What Meeting and Event Planners Can Learn from the Grateful Dead

I was fortunate to head to the Allstate Arena in Chicago last year to witness something I would never see again, a show by my favorite band of all time, the Dead (they used to be Grateful, but sadly Jerry Garcia left us a few years back).

As I was walking through the parking lot before the show, I was struck by all of the things that meeting and event professionals could learn from the band, because, if you were not aware, the Grateful Dead are probably the first of the truly “Viral Marketers” and are amazing “Event Planners”. You do not attend a concert; you become one with an experience.

The first lesson is to produce something magical, if you do, people will come back over and over. Even when they had no money and little production skills, the Grateful Dead would never perform the same concert twice. Always different, every night. This encourages fans to come back every day and want more. If you are producing the same conference, year after year, why should your attendees keep coming back, you must always be fresh.

Choose best of breed suppliers. The Dead use only the best. The best equipment, the best staff, the best stuff the budget can afford. They don’t skimp to save a few pennies. This lets them concentrate on the music and not on the concert details.

Love your attendees and show them you appreciate them. In their 40 year history, the Grateful Dead have always embraced the fans and made them feel like they are part of something that is bigger than just a concert or some music. Treat your attendees the same way and make them feel special. This does not even require a budget; this is something you must do.

Give it away and don’t care, it will only make people want more. Since the bands founding, the Grateful Dead have always encouraged concertgoers to record, reproduce and share the material with anyone and everyone (as long as you do it with an open heart and for free). This is an important thing to note in this time of copyright laws and lawyers….you should give away all of your conference materials to anyone who wants them, even those who did not attend. It is good to reinforce the message for those that were there, and it makes those who were not there wish they were. Don’t be scared, try it, you will find that you are not hurting anything, you are only encouraging people to spread the word for you. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.

Embrace technology. The Grateful Dead are a 60’s band that continues to grow and embrace new technologies. I can go on i-Tunes and grab concerts from years gone by and relive the moments over and over. In what I thought was a strategic masterpiece, I walked into the concert hall and was greeted with the option of paying $25.00 for a copy of that evening’s performance…….all I had to do was pay, watch and then head to the t-shirt stand where my 3 CD specially packaged set would be waiting for me on the way back to the car. Not bad for a bunch of hippies……You can do the same, get some equipment and have those copies of the conference ready to go when the event is over; people will pay for the convenience and think that you are a genius.

Although I could keep going, the most important thing that meeting and event professionals can learn from the Dead is simple; be the best. The Grateful Dead are the best live band on the planet. Period, there is not even a debate. They rehearse and practice and then do it again. This ties into being magical. You can have a different show every night, but if it sucks, no one is going to pay any attention and they will certainly never be back.

Have a Grateful Day!


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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