Home' micenet eMag : micenet AUSTRALIA October November 2014 Contents Noone in the events industry ever sets out to produce a
mediocre event. In fact, those of us who work in events
often put ourselves under extraordinary pressure to make
our delegates’ experiences inspiring, surprising and memorable.
However, in an effort to do the extraordinary, the innovative, the
“never been seen before” we often fall into the trap of
overcomplicating an event and falling short of the goals and results
we’d like to achieve.
So where might things go wrong?
One of the issues we run into in the events industry, and indeed
any industry that involves human beings, is that we increase our
chances of encountering failure by not accounting for failure in our
planning. In other words, we have a tendency to err towards best
case scenarios and often adopt hope as a strategy.
Which is not to say that we should be openly pessimistic in our
planning, merely realistic and adequately prepared.
At a travel conference we were invited to speak at in Thailand a
few years ago, we struck up a conversation with one of the other
speakers. It was the first time Qantas had allowed QF32 pilot
Richard De Crespigny to tell his incredible story of how he safely
landed the largest passenger jet in the fleet despite having a
massive hole in the wing (which is broadly agreed by those in the
air travel industry as quite a bad thing to happen).
What was remarkable about his story, in addition to the critical
leadership he displayed, was just how failsafe the engineering of the
Airbus aircraft actually is. When Richard explained to us just how
many systems had failed (so many in fact that he broke with
protocol and switched to counting how many were still working), we
were left wondering how the plane managed to stay in the air at all.
Now some might call this over-engineering (although we doubt
any of the passengers on QF32 would share this view), and yet,
this is rarely how we design our systems and processes in
business, or indeed at our events.
In fact, most of us tend to cut our margins for error so tightly that
we run the risk of allowing small errors to lead to catastrophic failure.
But does this mean we should dumb down our events and be
so prescriptive with delegates’ behaviour that we end up looking
like a modern children’s playground with no sharp edges and
impact absorbing crash mats on the floor? Not entirely.
What we would argue is that we should in fact, think Selfish,
Scared & Stupid.
These three human drives are in fact the reason we have
survived and thrived as a species. A capacity to look out for
number one, to mitigate risk and a preference for things that are
simple and easy is in fact a recipe for enthusiasm, effectiveness
So what might a Selfish, Scared & Stupid
event look like?
For starters, thinking Selfish, Scared & Stupid doesn’t mean acting
Selfish, Scared & Stupid. In fact, it requires just the opposite.
Thinking Selfish means to come from a position of “What’s in it
A friend of ours runs an annual conference targeting business
people and corporates with a view to raising money for a very
worthy cause. In previous years, they have dialled up the amazing
work the charity does and the important contribution they make to
the community. The ticket sales however, have been frustratingly
In a complete departure from this strategy, in recent years they
have begun promoting the business content provided, content not
usually available in a single business conference and leaving the
charitable contribution to be the sweetener, the special sauce if
you like. The results have been extraordinary. From hard won,
often disappointing sales, they are now having to move to larger
venues and to cap ticket sales.
The truth is, whilst business people do care about charity, the
fact that they’re business people probably means they’re more
interested in business. By framing the conference offering in terms
of “What’s in it for the delegates”, they have in fact raised
significantly more money for the charity and achieved a win-win.
Likewise, Thinking Scared does not mean to frighten attendees
into obedience at your event nor does it mean to filter the world
through the eyes of a coward. It simply means that we increase
our chances of uptake of a new idea or format if we mitigate the
risk - even if that risk is only perceived.
We both work as professional speakers which means we are
constantly talking to empty front rows - even when we speak at
teaching conferences (teaches should really know better after
years of demanding we sit at the front of the room). But this
behaviour is driven by a very natural fear of being exposed -
physically and psychologically.
So in trying to solve this problem, we might consider creating an
environment that either reduces the risk of sitting at the front (such
as incentivising early arrivals to fill from the front using a reward or
impeding access to the rear of the room) or increases the risk of
seating at the back - such as encouraging the MC to open each
session with a Q&A at the rear of the room (they’ll never want to sit
Lastly, we also need to Think Stupid (not as oxymoronic as it
sounds). This simply means to remember to make things easy,
make things simple and to make undesired behaviour difficult.
Let’s say for instance you want to increase the green
sustainability of your next event and up the incidence of recycling.
While working on a CSR innovation project for Coca-Cola, we
uncovered some interesting behavioural research. We learned that
placing a recycling station at the ends of a mall had almost zero
impact when it came to increasing the amount of recycling
shoppers engaged in. However, when we moved the recycling
stations to the middle of the mall, in clear eyeshot and easy reach
of shoppers, recycling went up exponentially.
In other words, by making the preferred behaviour simple, easy
and hard to avoid, people’s engagement levels increased well
beyond any well meaning persuasion or cajoling.
So what does this all mean for your event? Simply that making
and accounting for human nature in your planning and strategy will
likely lead to greater attendance, higher engagement and a decrease
in the behavioural issues that every event naturally experiences.
What this really boils down to is that the less we expect
perfection, and the more we prepare for the opposite, the closer
to perfection we actually get. m
Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanagan are internationally-renowned experts in
human behaviour and creativity and authors of Selfish, Scared & Stupid, a
book about performance, engagement and influence. Published by WILEY,
Selfish, Scared & Stupid is available from October 2014 in paperback RRP
$25.95 from www.selfishscaredandstupid.com.
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