As a meeting/event planner, you create experiences that have the ability to educate, inform and transform behavior. The content you provide can help people work more efficiently, stay abreast of technological advances and become more profitable. Your choice of venues, event pattern, lighting, decor, music, food & beverage, staging, speakers and transportation will affect the mood of everyone present.
The decisions you make about vendors, corporate social responsibility and sustainability initiatives can reduce your impact on the environment, improve the quality of life for people in your host city, save money and increase goodwill. The way you communicate your client or company’s message can affect brand loyalty and compliance, even reach new markets, drive attendance and grow sales.
Yes, you are incredibly powerful. But, to quote Stan Lee’s Spider-Man: “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
Do you know how to wield your power judiciously?
In Part 2 of my blog on industry challenges and solutions, I shared resources to help you become an advocate for the industry and prove the value of your work. But I didn’t talk about the dark side of your power: the ability to emotionally manipulate your audience.
Think about political staging and what it borrows from theater. Did you watch the Democratic and Republican national conventions? What did you take away from the coverage of each event?
Chances are something that happened during coverage your candidate made your heart jump and gave you hope. Just like it was designed to do. Perhaps you read something about the other side that enraged you. Tha, is also part of the master plan.
As you watch the political circus unfolding before November’s election, listen to the music played, look at the staging, take note of the candidates’ gestures and clothing, pay attention to how the media parses the sound bites and how panelists approach the angles obliquely. Pay attention to how you are being emotionally manipulated, because there’s an excellent lesson there for us, as event organizers.
True, the scripting and rehearsal at play in the political arena is brilliant. But it leaves no room for passion and honesty — the two things that make real theater great. So here’s how you can emotionally engage your attendees without manipulating them.
- Don’t just tell, show. We have a deep visceral response to things we experience. We also tend to get hung up on expectations. So you need to let people know what to expect at your event, and then show them that promise is being fulfilled by every element they’ll experience on-site: signage, accommodations, venue, dress code, content, transportation, food & beverage, collateral, networking, etc. Manipulators are full of empty promises.
- Design the experience. Steve Jobs was obsessed with user experience. He was involved in every element of Apple marketing, design and sales, from its TV ads to its packaging. He thought about how he wanted you to feel when you entered an Apple store, what he wanted you to experience when you opened an iPhone box. The little curved edge of the iPad is there to make you want to pick it up and hold it; it was designed to be inviting. In the same way, you can control how your message is communicated, how the details will flow together, how the staff is trained to treat people on-site — all of which deeply affect the entire experience. Manipulators just want you to show up and digest what they’ve prepared for you.
- Be open, honest and vulnerable. Manipulators love to cast doubt and throw blame. That’s why people who can admit mistakes and then make good are so respected and valued in the business world. Being open, honest and vulnerable also makes it easier for you to spot great ideas from random sources, collaborate with others and speak up when something is truly a terrible idea.
- Encourage new ideas and ways of doing things. Manipulators have a vested interested in creating closed circles of thought. They want to make sure you think, feel and act in the way they want. It’s hard to create an original or contrary thought if all you do is read, eat, talk, walk the party line with people who have nothing additional to offer. To avoid this, I encourage you to balance the educational palette and panels you offer by creating contrast. Include thought leaders who don’t think the way everyone else does. Rather than fill every slot with a traditional lecture, mix up the presentation styles. Think of the educational content as an intellectual buffet. Don’t let people go away hungry; make sure there’s a little something for everyone
- Leave just enough room for inspiration. Resist the urge to over-schedule. Overstimulated attendees quickly become exhausted, unable to find time to process what they’ve learned or connect with other people. This is a great tactic if you want to prevent dissension in the ranks and discourage original thought. But if you want people to connect, enjoy the event and learn, leave plenty of time for attendees to do personal, comfort tasks like use the restroom and have casual conversations about how they feel, what they’re enjoying and what they want to do next.