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We’ve all felt it: the gut sinking feeling that comes from planning an event that turns out to be a flop. There is nothing more devastating for an #eventprof than to put countless hours of work and ingenuity into crafting a valuable experience for your client and their attendees, only to feel when all's said and done, as if your work wasn’t good enough.
I’ve been a part of a few unsuccessful events in my day, and I am not ashamed to admit that it took me some time to get over each one. The key to getting over getting it wrong, is to truly understand what’s going on. Below, I have outlined a few simple ways you can take your failed event and turn it into a platform for future success.
Don’t Feed Into The Failure Myth
First off, don’t let one, two, or even a few unsuccessful events make you believe that you, yourself are a failure. The fact that Michael Jordan lost more than 300 basketball games over the course of his career, in no way stopped him from going down in history as the greatest ballplayer of all time. You can still be (and probably are) an awesome event planner, even if you have a few duds under your belt. Not every event is going to be an amazing experience, and not every event should be. Some events exist to act as valuable lessons, and the events you learn the most from, are the ones that don’t go as well as you’d like. Problems and failures represent opportunities for innovation and growth. If you learn to look at your events in this way, you’re more likely to rise to the challenge next time.
Be Honest About What Happened
Remember when I said that you learn most from the events that don’t go well? Well, here’s the fine print: in order to learn whatever lesson your unsuccessful event has to teach you, you’ve got to start off with an honest assessment of what happened. Own up to others (and to yourself) about what really went on at your event. Don’t be the guy who pretends that everything went off just fine, but on the other hand, don’t overlook the elements that really shone during your event either.
One of the best ways to get a little honest clarity is to go over your event as if it had nothing to do with you. I know that sounds impossible, but take a moment and pretend that someone else was the planner, and see if you can figure out at what point(s) things began to unravel. Could you find any advice to offer?
It will be much easier to determine where you went wrong at your event if you have a crystal clear idea of what a “successful” event looks like. Is your event successful merely because you were able to put butts in seats, (spoiler alert: the answer to this question is no) or do you have another barometer by which you measure success?
And speaking of measurement, how will you physically measure the success of your event? If you’ve decided that a successful event is one where your group is totally engaged, how will you measure attendee engagement? If success for you, means a room full of happy sponsors, how are you going to tell who is happy, how happy they are, and what, exactly you did that caused their happiness? Take the time to figure out what success means for your event, and then determine how you will measure it.
Revamp The Process
The only other thing you have to do to get over your unsuccessful event is to take all the information you have gathered, and use it to inform your event process going forward. If you know what worked and what didn’t at your last event, and you have a concrete definition of success and a way to measure it, and you also know that one bad event does NOT spoil the bunch, you have all the information you need to revamp your process.
Be sure that you’ve set up an efficient filing system, so that should another event fail in the future, there is a paper trail to get you back on track. Take your team into account and ensure that everyone involved is on the same page with regard to what their job is and the goal of the event. And one thing that I use in my event planning (and, to be honest, in my day to day life) is what I like to call a Learning Experience Log.
A learning experience log is just a chronicle of difficult situations that come up, how you handled them, and what the results were. Having such a document makes it MUCH easier to see where you went wrong, and what you can do about it.
It is inevitable that at some point (or several) during your career, you will plan an event that doesn’t pan out successfully. Take care not to devalue yourself or your work because you didn’t make the mark. Be sure that you have a very clear idea of what success means to you, and a plan for how you are going to measure it. Be honest about the good and the bad, and utilize the information you collect to revamp your planning process going forward. If you can focus on the ways that take your event’s failures and turn them into future triumphs, you can get over your event in no time.