The Top 3 Things People do to Ruin Events and How to fix Them

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1.   Not understanding technology

In the winter of 2014 I travelled to a large industry conference to take my certification in the special events industry. It was a harrying examination of my professional skills as an event professional. I was among a group of 14 professionals that took the exam, and only one of four that passed.

What was really amazing was the comments bouncing back and forth after the exam between us all. There were a few “oh my god that was a hard test” a few “I never expected that much difficulty” etc. But what really struck me was the fact that a lot of the people taking the exam made this comment:

“Why were there so many questions about AV?”

Considering that your typical event will have close to 60% of its budget allocated to Audio Visual, it is a subject that someone putting on events should know a lot about.

In college I had a professor that taught me everything I needed to know about technology. On our first day in lighting class, he took us all to a room called a dimmer room. This is the rather creative tittle that is given to the room where all the dimmers are kept. He pulled out an old CD80 dimmer module from the rack and asked the class: “What is this?”

Two people raised their hands. One was some guy named Brian (I think) and the other was Joe Mehevic. “Brian” went on to tell everyone that it was “a solenoid resistor connected to a DMX enabled mother board for processing signal”. Our professor rolled his eyes and pointed at Joe. Joe said this: “It’s a switch”.

Now, the reason that I can’t remember “Brian’s” name is that he went off to have a rather mediocre career pushing cases on road shows, while Joe Mehevic went on to be the lead lighting designer for the Cirque Du Soleil in Asia. What Joe had understood from the beginning was that all this technology performs a basic function. Like the dimmer is just a switch, no matter how complex it gets, it is just that. A switch. It turns lights on and off.

The trick to knowing these systems is to understand that they all perform a basic function like letting people see and hear. Talk to your production partners and when you don’t understand something down to its basic function ask them to explain it is the “What does it do” fashion. Each System whether it is lighting, sound or projection is made up of some pretty basic parts. IN the case of a lighting system there is always something that lights up (The lamp), something that records cues and information (Lighting Board and Dimmers (The switch). Once you can understand these systems in their basic form it will never matter that your AV Company is quoting a MRXS125, it will matter if that MRXZ125 is fulfilling the function that you require.

2.  Underestimating the human factor

We have all been in that meeting. The one where our boss, a key stakeholder or an organizer is bowling over everyone in the room. They are breathing down everyone’s neck about every little detail and generally driving people crazy. We call them micro managers and/or bossy and assume they are coming down on us because they think we are incapable of doing our job. What we sometimes forget to do is really listen to what that person is actually saying and that like us, they are only human. They have stress, fear and hope mixing in this unbelievable gnarly mix that perhaps makes them not want to trust what is going on around them.

A few years back we were working on a large gala dinner with a large not for profit organization. We were in the last few planning meetings with the event planner and the committee going over some of the details of the dinner. We had been told that in the previous year, before we were brought into the team, there were some issues with some of the production equipment that snow-balled the evening and left a not so favourable impression with the guests and the committee leadership. Once the CEO joined the meeting, everything ground to a halt. The CEO began to pounce on everyone insisting that they tell him every small minute detail of their progress. You could see the tension in the room. The committee members were getting tense trying to please him, the planner was getting offended because she thought the CEO was showing doubt in her abilities.

At that moment I took a deep breath and remembered that this CEO was human. He was afraid. Affraid of things going wrong on elements that he did not understand and just wanted some reassurance that everything was going to be ok.

Stop trying to control the room and start listening, often their worries will present themselves clearly. If you can address those fears concisely and with a knowledgeable approach they will trust your leadership. We began to tell the CEO that we had heard his concerns and laid out two to three things that we were doing to mitigate those risks. We took the time to listen to his stressors and address them clearly. As we were explaining our plan, shoulders began to relax, people sat up straight and the tension left the room.

Afterward the CEO got up, in the middle of the meeting to say, “Great, as long as it is taken care of” and promptly left, leaving the work to the team. Remember that putting on an event is a collaborative process and that collaboration is done by human beings that can contribute a lot if they are listened to and addressed as such.

3.  Focusing on the cost and not the value

We hear it a lot. Clients, mostly in the not for profit sector, are constantly crying poor and trying to get the cheapest solution to their event needs. The thinking seems sound from one point of view. If I spend less on a fundraising event, it will mean I have more money saved to donate to my cause.

But is that true? When we assume that value for money literally means, spend less, do we actually get the benefit we were hoping for? The math tells us something different.

Certainly you do need to look at the return on your investment. I will not say that you should go and buy your guests gold watches just for the hell of it. But, I will insist that you examine what the gold watches could possibly return.

Let’s look at a real world example.

A client is looking at spending $2,000.00 on an event activity. It is one that has been part of the event for a few years and has been immensely popular. Along comes another company that suggests a new activity that will cost the client $5,000.00. The knee jerk reaction it that the 2nd option is simply not affordable. After all it is $3,000.00 more expensive. But, if we look at the numbers in detail, we see another perspective on it.

Let’s say the $2,000.00 activity is a palm reader. The event has 1000 guests, with the event running from 6pm-10pm. Knowing that the palm reader takes 15 minutes to read one guest the maximum amount of people that will enjoy this unique experience is 16 (4 readings per hour for 4 hours).

We also assume that people are more likely to donate a larger amount to said charity if they have a unique experience. Assuming that the average per person donation for that event is $100.00, and that those with a unique experience will donate twice that amount, the math for this scenario would be:

  • 984 regular guests donate $100.00 – $98,400.00
  • 16 Unique experience guests donate $200.00 – $3,200.00
  • Total Raised – $101,600.00
  • Minus the expense of the activity ($2,000.00) – $99,600.00

A great return. But let’s run the numbers for the $5,000.00 activity. Let’s assume this is a photo activation in which people can go to a photo booth and take away a printed photo. The photo booth can run all night, only takes 5 minutes maximum to have one or more people participate. Assuming that we go with an example where 2 people take a photo together every 5 minutes over the night. That is 24 people per hour over four hours. A total of 96 people. Let’s run the math again.

  • 904 regular guests donate $100.00 – $90,400.00
  • 96 Unique experience guests donate $200.00 – $19,200.00
  • Total Raised – $109,600.00
  • Minus the expense of the activity ($5,000.00) – $104,600.00

In the second example you have raised an additional $5,000.00 then you would have if you went the cheap route.

When you are looking to create an event, you must always look at the key objective. Whether it is for a charity, a corporation or just for fun, the point is to maximize your return. Before you assume that the way to get maximum return on something is simply to spend less, run the numbers, examine the real return on what you are doing. You may be surprised at what you will find.