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Why Event Planners Need Problems More than Solutions

By Cathy Key

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Event professionals are problem-solvers at heart. However, when it comes to event creation and marketing, we tend to talk a lot more about solutions than we do about problems. In this article, we explore how event planners need problems, why they are a lot more interesting than solutions and how you can use them to attract a larger audience.

I live in a rural area where I can drive for many miles without seeing another vehicle. There I am cruising along, listening to the radio and thinking about what I’m going to buy for dinner. I’m checked-out. Suddenly, a deer bounds out of the bushes, right in front of my car. I slam on the brakes and grind to a halt in front of the frightened animal. I am alert, my heart rate is elevated and my palms are sweaty.

Event Planners Need Problems

Problems, like a deer leaping into the road, wake up the brain. They elevate the heart rate and have us poised for action. Solutions, by contrast, are soothing. They calm the nervous system, lower the heart rate and allow the mind to relax.

For the human brain, problems are interesting and solutions are boring. As event planners, problems are more effective than solutions for designing compelling events and great marketing strategies. However, you have to make sure you focus on the right problems.


Solving the Wrong Problems

Event planners spend all day long finding solutions to problems. Event planners need problems. The kind of problems event planners solve are how to balance quality and budget, how to keep the speakers from waffling on too long or how to get attendees to download the event app. These are all valid event-management problems but they are not the kinds of problems we are interested in here. These are event-centric problems.

The kinds of problems we are interested in are attendee-centric problems. What are the problems, challenges and issues that your attendees are dealing with and how can you solve them?

People want to go to events that solve their problems. For example, academic conferences solve the problem faced by every professor of getting their work known and published.

When someone is considering spending time and money to come to your event they are scanning for ‘What’s in it for me?’. If you can answer this question authentically you have the recipe for a highly successful event.

Meet People, Learn Stuff, Have Fun

There are three main reasons why people come to events: for education and training, to network and/or to have a good time. Most events offer all or a combination of these three elements, and hence “Meet people, learn stuff, have fun” is a common mantra for planning and event marketing. However, this message will never have your event stand out from the crowd.

“Meet people, learn stuff, have fun” is solution based marketing and is not exciting enough to grab our attention. It’s so vanilla that our minds just skim over the words. There is nothing unique about it and it doesn’t tell the reader anything about why they should come your event.

To really connect with your audience you need to dig deeper into the question of why people will attend your event. Why you? What is unique and special about your event? Why does that matter to your audience?

Your event is a one-of-a-kind and you (and your team) are world experts. What you offer goes way beyond simply meeting people, learning stuff and having a good time. There is a deeper meaning and intention to what you do and the way to discover and communicate that is through solving people’s problems.

Ask the Audience

How do you know what kinds of problems your attendees are dealing with? The best way to find out is to ask the audience. However, this requires you really knowing who your audience is.

Who is your event designed to serve? If you have hosted the event before, look at who keeps coming back year after year. If you don’t have that information available you may need to make some educated guesses. The more specific your answers, the better. For example, intensive care nurses will give you better results than the broader category of nurses.

Now that you have a specific audience, you can zoom in on their problems. What are the problems that this specific group of people are dealing with right now? The best way to find out is to ask them. You can do this directly using surveys and asking questions on social media, or you can do it indirectly by listening to conversations that are happening in the real world and online.

With the rise of social media it’s never been easier to tap into your audience’s problems. What’s important is to find out not just what their problems are, but how they affects their lives. Problems directly impact people’s health, relationships, finances and emotional well-being. Understanding problems and their impact will allow you to empathize with and speak to the issues that are really affecting your attendees.

Designing Around Problems

Once you are clear on the problem you solve for your audience, you can design your event and marketing around that problem. At this point, the program design will become simple. You can create a line-up of speakers, activities, technology and partners who have solutions to the problem.

Let’s say you are designing a conference for restaurant owners and you discover that their biggest problem is staff turnover. You could design your whole conference around this one topic.

When it comes to marketing your event, the pull is to talk about solutions and benefits. However, it’s far more powerful to talk about problems.

In our restaurant owner example, a good solutions based headline for the event would be “Discover the secrets of improving staff turnover”. This headline is already much better than “learn stuff, meet people, have fun”. It’s intriguing and speaks to the concerns of the audience. However, it doesn’t get the heart racing.

A problem-based headline might read “Find out why your staff will leave you and how to stop them.” This headline packs more punch because it emphasizes the problem. Like the deer jumping into the road, “your staff will leave you” puts the brain on alert and ready to take action to find a solution which is exactly what your event provides.

Problem-based planning and marketing doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, when you get to the nub of the problem it’s straightforward and allows you to speak in a way that your attendees will clearly understand.

In Conclusion

Problem-based planning and marketing is effective because it addresses the real concerns of your audience, captures attention and it’s authentic. You can only engage in problem-based event design when you really know and understand your audience. You can’t fake it and that’s what makes it so powerful. Your attendees are being impacted every day by problems. Make it your business to find out what they are and you will create fulfilling events that your attendees will never forget. Event planners need problems and let's face it, wouldn't life be boring without them?

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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