Conference Planners – Are You Afraid of What Attendees Think

Did your event suck? Maybe and I bet you are afraid to find out. I always am.

Where we might be different is that although I am afraid to find out, I work through the fear. I may be afraid to ask, but I ask. Once I ask, I may be afraid to know the answer, but I will listen to the answer. I can then work harder or smarter so that they next time, I don’t have to be afraid. I don’t have to suck.

Growing up, I was always the kid that would walk up to the spooky house and knock on the door, I would walk into the woods alone and I would climb ever higher in the tree. I would push myself to work past my fears to discover new things. I may have been afraid of the unknown, but walking into the unknown is what leads you to greater heights.

This is probably the trait that pushes me to be the first on the zip-line, the first to throw on the snorkel or the first to climb into a bi-plane. Rational fears can, and should, be overcome. Fear, should of course, be balanced with a sense caution…. I try not to be an idiot….usually.

Where did this all come from, why this subject? Well, let me tell you. Today, I signed up to participate in Fast Company Magazine’s Influence Project. They are looking for the most influential online person. I am going to find out how influential I am. You are rated by how many people click the link, see, I wasn’t afraid to ask. (FYI, the influence project is over so I removed the links!).

Now, back to business. I have no illusions that I am the web’s most influential person. I am not. I hope that I at least influence a few people to have a better event, try a little harder or look at things a little differently than they did before. What I am afraid of is that I have zero influence, that I don’t matter… but I will find out, and if the answer is zero, then I know what I have to work on.

This leads me to one of the biggest fears that meeting and event stakeholders have.

The fear of what attendees think.

We are afraid of asking what attendees thought of an event that just passed and we are afraid of what they will think if we try something new. Event stakeholders irrationally think that it will reflect on us as individuals, that it will make us lesser people if the event does not turn out the way we imagine, it will make us uncomfortable to be “us”. This is a very hard fear to overcome but we must face this fear and kick it to the curb because it can destroy the very thing that we love… a successful event.

How do you overcome this fear? Straight on, just do it……

Sorry, if you were looking for some profound way to beat back the demons, you won’t find it here. I am not that angel. I am telling you that you just have to steady the hands and start the climb. Place the first hand on the rock and then the next and then the next. It may not get easier, but it will become familiar.

At the conclusion of your next event, throw caution to the wind and fire up the online surveys, hand out the questionnaires and conduct in-person interviews. Discover what the attendees liked and learn from what they didn’t. Listen to what the tribe is telling you, what they think and more importantly, how they feel. Learning the truth can make you, and your next event, better, but only if you take the time to listen and learn.

Planning an event in the future? Step onto the high wire and challenge your attendees with new formats, new tools and new technology. Try integrating twitter into the general session, build an app or crowd source your topics. Get rid of the chairs, get rid of the PowerPoint or get rid of the buffet in favor of a build your own sandwich station. Just be different, be the future and be a leader.

Attendees follow leaders.

What makes a leader a leader? Many things, but you do share something in common with them. You share fear. Leaders are afraid to fail, they are afraid of the unknown and they are afraid of what people think. They are leaders because they overcome these fears for fear of something worse; stagnation.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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