Planning an Event that Changes Minds

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Creating a powerful event is about more than just having everything go right – it’s about entertainment and something to engage the hearts and minds of those people you are targeting. Often this point is lost after the planning process becomes so robust and so detailed that any imagination or lateral thinking becomes almost impossible as bureaucracy takes over.

This is not a new problem, and event managers will attest to the fact that their creativity becomes stifled when too many people become involved, but the answer is less clear – how do you create a planning process that is detailed and has deadlines in place, and also allows for lateral thinking and imagination when required? After all, the best ideas often don’t come about until the most inconvenient possible time – as anyone who has ever had a great idea in the shower will attest to.
Good event management should also involve adaptability. If someone has an idea that could revolutionise the event, or to create more engagement through changing an element of the plan, surely it is a good idea to make whatever changes are required in order to improve the outcome – but this often isn’t the attitude taken by organisations who passionately defend the status quo, or a plan that was only agreed-upon a few months later, as if it were the founding documents of the organisation.
This defensiveness is not limited to any particular organisation and is a psychological phenomenon common in all humans. This is something online marketers and the creators of infomercials have known and relied upon for years; that one decision precedes another and encouraging humans to make a decision will also psychologically force them to defend it until something occurs which makes that impossible. Like any other form of psychology, this is not an exact science because the human brain is still a mystery, but the theory holds true in a vast majority of cases.
Here is the scenario – a committee within a business sits down to discuss the parameters of an event plan. Present are senior executives, the event planning team and anyone else with a stake in ensuring the event goes well. There will be people in the room who disagree with what a “good,” event is but that’s the point of the committee coming together – to put in place expectations and boundaries within which the event management team can work.
Goals are set and the event management team does the right thing and explains what is possible and impossible, and by the end of the meeting a draft document is compiled which will be finalised and sent through to everyone later that week with a clear plan, including a project management schedule and a list of what everyone is responsible for. It’s at this point that everyone who was involved in the decision-making process now has a psychological responsibility to defend that process, and in doing so defend the plan as their own. Of course, there will be exceptions to this – people who were overruled in the meeting or those who simply like picking a fight for the fun of it, but a majority of the committee will defend the decisions made, and how things should work. After all, they were responsible for its creation.
A few months later, with the event on schedule and the event management team in full swing dealing with contractors, suppliers and internal stakeholders, a new idea gets put forward. A new member to the events team points out a way to make a substantial improvement to the event and to offer attendees a unique and memorable experience, beyond what was already planned. Excited, senior event managers go to the original committee, suggesting that changes be made to the project management schedule and the event be slightly restructured. The major points will still remain the same, but the event management team want to make a few minor tweaks and build in some allowances for the changes that need to be made.
The committee votes down the idea. Counterintuitively, they are essentially making the event less than brilliant, and as a result are limiting its effectiveness. The event will remain the same as it was, which was good, but it could have been great thanks to a unique idea and an opportunity that may not come up again.
The members of the committee are doing what they must to defend the original plan, something they agreed to and fought for. They don’t see it as an improvement, but a change to their strategy, which to them is more important than improving the event. Not because they are narrow minded or don’t want the event to go well – on the contrary, they see change as something that can damage the event and take away from what has already been created.
So how is this overcome? Firstly, avoid the temptation to create the committee in the first place – rather, empower the event management team to make whatever decisions are necessary to achieve specific outcomes. Senior event management staff should be empowered to make decisions without needing to report back to the committee or senior management, at least up to a certain financial amount. Having senior executives in event management is like asking your mechanic to rewire your house – they are capable, but that is not their unique skill set.
Next, if a committee has already been formed, then when approaching them to make changes, explain why the opportunity is unique, and that nobody could have foreseen how this improvement would have come about. Explain to them in other words, that they made great decisions to begin with but now it’s a chance for them to make another great decision on top of that. Don’t let them think that you are changing the plan, it’s simply an improvement to make the event better and this is their chance to get involved with.
Through giving people the opportunity to make another decision for themselves to defend, rather than questioning the original decision, you can put everyone in a position to win, especially attendees at the event.

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