worry about things that they don’t yet understand. For experienced eventprofs the knowledge of the financial risk or health and safety concerns alone can prevent good ideas from becoming reality.
Go Old School
In this tech driven world, mailing out event badges may seem like an outdated and expensive way of doing things, but is this actually a genius tactic we should bring back to our events? When the badges from Brighton SEO were mailed out it generated a flurry of excitement and pictures across social media, as well as a reminder that it was only a few weeks until the event for those that hadn’t organized their accommodation or travel yet. Then, on the day, those that had remembered their badge flew through the doors and into the event instead of queuing up for their event badge to be reprinted. On the downside there was no scientific way of tracking exactly how many people made it to the event, which they would have had from a tech driven solution but ease and social media metrics were more important in this example..
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
As a professional event planner it is easy to get worked up about the tiniest detail and worry if something doesn’t go perfectly to plan. It is easy to get bogged down in the execution and lose sight of what the priorities are. Half the time your attendees probably haven’t even noticed that something isn’t as you planned it anyway.
A big lesson is to stay focused on what is really important and don’t let irrelevant issues bring you down. Do you think Michael Eavis worried about how many or few would turn up for the first festivals at Worthy Farm? Instead he embraced the hippie vibe and free festival movement of the early 1970’s, and could never have dreamed how iconic Glastonbury would become.
As event professionals we know the massive effort and achievement of producing successful events and have the utmost respect for anyone that can establish and grow their event vision, particularly if they start with no previous event experience and have a massive learning curve.
Eventprofs are doing great work every day but sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the operational minutiae or ensuring every tiny detail is executed perfectly. The overarching message that I take away from “accidental” event planners is never to lose sight of the vision and the important stuff, and to look at things differently, rather than just doing things the “right way”. Experimenting, doing things differently and learning from others is what keeps us growing and developing, and for this reason professional event planners have a lot to learn from non-professional event colleagues.