16 Mar 2009
Mind Your Own Business Podcast listener Linda Imm is planning on starting an events
business and has asked for some advice. As ever, Guy Kingston and John Richards
Why are some events better attended than others? Is it cost? Can they be too cheap
as well as too expensive?
What about free food, interesting speakers, free gifts? Or is it all about the other
Also in this podcast Muna Adhamy challenges us on our
Podcast #96 – Sales Staff about the proper motivation for excellent sales
people. Guy Kingston responds with a case study of a dysfunctional, but widespread,
And, an old friend of the show, Yan "Kern" Gagné asks for some investment guidance.
It’s My Party – And I’ll Cry If I Want To
Is there anything more embarrassing than turning up at a party and finding that
you are the only one there?
Yes, there is – hosting a party and finding that you are the only one there.
Either way, there are few things more excruciating than being one of a handful of
people in a huge, empty room, bunched together around a generous buffet that is
destined to go to waste, all making pointless conversation until they feel they
can leave with a degree of decency.
This sort of experience is almost inevitable in any of business that depends on
An event has a group psychology of its own that is every bit as complex as that
of any organisation or culture or even a civilisation.
No one knows how it works, and one wishes one could predict it, but an expensive,
well-advertised, beautifully-catered function might be a miserable failure, while
the crowd who should have been there instead converges on some squalid venue, with
little in the way of amenities, where everyone has a great time.
Accept it. This sort of thing is going to happen to anyone brave enough to try to
make a business out of “events”. There will be failures and any run of successes
will be limited, because the fashion that made them a success will change.
Events are a classic buyer’s market. No one is obliged to go. Moreover, there is
excessive supply. Any local newspaper will offer a bewildering range of activities,
much of it free or subsidised, every weekend. If that is not enough, there are always
leaflets and mailings coming through the door, and posters on display, all with
one thing in common: they need a crowd more than the crowd needs them.
The same is true of business events. It might be more than possible for someone
who had nothing better to do to spend the whole working week just going from one
to the next. Indeed, it might be interesting to see if someone could live off free
buffets by simply pretending to be a businessman!
Time is the most valuable commodity people have. It is particularly at a premium
in the 21st Century. No one has a right to expect a crowd of people to turn up to
If there is a key to getting a crowd, it is this: people will turn up to an event
to which they believe everyone else is turning up.
The event organiser should trade on the paranoia most human beings feel at the idea
of being the ones left out of something.
Spectacle helps. However, spectacle is usually expensive, and progressively so:
spectacle is not spectacular unless it exceeds what has been seen before. The Roman
gladiatorial games developed from three pairs in the first recorded display,
to dozens, to hundreds, to thousands in veritable pitched battles.
Yet spectacle alone, however expensive, is no guarantee of success. The Opening of the Olympic Games in China was money well spent.
The Opening of the Millennium Dome in London was a small fortune
down the drain.
Perhaps the best competitive advantage anyone organising an event can have is to
tap into the fact that people of all ages, cultures, and creeds have a paradoxically
constant desire for something “different”.
Even the Bible mentions this: Saint Luke describes how the people of First Century
Athens “spent their time in
nothing except telling or hearing something new”.
Two thousand years later, much the same can be said about most of the people of
the contemporary West, especially in the big cities. Although such people today
like to think of themselves as modern, the irony is that there is nothing as old
as obsession with the new.
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