Welcome to the “What NOT to Do When Building an Online Community!” In this article, we talk about a very easy tendency for many community leaders:
Don't make your live events – no matter what they are – become worthless for your guests.
Before we start, let's be clear on one major point: even though we're going to talk about a real event here, we're not taking this opportunity to embarrass or shame anyone or any company. We acknowledge that people don't always know what to do, and that's why we present some key solutions. Doing the right thing and using the best strategies can be a challenge, especially if you don't have the experience and expertise around you to create an incredible experience.
As we talk about what NOT to do, the point of the experience here is to show you why it doesn't work. It's an effective approach to eliminate a poorly executed skill before you even start to try to do it. As you consider what happened, think about what you should do in contrast of what we're presenting to you.
Let's talk about how an event can become worthless for your guests, and how you can avoid that experience for them and for you.
I recently was invited to an in-person live event by an organization which offers “executive mastermind group” services. I had never attended an event by this organization and was very unfamiliar with them, so I had no relationship or awareness about them and what they offered. This event was hosted at a location over an hour from my home, which I was able to do with my schedule, but it meant that I had to block out a full morning to be there. They did me the favor of telling me that the event was going to be about three hours long, so I knew beforehand how much time it was scheduled to take. I was genuinely interested in what they had to offer me and others as it related to a potential mastermind group. I was a bit surprised, though, when I showed up for this event.
Arriving at the venue, I parked my car and wasn't sure where to go. There was a banner promoting the organization outside an open door to the building, but there was no indication where to go after entering the doorway. I went down a hallway on the floor I entered and determined it definitely wasn't on that floor as the lights were off and the doors to the rooms were locked. By the time I found the event room on the back end of second floor, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of the whole building's layout because I had virtually walked all of both floors. Talk about an awkward entry.
Once I arrived in the room about 10 minutes before the event, there were round tables in the room with two screen in the front. The invitation I received by email told me we were going to have a top-notch business strategy expert speaking to us, so I was anticipating a live speaker and plenty of discussion with him and also around the tables over what the speaker presented to us. I tried to pick a good seat so I could see the speaker and to meet others who were attending. The other attendees arrived just in time for the event, and the initial small talk was pretty limited. Looking back on the event, I think they knew what was coming with their late arrivals.
Once the event started and the MC shared a few announcements, he then walked over to a laptop and then he apparently “hit play” to start a video. Surprise! We were going to watch an event which happened in another city the day before. No live speaker was showing up today for us. That special speaker did all of his work somewhere else. So much for asking the speaker any questions, right?
And then the mind-numbing presentation happened. The speaker spoke about his company's services for three hours, with a 15-minute break in the middle. This wasn't a discussion, and it certainly wasn't an opportunity to experience the benefits of the hosting organization's mastermind services. No, this ended up being a three-hour presentation of an unrelated company was able to do for itself and then its clients. At the end of his presentation, the speaker made his call to action to sign up for a free consultation and then gave a website page to get more resources from his company.
After the presentation was done, the “local” MC made some more announcements and then we were dismissed. Many of the people attending the event moved quickly out the doors once the MC gave his best wishes and sent us on our way. There was a slide on the screen which promoted a similar event which was scheduled for a similar event, but there was no offer to sign up for their mastermind organization. When it was all said and done, it felt like the mastermind organization wasn't really interested in signing up new clients, but they were more than interested in pointing everyone to the speaker's company and their services.
When I drove away, I was really frustrated by the time lost and the expense to my business. None of the content was any benefit to me and all I got was the opportunity to look at the backs of a number of heads, which meant I didn't gain any meaningful conversations from them. All I could think about for about 15 minutes was how I got up early, drove a big of a distance, wasted a full morning and then I had a fairly long drive home. And I didn't get any relational value from the event, other than the opportunity to meet one executive as we were walking out to the parking lot. He appeared to be just as confused on what just happened as I was. At least I made a new friend, but that was because we both decided to make something good out of a pretty bad situation.
You might be thinking that it would have made more sense to make that in-person event as an online event. And you may be partially correct -only because of the recorded content already made it somewhat of an “online” event of sorts. Everyone could have watched it in their offices. But it's worth considering that, even though their intentions were good, the hosts failed to provide an event of memorable value to anyone there. Why? Because the host – the mastermind organization – created an event which didn't do anything to gain and grow their client base. And they may have been unintentional about this result, but they did it anyway: they prevented their guests from getting to know each other.
Maybe there was a person there who signed up for the mastermind organization's services – but I doubt it. Just the process of finding out how to get more information from that company was pretty bad – no handouts, no slides on how to get more information, no calls to action. Instead, it became an event which told the attendees, “We're hosting an event which we can say we hosted an event with an outside speaker, but we really didn't plan for the purpose or the benefits of hosting an event for you.”
Yes, these are strong words. Maybe they're a bit harsh. But what needs to be recognized is that first impressions matter. Hospitality matters. Honoring a business executive's time matters. Providing high value with beneficial resources matters. And providing a vivid, memorable and productive experience of your services really matters.
So let's talk about what could have happened. Or maybe, better stated, what should have happened.
When you host an event, plan the experience you want your guests to have. When guests show up, not only do you want plenty of signs and banners confirming they're in the right place, but also how to get to the meeting room. Have at least a couple of greeters in position to make guests feel comfortable and to be able to answer questions. If you decide to use name badges, have the pre-registered guest badges ready to go. Have at least two people at that table so that one can be handing out badges and an additional greeter available to answer questions, concerns and to create badges for those who haven't registered. If possible, have at least one greeter at the doorway of the event room – their assignment is to smile big, welcome guests, and take care of any special requests or any guests with special needs.
At an event, think about some basic items which need to be ready to go. If possible, place handouts, pens, and notepads where each chair is placed. Never assume people are going to bring their own pens and writing materials. Plus, if you brand everything on the table, your guests will have plenty of items which will remind them how to contact you and your organization. In the middle of the table, place a pitcher of water, plenty of cups and some packaged mints, along with a framed paper which tells people about your next events and your sponsors. Use a QR code on that paper which lets guests get even more information you want to share with them.
If you're going to have projectors and screens at your event, create your content from start to finish. As people come in, build a slide deck which “loops” or repeats the slides until the event starts. Your slides should greet your guests, promote the speaker(s), promote your sponsors, promote your events, recognize and give thanks for those who have helped with the event, and encourage your guests to visit with each other by asking some good conversation-starting questions. If you have some good “filler” music, go ahead and play it – but not too loud and not too distracting. If you have some live music options, using them as people are coming in is a refreshing, attention-getting option which guests will enjoy.
When your event starts, it's not a bad idea to greet everyone and then make some introductions and quick acknowledgements of key people at the event. Then allow your guests to greet each other. Put some good questions and topics together and offer them to your guests to discuss at their tables. We all know that people show up late, so if everyone is talking at their tables, the late arrivals can easily come and sit down without being a big distraction. If you want to create a contest and offer giveaways, this is also a good time to do so.
When it's time for the keynote presentation, make sure it's a live presenter. Don't play a recorded presentation. Please don't.
Be sure that the presenter's slide deck works with your technology, so test everything before the event starts. Ensure that the remote controller (the “clicker”) works well and has fresh batteries installed. Your PA system needs to be working well, and the microphones need to be working well. Make sure batteries are fresh in the microphones. And don't skip the PA system unless you have an event of less than 10 people. Any group bigger than that and you need to have amplification.
If possible, record the presentation, even if it's only the audio portion of the event. Not only can you distribute it to your guests afterwards, it gives you a potential opportunity to get their attention down the road! it also gives you credibility as an event. Plus, virtually every speaker or presenter loves having a recording of their work so they can use it, too. Lastly, make sure you have at least one person who is running your technology – and that person shouldn't be the host or the master of ceremonies.
When you finish your event, be concise and be brief when you present information. Be gracious and invite people to visit with you and each other, but don't keep people in their seats for too long. Current culture seems to allow people to rise and leave an event before the host has dismissed everyone. Knowing that someone may end up leaving before you consider the event to be over, don't allow that departure to be a major distraction and an indicator that others can do the same. There is nothing more distracting for a host or a presenter to have a lot of people walk out as they are speaking. Instead, move quickly and close out the event.
As people leave, make sure your greeters are in key places. If guests have questions, be sure to have greeters at the table. Position your presenter at a location in the room where it won't cause a traffic jam at the exit(s). If you have a big crowd and there is a line of guests who want to talk to the presenter, it's a good idea to assign one of your greeters to help the question-and-answer process by keeping the guests and the questions moving. Don't start “tear-down” and packing up the room until the vast majority of the crowd has left. If guests want to visit, allow them to do so, even if it's in the hallway. Simply don't hurry them out of the venue.
There are a lot of other strategies you can implement, but these are a good start. If you want more help, or you need someone to manage your event, let us know! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
and post your question in the topic line. We're here to help!