Archive for the ‘Conference Industry’ Category

Blueprint for Leadership: Friday 16th November

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Whether you’re a growing scale-up business or a post-sale team focused on high speed expansion – you need great new leaders to step up.

Blueprint for Leadership is a one-day introductory workshop designed by VIA to provide a help emerging leaders flourish. Key info:

You’ve probably already identified these high performing and ambitious people that you believe can help you drive your commercial event business. Without them, you can’t easily move forward – so making sure they can step up quickly is essential.

Whether your emerging leaders are in sales, production, marketing or a multi-function team – the training will offer them tools to implement, habits to adopt and the opportunity to examine how to get results through others.

The structure deliberately rebalances the time allocation of old-school leadership courses with at least 60% of the day dedicated to getting participants to apply new concepts and set up great habits on the spot. Book by November 1st and the attendee will receive a complementary hour of coaching to help cement the workshop takeaways.

 

Here’s what your next-gen leaders will learn and apply:

  • Transitioning to leadership – What does good leadership look like and how does great leadership tone and content grow a resilient business?
    • Being clear on factors that create successful leadership
    • Practical techniques for transitioning from ‘doing’ to getting results through others
    • What’s expected of the leadership role and how to position for success?
    • Balancing time and attention across product, financials, team performance and a leaders own direct workload
    • Using great questioning and KPIs to manage portfolios vs execute projects
  • Becoming a reliable driver of business performance and an expert forecaster
    • Getting under the skin of successful forecasting and financial literacy
    • Campaign assessment and support – whether experienced in commercial functions or not
    • Planning for productive conversations and interventions in sales and marketing campaigns
    • Examining the drivers of profit margins
    • Reporting on value creation
  • Setting a compelling vision that galvanises a team
    • What is the ‘right’ vision – setting a direction of travel
    • How to engage a  team in new and challenging ideas
    • Turning vision to practical results
    • Building a commitment culture
    • How Vision plays a pragmatic role both good and challenging times
  • Ultimate leadership: managing personal state and priorities
    • Maintaining a productive and effective headspace even in the most challenging situations
    • Leading former colleagues and friends
    • Practical time management frameworks that keep complex projects and year-round priorities on track

Group size is limited to 8 people, ensuring that there is time for focused discussion and the opportunity to get to know others in a similar situation – essential supports as they develop in their roles.

Book places today, or if you’d like more information contact Alex Cameron.

 

Date: Friday 16th November 9.30-4.30pm

Location: London Bridge

Price: £500 (+ VAT & Eventbrite Fees) 

Book here

 

 

Who Pays? How To Drive Growth From Different Revenue Streams & Event Models

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In collaboration with PPA Scotland, VIA is heading to Glasgow to lead a workshop for publishers and content owners. The focus is on the mechanics of different event models and specifically how to launch and drive revenue growth in each one.

Whether you have an existing portfolio of events or are considering launching to support an information or content product, attend this workshop to gain clarity on the range of commercial event models and how you can develop a high performing, lucrative portfolio.

You’ll leave the workshop armed with:

  • Information on the team structures that different revenue models demand
  • Management focus points and KPIs to keep different event models on track
  • Clarity on which revenue streams are the right ones for your business to focus on
  • Specific actions and ideal to fuel the short to medium-term growth of your events portfolio

Discussion points include:

  • Exploring the range of potential event models in the market – how do their revenue streams affect format, project management and resourcing?
  • How does each model affect launch timelines, resourcing, spend and KPIs
  • What’s the right kind of model for your brand and your goals?
  • Looking at how each revenue model can grow – what are the opportunities and hurdles to plan for?
  • Can you ever convert free delegates to paid?
  • Event disruption: how are the hottest events delivering excellent experiences and driving revenue?

If you’re interested in the workshop content, but aren’t able to make it to Glasgow – let us know.

What lies beneath some of events industry survey results?

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We wrapped up the event industry survey recently, with a write up of themes from 30+ questions answered by 42+ MDs and CEOs – what were we expecting?

As a business that focuses primarily on  scale-ups and SMEs we meet many companies that are growing fast – but even so, we were surprised to see how bullish the response was with  83% of companies reporting growth in the last year or two.

To put it another way, just 6% of respondents had seen a material decline in their business. When we looked into this further, these companies were typically scale ups still reliant on a small number of events for their results (where the line between mega growth and decline can be affected by just one or two underperformers).

Underneath this data was the sense that the industry is still grappling with the balance between structure & process vs creativity & fluid ways of working.

Pureplay event companies clearly placed a premium on the processes underpinning their businesses. 80% of them defined their processes as well documented and/or closely monitored.

And from their reports of growth, it was clear that there was real merit in this – the data showed a strong correlation between closely monitored/documented processes and growth. Of those defining processes as well documented/monitored, 60% stated that their growth was “above industry average” or “excellent – industry beating”, the remainder stated their growth was average. None of these companies reported a decline in revenue.

Of the companies that described their processes as ‘Closely Monitored’:

  • 35% said that they delivering growth of up to 115%
  • 21% said they achieved growth of 115-125%
  • 20% said they were seeing growth rates above 125%
  • None reported a decline in revenue.

Of the companies describing their processes as “Well Documented”:

  • 8% had delivered growth over 125%
  • 23% said that growth of 116-125% had been achieved
  • 46% pointed to growth of up to 115%
  • 23% said growth had remained flat
  • None reported declining revenue

So – what does this tell us?

Well, like any data set it can of course give information based on the specific question asked. The response does show that great processes, well managed, lead to sustainable growth. But what the data can’t tell us is about the flip side of that structure – whether that type of rigid process hinders or helps in the face of competitor disruption or changing market demand.

Perhaps what any business owner could take from this is that a durable structure and processes are a major factor in growth, but that you need more than this to ‘future-proof’ a portfolio. In fact,  developing a high-performing structure could mean that you’re missing out on creative and original thinking – things that could well be essential if you’re faced with a sudden disruptor or change in market sentiment.

At VIA we focus on helping companies instil great process because we know that these help create sustainable businesses. Once through the first phase of launch, teams need to marry their entrepreneurial spark to a strong culture of performance and well defined ways of working together.

But we also encourage companies of all sizes to allow space around projects to encourage innovation challenges or the reinvention of  what is ‘typical’. Growth needs good habits, but resilience requires the ability to flex, bend and bounce back with new solutions in the face of adverse situations. This is also what you’ll need to retain the very best talent.

We’ll keep sharing data points from the survey over the next few months. There will be more interesting data points that will require us all to think deeply – and your input and reaction to the survey is of real interest. So, if you’re an event-owner who’d like to see more of the raw data for benchmarking purposes, just let us know. Sign up here if you’d like to receive the full report.

Thinking of redesigning your website? Here’s the checklist all MD’s and owners need.

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We’re all tempted by the website redesign. The promise of instant rejuvenation and that ‘new website smell’. It’s appealing. Typically, businesses will stick with a website design for two years, live with it uneasily during a third year, and take the plunge at the start of the fourth.

We’ll come back to whether or not this is the best way to approach things – and discuss an alternative approach – but for now, if you’re thinking about a redesign, let’s consider some of the essentials:

 

Why are we redesigning?

Valid answers include: to make the website more accessible to a broader audience; to ensure we are accurately & persuasively communicating our company values; to provide our customers with a better (more usable / personal / persuasive) experience.

Invalid answers include: because the design is a little stale; because I never liked that blue we used; because our competitor just launched a new one. Are you sure that this website redesign is not a vanity project?

Evaluating whether or not we need to redesign our website is an important first step – and one that can be broken down conceptually as a hierarchy of user needs.

Most of us are somewhat familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs . It can be helpful to think of your website providing for the needs of your users & customers in a similar way. And to use this then as a means of assessing whether you need to redesign your website, and what you need to focus on in doing so.

If we did this, we might find our hierarchy of needs working out something like this …

 

1) Accessibility … can my website be accessed by all people on all devices, regardless of any technological or physical impairments?

This really is the most basic need of your website; there are precisely zero acceptable reasons for having an inaccessible website – one that can be accessed via screen readers, feature phones … internet enabled refrigerator’s and so on. That’s not to say every user on every device should have the same experience, just that every user on every device should be able to access your content.

 

2) Relevance … does the website address the important issue of telling your users what they want to know?

The important part here is relevance to your users. We’re not talking about what we believe they need to know – but what they want to know. Someone arriving on your site is motivated to find something out about your company – whether that’s information about an upcoming event, pricing for an off-the-shelf product, or simply your phone number. They’re motivated to find something out. Do you know what those things are, and do you provide them?

 

3) Usable … when a user is visiting our site, can they easily find the information they need in order to make a decision about your company, product or service?

Great – your website is relevant; it has the information your users need in order to move forward. But can they find it? Are the most relevant – the most sought after – pieces of information readily found on the site? What’s the navigation like, is search relevant, how easy is it to associate one piece of information with another … ? How usable is it?

 

4) Personal … are you able to cater for an individual user’s specific needs?

Having a really in depth knowledge of what your user’s needs are is a requirement here – and then being able to meet them is, for many, next level stuff. But should it be? Think about what areas of your site can be personalised (what does personalisation mean for you)? Can your site show different levels of information to different customers based on past experience? Can you upsell or cross-sell to return visitors? Yes, but only if you know who they are and what they really want.

 

5) Persuasive … how persuasive is the content of your site?

You can put all the right offers in front of all the right people, but if your site is not persuasive then it won’t convert. What does persuasive mean? Does your copy make a compelling case? Does your blog convince them that you are experts? What are the key motivators for your customers to make a purchase – and how are you persuading them that it is the right – the only – decision for them to make?

 

Where does your website fit in this hierarchy – and what capabilities does it require to progress to the next level? Those are the questions to be asking when you’re trying to figure out if you need to redesign your website or not.

 

What’s the right project for you – how should you prepare, and how can you avoid over spending?

You want to make sure the project is ‘just right’ for your business. You want to spend enough – but not too much, and you want to know, as best you can, that you’ve done that. Easier said than done … but following these 6 steps will help ensure your project starts off right, and everyone’s happy with the end result.

  1. Identify where your website is at in the hierarchy of needs. Do you need to move up a level (or two), or is your project more about expanding the offering at your existing level? Clearly defining your project up front – internally and externally, will help guide you through the process.

 

  1. Identify the stakeholders – and what they have at stake. Through your organisation, who are the people motivated by your project’s success? Different departments will have different priorities and concerns for the redesign. Before you start, make sure you have a plan for dealing with those who both support, and resist, the project. Hearing, and planning for, intra-company concerns will help you get the most out of the process. A project can get out of hand quickly if you’re having to satisfy conflicting concerns throughout it’s duration.

 

  1. Set expectations, and define the goal. What do you want the website to achieve, and how are you going to measure it’s success? A goal should be clearly defined and measurable. There’s no point going through this process and then, six months later, wondering if it’s been a success. Discuss with the agency how best to measure those goals, and how they plan to meet them.

 

  1. Set a budget and share this with the agencies you’re talking with. There is often a reluctance to do so, but in nearly all situations being open about budget is a win-win. The agencies you’re talking with don’t want to sell you a Fiat 500 if you’re in the market for a Mercedes … and there’s no point them pitching you a Mercedes if all you want is the Fiat. Hiding your budget greatly increases the chances of inappropriate proposals.

 

  1. and make sure there’s flexibility in your budget. Setting a fixed price up front often leads to one of two scenarios: the agency hoping to complete the work as quickly as possible, or you, the client, trying to eke out every last penny’s worth of that contract. Be flexible – and encourage your agency to come up with good ideas that maybe weren’t thought of up front, and you’ll get a better result for your money.

 

  1. Assign a project manager. The process will not work by committee. By all means, have a team tasked with internally managing the project – but the communication with the agency you hire should come through one point person. A good project manager will run the kick-off meeting with your agency, and schedule regular progress updates & track project success metrics.

 

That’s all good then. So, want to fire up the old RFP generator and get in touch with a whole bunch of design agencies? Sure, go ahead.

What normally happens is that a company reaches out when they’re unhappy with their current design, and have the budget to do something about it. That makes sense … but you do tend to end up with a ‘baby / bath water’ scenario where the new development agency (like a tutting plumber examining your drains) has a look around and says ‘oh, no no no … this will all have to go’. It becomes expensive. It gets draining. By the end of it, often, both parties are happy it’s done and equally happy not to have to speak with each other ever again.

The process repeats every 3 or 4 years. Significant capital investment, significant personnel resources invested in the project, some solid months of hard work … a new website, a sigh of relief, and a sense that, thank God, we don’t have to go through that all over again. Yet.

An argument could be made for hiring a development agency at a time when you’re perfectly happy with the website, when budgets are perhaps tighter and you’re not looking to spend much money.

Hire then, get someone on board looking appraisingly at your current offering, suggesting small, iterative changes that can make a cumulative, measurable impact. Over time, improve the functionality – work that site up the hierarchy of needs – understand your users more and more.

When the time comes that you have the budget, that you need to make a stronger change in your website … well, by then, you have an agency in place whom you trust, that is extremely familiar with your process and business objectives, and intimately acquainted with exactly what needs to be done to improve your site in it’s next phase.

Even better … because you’ve hired that agency when you didn’t need a big redesign, you’ve got them on board at a lower initial cost. Yes, the eventual bigger redesign will cost money, but you’ve tested and built a relationship with a designer that started from a point where the initial investment was much lower – more contained. If you really don’t get on, the barrier to firing them is much lower – and has come at a time when there’s not so much pressure on to get a new website right now dammit!

That sounds better, right?

 

David Horn is a Network Partner of VIA Consulting and Founder of Tick Tock Design. If you’re considering a revamp of your site, have a look at the projects he has worked on and get in touch to find out about other resources and support for your web project.  

Events 2022: How disruption is influencing the development of leading B2B event brands

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B2B events are already showing that our sector can think ahead, can learn to be more Customer-focussed (beyond the words of a mission statement and into reality). Think SXSW’s business content, c2, Web Summit and many more.

So what should B2B event owners  you start thinking about and preparing for? How might technology and emerging service strategies allow events to develop over the next few years?

#1: The ‘Sentient’ Event

Elements of deep learning technology will soon be embedded in the marketing, content, sales and event systems we use and choose. Feed these systems data (with client approval) about client activities in the digital community as well onsite movement/ratings/choices and you’ll be able to provide targeted customisation of experiences. You’ll also be at the forefront of improving or disrupting basic event services. For example:

Client rated that speaker in the last session highly? They’ll be guided to join her for a pop-up introduction opportunity.

Arriving at the last minute or worried about massive queues – no problem – badge or event kit will be ready as you walk in with no wait (unless they opt out of location based services)

Been messaging over the last few hours/days about specific issues with certain profiles in the community? There’s a pop up session on xyz content in an hour…

Planning a technology acquisition or upgrade – you’ll be messaged an invitation to a private meeting with someone who already knowns what stage you’re at and what you’re looking for?

Imagine… what would you provide for sponsors and delegates if you really knew rich detail on needs and behaviours? How would you improve onsite experience/enjoyment as well as monetisable opportunities?

#2: Old School vs New School Spex

Remember the days in 2017 when a sponsor’s metrics were about meetings, conversions to post-event contact and on to the expectation of a deal or two?

By 2022 big ticket sponsors will see themselves as primarily investing in your analytics mill and your ability to offer rich analysis of; and speedy/automated behavioural analysis of their client base

Big $$ are on the table for companies who can leverage digital/content/onsite/social tech to analyse behaviour down to the finest level possible. Clients will reward your ability to deliver supremely targeted introductions with prospects at the right stage in their adoption path to actively consider their product or service

By the way, if you’re not already – keep an eye on sports sponsorships and how they are evolving. They are way ahead of the curve in how they combine venue and onsite experience with digital community and fanbase insights. It’s also worth considering the other ways in which sports franchises offer more than on-the-day and on-the-product branding.

#3: Self-Curation Of The Community/Event

Whatever generation we look at, it’s clear that people are increasingly expecting to have a voice, responding-in-the-moment. Great content is needed to intrigue them to book – but innovative events will offer more opportunities for them to participate actively onsite.

Delegates will add to pre-set agenda content by creating what they want and need in the moment. Event technology will match them with connections to create on-the-spot content sessions, breakout groups, challenge hacks etc.

They’ll want the ability to share/promote their knowledge and personal brand as much as any speaker or industry VIPs

Moving forward, we need to work hard to ensure that we understand who the clients are, what they would like and need to buy and what experience is going to deliver memorable value to them. Help is available – more advanced survey companies such as qualtrics will assist with pulling out more detailed feedback to carve out a more superior product rather than just using net promoter scores to evaluate event experience?.

#4: Someone I know… (A Reimagined Customer Buying Journey)

More and more customers will find the event they need through their own network and community ties. Referrals will increase in significance and by the time your sales and marketing teams connect, their information needs to close a sale will be minimal/different. How will your team adapt?

Don’t get too attached to email – mass email is already troubled by spammers, new regulations and the general white noise of an inbox. By 2022, marketing will be about much more sophisticated analytics around incentivised affiliate marketing and WOM. Clients will act as the promoters (& detractors) of your event through increasingly complex networks – have a think about how your systems and community relationships will need to change and adapt to cope with this.

#5: Recurring Client Revenue & The Ability Of An Event Community To Deliver

Your ability to get the real ‘right people’ present & active onsite and online (aka the ‘reality’ of their engaged network) will be the key determining factor in repeat loyalty and growth. Not just about the promise of a community – but the delivery of that engagement.

  1. Eventers will be proactive in proving their community-chops by engaging in external hubs – being seen contribute, and to react to, feedback
  2. Intelligent content hubs will be widespread and automated, rather than reliant on marketers/editors to add content that they hope will engage and challenge. Tech solutions such as Placed, Localytics and Movable Ink will assist event marketers with serving up the right content at the right time and location for individual audience members
  3. Hubs will automatically seek external content of value to their clients and create partnerships in real time to make it available
  4. By engaging more widely before an event, event communities will respond and act more like stakeholders in the live events

#6: Experience & The Vendor

  • You and your team are already working with exhibitors and clients to step out from behind their laptops and talk with people. The next phase is coaching them in presentation style, use of tech and then providing the bandwidth to enable the next phase of tech interaction.
  • Fewer formal exhibiting stands, immersive experiences, VR/AR and a myriad of other technology used to engage the audience as the vendor relates to the delegate’s world
  • Personalised conversations (via badge scans) that tell vendors what individual delegates want as they walk up.

#7: Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality & Virtual Reality

It’s not about replacing the whole live event experience, but rather about improving the UX of content, of product/service info, of networking experiences.

Attendee’s interactions with vendors, the show floor and vendor solutions will see the most change (and benefit) from these technologies… improving that interaction is a boost to the event-owner too, so think about how the bandwidth and tech you provide will need to alter in order to enable it.

#8: Integrated experiences (Looking to the retail sector as a guide…)

Seamless and complimentary – even the most forward thinking events in our space are yet to truly master this combination of experience. Much like the retail sector, we eventers have work to do in integrating these two worlds whilst allowing their natural strengths to flourish:

  • Live = tailored relationship-building for everyone, the rise of concept/convergent content, self-curated discussions, small group interactions within the larger hive experience; mixed-reality tech used to deliver content; live problem solving
  • Digital = Content-on-demand tailored to the viewer; increased live streaming of non-core/non-event content for subscribers, intros based on messaging & search analytics, stakeholder partners working with with event owners, contextual & behavioural content feeds

#9: Valuation based on repeat revenue vs Valuation based on yielding the right data

Yes – most of the event sector is trying to focus on big experience and scaled concepts… but there will always be groups within our sectors for whom small events are a more valuable, high ticket item. Already there are plenty of examples of hosted buyer events, just one boutique model, delivering exceptional customer experience and loyalty. These events, along with retreats and high profile smaller events, can still make 6-7 figure sums from sponsorship and delegate sales when done right.

Perhaps the event companies of 2022 will be less obsessed by a single model, and more focused on their ability to deliver what different audiences and sponsors need and demand. This could well be driven by future valuation models which focus on what event data shows about industry dynamics and behaviour instead of how many bodies they can get in a room on a regular basis.

The value of what can be learned about an audience, data on behaviour, investments, and the ability to micro target commercial opportunities on this basis is very likely to become the core valuation model in events. Imagine that – the valuation of your event business being based on your ability to develop data sets with intrinsic value vs. a valuation based on current profit and repeatable value.

#10: Great user experiences as a countermeasure to low barriers to entry

While a lot of these points focus on technology, the reality is that the future of events (and our ability to continue to be relevant & build loyalty) lies in how we deliver experiences that have value.

I can feel the old guard of the events industry roll their eyes at this. And yes, sometimes it can feel like ‘everything old is new again’ – user experience, they might say, has always been important.

But that misses the point: What’s new is the significant easing of barriers to entry into your markets. To launch an event in years past, you needed a lot more manpower that required upfront investment. You needed to build large quantities of data, you needed to spend on marketing and websites, you needed up front investment in venues and staff with the ability to build meaningful networks. You needed sales teams skilled in building commitment and interest from people who’d only just heard of the event.

Whilst some of that is still true, consider this: It has never been easier to build a following, to find influencers and to create a community than now. One or two people in a back room could do what previously took months and a lot more spend.

Imagine how much this will have been further disrupted by 2020. You don’t even need a particularly flash-bang website – many of the newest disrupters launched with single page sites that took hours to put up and looked pretty good all the same.

Aside from the relative ease of brand building and spreading the word, its also never been easier for a competitor to copy and disrupt your event cycle – again – all they need (at least in theory) is a strong social media strategy and they can replicate and drown out the noise from your event within days or weeks.

So what really protects you is the authenticity, the relationships, the value of your onsite/community experience.

And so this little post comes full circle: It’s already time to prepare for 2020 – already time to prepare for a landscape of technology that will help us and our competition (both known and unknown) to be the disrupters, to build highly responsive, dynamic and ‘sentient’ events.

Considering Selling Your Event Business? Find Out If You’re Buyer-Ready.

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Are you building your business with a sale in mind? Find out if you’re building value in the right way.

For many people heading to sale, the language, the barrage of information and the volume of questions can make it feel like they’ve slipped into a parallel universe and yet at the same time they still have to keep their successful business on track.

If you’re considering a sale, here are a few factors that can help you get ahead of the process – making you a confident participant in what may be the biggest financial transaction of your life.

#1: Why a Buyer Wants You

If I’m buying your business, it’s because I think I can build on it and make a strong return on the sale price. I’m not buying it because you’ve ‘just had a great year’ or because ‘XYZ blue chip always attends/sponsors’. I’m buying it because I’ve seen evidence in your past financials that support the future growth plan and it all matches my own expansion strategy.

You’ll need to create an evidence-based sale narrative that demonstrates the company’s history of delivering growth along with market data that supports your future growth projections.

Sound obvious? Perhaps. But have a think about how you’re going to show this future vision to potential investors or buyers. Getting clean, accurate and compelling data together ensures you tell the right story of where your business has come from and how it will deliver future growth.

#2: Provide Evidence to Support Future Growth and Expansion

Remember, the valuation you’ll get for your business is based on what someone believes about its future and what it is worth to them.

The multiple – whether it’s 5 x EBITDA or 10 x EBITDA as with some historic pureplay deals (and there are examples of high value events selling at a much higher multiple) is based on a whole range of factors including niche, scale, consistency in performance, repeat business as well as the profit data.

Bear in mind that multiples increase when you have automatic payment models, valuable proprietary tech, and/or protected IP.

It doesn’t matter that you’ve had a great year and double the spex revenue if you’ve either had a patchy past few years or can’t show a compelling plan for how the business will grow in future: Your buyer wants to know that growth is a habit that’s built into your business’s DNA.

#3: Make It unique, or Prove It’s Dominant

There is limited value in a ‘me too’ business. Your buyer wants differentiated products, models or niche market portfolios in order to justify paying a premium multiple.

If you’re unique, how will you show that you’re managing the risk from future competition? If you’re dominant, how will you show that you’re protecting that top-dog position?

#4: Is It Repeatable, Is It Scalable, Is It Cloneable?

You need a strong story and a compelling narrative. Show the buyer your validation is bullet proof leading to strong launches. Show them that you’ve built annual events with a history of growth and they’ll be interested. Show them that you’ve cloned this platform in other sectors and you’ve got a really valuable proposition.

Get ready to demonstrate how your processes, systems, structures and resources all feed this repeatable capability.

#5: Is the Business Robust Enough to Navigate Change in Ownership?

What’s the story on management and future leadership? It’s rare that the seller stays on beyond two to three years post sale (after all, you’re probably selling your business as an exit). So your buyer will want to know about the strength of your team.

Evidence of this might include: a good level of staff retention, evidence of talented and ambitious individuals other than you who have strong relationships with the market.

Get in touch if you’d like to learn more about any of these view points and experiences.

Uncertainty & the art of getting your team back on track (Part 2)

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Part 1 looked at the role uncertainty can play in derailing teams, and how leadership is essential in hitting the re-set button.

I explored the idea of restating a mission in order to ensure that a team has a clear sense of direction; something that is exciting to move towards (instead of hiding in busy work and hoping things will turn out ok).

Having established an invigorating, compelling mission – what next?

This is where the nitty gritty of refocusing a team on specific goals and actions comes into play. Think of it as providing a short-medium term roadmap – simple, actionable steps that redirect attention from what people don’t know how to solve, to what they can do today.

 

1. Set 3 main goals to drive the restated mission forward

With the compelling purpose or mission you’ve captured people’s attention, providing a clear destination.

In the setting of 3 core goals, specific activity starts to come into play. These are measurable/realisable things that will materially contribute to the success of the mission.

These may include a turnover figure for 12 months time, or a target for average revenue per customer – perhaps a specific goal for brand awareness, engagement or product/service launches.

Let’s say your mission is “To become the go-to source of events, networking and content for global fintech entrepreneurs”, your three goals for the time period might include:

  • a target for numbers of subscribers or a revenue goal
  • launching and running an event in sub-saharan Africa
  • testing and launch of a subscription membership product

Any chunky goal that is materially significant to the completion of your mission is worth considering.

(Clue: You’ll know when you’ve hit on the right three goals when people nod and look both relieved & a little excited at what’s coming).

 

2. Panic-proof (or ambivalence-proof) your plans, establish 5 actions for each of the 3 goals

When a team has been through a time of uncertainty,  the casualties can include decision-making and good judgment. Look at a team in crisis and you’ll typically see self-limiting behaviours, clouded thinking, poor prioritisation, and a tendency to turn to ‘busy work’ rather than powerful action.

Re-clarify & propel people forward with 5 bite-sized, actionable tasks for each core goal.

You might ask the team to each agree their own actions, discussing and agreeing them as a group. Or, you may agree that its more important for the team to share a joint action plan. Whatever you decide, pick 5 actions for each goal that are specific and easy to move forward.

Let’s take one of the goal examples listed above: Launching an event for fintech entrepreneurs in sub-saharan Africa.

The five actions might include things like:

  1. Speak to x, y, z (top sponsors or speakers of a similar event) to confirm involvement
  2. 5 meetings with vendors sponsoring competitor events or similar events by x date
  3. Creation of a content marketing strategy + sourcing of a copywriter
  4. Marketing data analysis to assess data build/engagement needs within region
  5. Spend a day doing a competitor review and building 50 prime contacts

These need to be actions that a team can easily push forward. If they start becoming too broad you could end up with more fuzzy thinking.

 

3. Accountability buddies

To ensure that the new plan takes root, agree an accountability plan with the team. 

Instead of a Manager-Employee accountability structure, consider getting each team member to identify a buddy that they’ll run accountability catch ups with. I’d aim for a weekly check in which holds each person accountable for a few critical actions.

This helps the team to keep talking and collaborating around key issues. On a weekly basis, they’ll compare goals and actions, usually finding solutions to the challenges or roadblocks each person is facing.

Tip: To rebuild energy and motivation, it’s useful to  set actions that balance project essentials with activity that individuals find energising and engaging.

 

Set Pieces: A closing sporting analogy

Anyone that knows me well will recognise that using a sporting analogy is a bit off-brand. But it works, so bear with me.

Some of the best case studies in how to get individuals and teams to cope with uncertainty and unexpected challenges are the top sports teams.

From them we can steal the idea of Set Pieces (drilled to perfection, practiced so that they are as automatic as breathing). These habits help teams reclaim their focus after a change in circumstance, or a change in the balance of competition.

Its worth having a think about what underlying actions in your business are the most important Set Pieces. Areas to consider:

  • Ways of preparing for/communicating in meetings
  • Standards of accountability within the team
  • How projects phases are handed over
  • How problems with clients or in the team are resolved
  • How to debrief, reset and move on

 

Summary: 

Uncertainty can make confident people doubt themselves and it can lead to smart people making poor judgement calls. Our job as leaders of a team or business is to help refocus the group so that they can get back to performing at a high standard.

  1. Restate the mission: Is it clear and compelling enough? Will it divert their attention back to the right path?
  2. Set 3 core goals: Do they properly tackle the mission, and do the team believe they are achievable?
  3. Confirm 5 actions for each goal: Are they fool-proof & easy to implement?
  4. Agree how the group will hold itself accountable
  5. Practice and the reinforce in-house set pieces until they are second nature

As ever – comments and feedback are welcome. If you’d like an informal sounding board on this or other leadership issue, please get in touch.

Finally – thank you to Sue Cheshire, Rianne Klein Geltink and many others for challenging and supporting my own thinking around this in the last year or so.

Uncertainty & the art of getting your team back on track (Part 1)

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How teams thrive, survive or even implode during periods of uncertainty has been a conversation with a couple of quite different clients recently.

I’m fortunate that I’m working with SMEs who are definitely in the first two categories. But still, getting teams (and managers) to consistently roll with uncertainty requires good leadership and the ability to help people see past distractions. I thought it would be worth having a look at few questions that came up in these recent chats:

  • Why is is that sometimes you cope well with and uncertainty, and yet sometimes it will floor you?
  • What is the primary skillset you need within your business to ensure that people act with resilience rather than reacting negatively and derailing others?
  • What habits does your business need around dealing with uncertainty?
  • Are you aware of the impact you and your surrounding leaders have on work disruption when you feel in flux/pressured

Anyone who has been around for a few years will have had their own examples of working through uncertainty. Whether it’s the fall out from the financial downturn, the challenges faced after 9/11 or (more recently) the massive upturn in competition and disruption across the field of content and events. What worked, what got us through and how can we instil this in our teams?

Why do our teams (and us) sometimes cope well with uncertainty, and sometimes not? 

Working with a range of different clients, and also having read around this a lot, the #1 issue that comes up time and time again is resilience. Not the kind of fake-resilience where you hold fast/rigid in the face of a challenge, but an ability to flex and rebound without losing the most essential processes of a business.

Highly processed businesses can sometimes overlook this factor within their teams and people. If the process works, it becomes a rigid fact of life – its consistent and unchanging, and this can give a false sense of security to a manager.

Processes are valuable, essential even, in our industry – but are you encouraging a culture & a way of thinking within your teams that allows them to bend and flex, to regroup and reassess rather than doggedly pursue short term goals.

I’m a little obsessed with a book on resilience that I came across a few years ago by Eric Greitens, a former Navy Seal. As you can imagine, Greitens was trained to the nth degree in systems, process, habits. The book layers on to these essential habits the concepts of identity (in business terms, who we are as a group as well as individuals) and the need for clarity of mission:

“One of the reasons you are suffering right now is precisely because the purpose of your struggle is unclear. What are you working toward? What are you fighting for?”

For me, this is where the meat of managing uncertainty kicks in:

What is the bright, shiny, compelling purpose – what will invigorate you and your people when times are tricky? 

I know, I know. For a lot of people, the idea of ‘purpose’ or ‘mission’ results in a jaded eye roll. Maybe a few years ago, I’d have agreed. But I’m convinced now that I, You, all of us benefit from something that triggers motivation and energy, especially when work is hard and times are tough. Combining this purpose or mission with a habit, a way of re-grouping is an essential habit.

For some people it will be the provision of a service or product that changes their clients world. For others it will be innovation with a purpose.

The trap is to think that a company’s financial goal is a mission your team will automatically support through thick and thin. It’s not. Telling your staff that their purpose is  to “ make the boss/the investors £100m” will get you so far. To get through the rough and the smooth, the vision needs to be stronger and something they can identify with.

To give an example within my own business, I could have set a mission for a certain amount of revenue. It would have worked, after all money is a driver for me. Instead, I’ve put a lot of thought into a mission about driving high performance within client businesses by instilling resilience & rigour along with genuine enjoyment for the work.

This combination of service (to human beings) and hard results (the core of the business) really does reinvigorate me. One without the other would be less powerful

Even if you think you have a compelling purpose for your team or business – revisit it:

  • Do they buy into it? And this means can they articulate it?
  • Is it communicated across the whole team and can they be clear on how they personally contribute to it?
  • Is it compelling enough that in truly tough times, it will motivate them on to the next action?
  • Is it about being in service to something as well as money? (Talk to any successful sports team to see if they think financial goals are the sole mission of their team).

There’s going to be a second part to this (its already broken the rules of content marketing in terms of length!). In Part 2 I’ll explore how to continue the work of refocusing a team with more nitty gritty actions. Simply put, we’ll look how your “re-set meeting” with a team can take the purpose and then refocus on next step goals and then bite size actions.

Hopefully the idea of refreshing, reassessing your mission will be a good prompt. In the mean time – let me know what you think.

Alex

Leaders that prioritise adding value vs those that focus on control..

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Question: Would you say “adding value” is one of your leadership habits – or is it an afterthought?

I know we don’t like to admit this, but sometimes as a leader in a business, our approach can be more about asserting (or regaining) control rather than a consciously adding long-term value in the business, product or team.

Control feels good.. who doesn’t love swooping in to solve something? And isn’t it great to see a team jump on your latest directive?

In contrast Adding Value is more elusive and hard to measure though almost certainly delivers has more of a long-term impact.

Of course, there are times when control and intervention are necessary (in a start-up phase, or when a team is too far off course) – but the next time you’re tempted to step in and take over, have a think about this:

  • If you step in to play hero/firefighter, what does that make the role of others on the team, particularly emerging managers or other ambitious talent?
  • When you control, tell, decide, solve, take charge – what precisely are future leaders learning?
  • When you make a swift change or decision, what are you leaving in your wake
  • When you go straight to command-and-control, what factors or information might you miss or not take time to see?

Control as a management style is nearly always an illusion. After all, in the midst of that quick, decisive command-and-control, there’s little time to consider a situation from all angles. It’s possible that you’re missing hidden, more troubling issues – possible that you’re making a decision or controlling a course of action which won’t hit the intended mark.

So – suggestion for a new rule: Instead of choosing Control as your default, choose Adding Value instead:

Hit the pause button – rein in that habit of showing what you know, what you can do and how you’re in charge

Be curious. Develop this as your primary leadership skill. Rather than assuming you know what’s going on, look at wider factors like behaviour or communication and ask wider, diagnostic questions versus closed questions designed to lead to a quick fix.

Ask questions of everyone involved and not just the usual suspects – this is your chance to look around the issue or problem instead of going for a quick-solve

Often a controller will look for product, system or productivity issues. How about looking for ways in which communication, motivation or accountability within the business might be out of alignment – add value around these and you’ll see performance across the board ramp up

Look for patterns in the team and fix things at the behavioural, not only product, level

Sometimes, of course, direct intervention is essential. After all, the responsibility for end results rests with you. But team strength, ability to make great decisions and group resilience will develop more quickly through the value-add style of leadership.

Perhaps you’ve got great questions you already use? but if all else fails try asking the team some of these (which tap into the innate wisdom that you may sometimes overlook within your team):

“What would need to happen for xyz to happen?”
“What are you holding yourself accountable for”
“What is needed here?”
“What’s the next decision that needs to be made”
“If you could solve one thing within the product/campaign/or in the team, what would it be?”

Finally … The ultimate value-add for any leader lies in developing core resilience through the behaviours of their teams – behaviours and skills that can be relied on whether you’re in the room or not:

  • Conflict-resolution – is there a clear way that your team or business engages to face conflict in a balanced and clean way (rather than letting avoidance or aggression win)?
  • Curiosity – are people are truly curious about what drives or underpins a client’s interests, or a problem they themselves are facing? Genuine curiosity delivers a bigger payback than a checklist of questions or assumptions.
  • Problem-solving – some of the best training I ever has, was from a boss who required me to think of at least 3 ways to deal with any problem that I faced. It was both exasperating (initially) and then ultimately confidence-inspiring as I learned which of my instincts and decisions really had merit.

As the Founder of VIA Consulting, Alex Cameron works with commercial content businesses looking to deliver transformational growth. Alex’s particular interest is helping organisations build resilience through their systems and teams. She also coaches senior leaders and mentors up and coming talent, helping businesses grow formidable leaders in-house. Contact VIA to find out more.

Follow These 10 Tips to Ensure your Launch Event is a Guaranteed Success

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Ed Butler is the latest addition to VIA’s network of partners. His experience in content production and event creation has taken him from London, to Amsterdam and he is now based in Singapore. He works with clients to develop proof of concept and growth plans for content propositions in both digital to live environments. More of his content can be found on his LinkedIn profile.

Over my career I have launched a whole host of new B2B conferences, exhibitions, seminars and workshops with well-established media brands as well as event business start-ups across the globe.

Its fair to say that successfully launching a new B2B industry conference or exhibition is a big challenge. It’s a lot like launching a new business: there is a high chance of failure if you don’t cover all bases and put the necessary work in. That said, the formula for success I believe is a pretty simple one.

This hit list distils what I feel are the ten most important points to achieving a successful launch. It does not cover everything – that could take up a whole book. But, if you can cover off these 10 points below, you are almost guaranteed to meet with success.

1. Know What Your Market Needs, What They Spend On

Let’s assume you have carefully chosen your event theme and title (itself no easy task). The next stage is the research. Your launch event is going to require a substantial investment of time and money to get it off the ground.

As an events professional, you need to justify that expenditure by having absolute certainty your event meets a need in the market. This is going to require ongoing research: reading, phone research and liaising continually with an advisory panel. (NB: reading should be seen as gap filler, the best ideas come through phone calls and meetings with your target market. Be sure to devote time to all three).

If the event idea is your own, you are obviously determined to make a success of it. A word of warning though: don’t allow your ego to take control.

If at any stage you find yourself plugging on with an event in spite of a lukewarm reception from your target market, then you’re fighting a losing battle. Many of us have been there and its not easy to concede defeat, but much better to put the event to rest at an early stage or go back to the drawing and board and start the ideation process again.

2. Create a Narrative in your Content

This is important but often sadly overlooked in content development. Event delegates (or let’s just say people in general) like to be told stories. An event that has a beginning, middle and an end gives a feeling of wholeness and satisfaction to the delegate. There is more likelihood they will come away with a feeling they have learnt something important and useful. So what should a beginning, middle and end look like?

  • Your opening session and keynote talks should spell out the industry in a nutshell, giving clarification and some degree of inspiration. Its not enough just to get a big name for your keynote speaker. If their presentation topic is going to be tangential or advocating a certain product/methodology then it’s not a talk that belongs in the opening session. This needs to be kicked into the main body of the event.
  • The main bulk of the content is where you have the opportunity to branch out into more niche areas of the topic (developing separate tracks will support this).
  • The closing session should be a session that ideally draws together the different ideas and perspectives discussed but that also looks to the future, and ideally gives a message of hope.
  • A second reason narrative in content is good is a little more psychological, and that is that stories are a key device in mnemonics. Just as memory experts will create a story in order to help them remember the sequence of a deck of cards, your event narrative will enable delegates to store away much more information from your event. The more useful your event proves to be for your delegates, the more likely they are to recommend your event for the future.

3. Choose the Right Keynote Speaker

The ideal keynote speaker should fall into one of two categories: the industry ‘framer’ or the ‘doer’.

The framers are those who shape the industry by setting the targets, benchmarks and parameters. These will typically be your regulators and government commissioners. Their topic may be a little dry and fusty, but their presentation gives essential information to the audience. From experience, I find these talks are more appreciated in developing markets where there may be more opacity in the system, or where new regulation is imminent and people are looking for clarification.

The other kind of speaker is the ‘doer’. These are the people who have been in the industry for years, made a great name for themselves but can also offer valuable and actionable information which is going to help the delegates move in their own roles.

A second point to make here is, be wary of the futurists. Over the span of my career in events I’ve seen more and more futurists employed as keynote speakers. These are typically the people who come on the stage and spell out how great and radically different the industry could look in 20 years time. They are great at getting the audience pepped up for the conference ahead – with their exciting visions – but they also tend to be a little short on the road map details, ie precisely how we get from the now to that point in the future. It’s easy for the relative newcomer to the industry, ie you, to be beguiled and feel you’re offering a valuable addition to the event. But, bare in mind your experts in the audience have probably heard all of this before. What they are looking for is actionable content – solutions to the problems they have in hand.

A final point to make here is to be sure to get your keynote speaker presentation in early. Any content producer will know what a challenge it is to get the slides in on time – that’s never going to change. Your keynote presentation is different though. This is the presentation that is going to set the tone and the narrative for your event (see my point on creating a narrative). Be sure then to get it in at least a draft outline at the earliest possible date to help you build a relevant content narrative around this. If you’re paying your speaker – then this should be made part of the contract.

4. Carefully Manage Content Versus Sponsorship Money

‘Content is King’ was a slogan drummed into my head on my first day working in events. As a conference producer, I was more than happy to hear it. But it remains true still to this day: content should be content-led. There are a few key lessons to bare in mind here:

  • Work with your sponsors on their content. Their goal is to drive engagement, to open up opportunities for business and to show their thought leadership. Steer them away from Bus Dev and Sales speakers, encourage them to consider a different person from their business who can provide content without the pitch. A great presentation will lead to more interest, and more self-identifying leads onsite.
  • For higher-level sponsors, you can consider developing whole tracks based around a niche topic area on a fee-paying basis – so long as the track contains a balance of viewpoints and has broad market appeal.
  • These days I see more and more events steering towards the content model of having all panel sessions apart from the opening and closing keynote slots. This is a good model. It gives scope to have far more speakers on board and the opportunity to have more integrated conversations. But don’t allow panelists to show slides. You will get a lot of pressure to concede on this point from your sales team and from the speakers themselves. Don’t. Before you know it, all panelists will want to present slides, and your so called panel sessions will turn into 5 mini presentations squeezed into the space of 45-60 minutes.
  • Roundtable sessions are a great opportunity to promote conversation and networking amongst your audience. They also help provide content for niche parts of the audience. Don’t lose sight of its content value also. For certain event topics – ie the more specific event topics where delegates are more likely to have an interest in all areas of the industry – there is added value in appointing a group chairperson and scribe to take notes and then report back to the larger group at the end of the session.

5. Brand Success vs High Profit in Year 1

Many companies do make great profit margins in year one. But consider this – the latest entrants into the market spend more with a longer term view to creating brand and experience that in later years will monetize at a much larger scale. You can choose to focus on profit and still deliver a great event, but if you’re willing to stick with breaking-even, you have the opportunity to invest in experience, venue, marketing and technology that makes the event truly unmissable – and which has more industry-wide impact. This is particularly relevant if you have a build-to-sell goal and also if you’re in a competitive field of play.

6. Understand Your Audience

Within your buy side and sell side audience are multiple sub-sectors, each of which follow different media outlets, read different articles and get ‘turned on’ by different topics. Your marketing approach should address this diversity and use diverse cues to get these people on board.

But, how do you ensure you attract each of these sub-tiers to your show? The answer is building communities. As a general rule of thumb, those in the top tier are the hardest to get on board and will require the most time to attract. Those at the bottom of the pyramid should in theory freely choose to attend your event. Build a marketing strategy that reflects this. A useful tip to ensure your show is on track is the use of targets (see my next point).

7. Build Targets into Your Business Plan – for Everything!

If you are the creator of the launch event, then this is your baby. This is your chance to shine. But chances are this is also something you are going to need to fight for. You are asking for a chunk of annual budget from each of the business departments to spend on your idea. If you can show you are hitting the targets on all fronts, then you can be prepared to confidently stand your ground.

Targets need to be laid down for everything: speaker recruitment, spex growth, delegate attendance and visitor numbers. If your event is going off track on any of these areas, then you need to set aside a meeting to address this point specifically. And remember, excuses are not reasons for inaction, they are opportunities for action.

Say your headline sponsor is still undecided. That’s what you’re being told. What they are really saying is that they don’t yet see sufficient value to block out the time and budget to devote to your show. So what will make the difference? Who do they want to see, what competitor events are also vying for their time and money? If you have nailed the value proposition, then in theory this should be less of an issue during the development process.

8. Create an Effective Floorplan

Floorplans offer a lot of scope for creativity. Admittedly in year 1 your floorplan is likely to be pretty small. But the principles of an effective floor plan apply no matter what size of event you have.

  • First, and most obviously, give prime location to your key sponsors. Place them near to the entrance, near to on-floor workshop or networking zones or near to the lunch area
  • Second, offer tier pricing across your floor: the better the location, the more you can charge. As a rule 3-4 price tiers is advisable. This will help to capture all market stakeholders. Lower price tiers should be those further removed from central meeting zones and surrounding the perimeter.
  • Introduce alternative people attractions on the floor and leverage these with your customers. An example here could be introducing a mobile coffee/ice cream (or beer, for after the show) cart which can be positioned at strategic points on the floor. Your lower tier exhibitors are more likely to see the value of this and can be leveraged to pay a little more to have this parked by their stand.
  • Coordinate event floor highlights to occur at managed intervals. Your exhibitors may well want to use prize draws, industry announcements, product demonstrations and other techniques to attract visitors to their stands. Try to coordinate these to ensure a smooth flow of traffic to your floor.
  • Pack them in! Save money on floor space and give an added feeling of buzz to your floor by cramming in rather than spacing out your exhibitors.
  • Work with your sponsors to help them do business. Your sales team is primarily there to service the needs of the exhibitors. Careful when you start to get onto the rebooking stage because at that stage you start working for your business and not theirs. This should be reserved for Day 2 – unless the opportunity gifts itself earlier on.
  • 9. Deliver a Consistent Message Across the Board

This is a point which applies equally to launch events and to shows with tenure. How often do you overhear sales team members promising x number of delegates/attendees whilst your marketing or content staff are promising an altogether different number?

This needs to be addressed early on in the event process with a standardized pitch sheet which includes all the target numbers. This should to be revised on a regular basis so everyone continues to sing from same hymn sheet. Your potential clients do talk with each other, and any inconsistencies in your messaging will soon leak out and begin to poison your brand image.

Prime focus must also be given to the copy writing for your event. Ensure you offer the following points – advisably in the following order – and you shouldn’t go too far wrong:

  • Spell out why the event has been developed. What market need does it meet?
  • Define the value proposition. How will your event meet that need? In answering this you should also spell out what makes your event unique
  • Who can your audience expect to meet and hear from?
  • What will be the key takeaways from your event?

The language you use in your copy is something I have written about elsewhere and too big a topic to go into here. Suffice to say though, that it makes all the difference. Too often I have read copy that has been cut and paste without much thought from one source to another with the result that the text is confused and does not flow. Bad copy reflects a bad brand.

Your copy across all mediums – brochure copy, speaker recruitment emails, social media campaigns, blogs and articles – needs to be targeted to suit the medium and honed from the outset to deliver a strong and consistent message. Think of an election campaign: devise your slogan(s) and shout it together out from the rooftops.

A final point to make here is to refrain from the dreaded superlatives in your messaging: ‘biggest’, ‘most’ etc. They are overused – often inaccurately – and don’t necessarily excite your audience in the way you think they might. In a word, its lazy marketing. Any event – even a launch – can find some sort of superlative to describe their event, but it misses the point of what value your show offers. The biggest events – even the ones with the most buy-side attendees – are not always the best. It may be just a point of legacy that everyone attends x show every year. Focus instead on your unique value proposition and hammer this home to your market.

10. Get Excited About Your Event

This point is implicit in every other suggestion in this guide, but is worth emphasizing. The enthusiasm of your team is going to speak volumes.

For the duration of the event development, each one of your team members is a member of that industry. You are working to enhance and further the boundaries of your chosen sector, so get excited about that. Feel proud of what you can offer. This will translate into an event buzz when it comes to your messaging and your community building. Whenever you get a new speaker or sponsor on board, post it up through blogs and social media. Remind your audience why this is going to make the event even better.

Don’t forget also that as the content producers of this show, you have more knowledge at your finger tips than do many of your customers. Use your community resource to conduct polling, share articles and offer ideas of your own. It shows passion and dedication to your event cause.

Ed is focused on helping event and media businesses enhance their content and digital marketing strategies and product output. If you’d like to talk about how to improve the chances of your first launch event, or to talk through how to improve the launch processes of your existing team, get in touch.

Announcing VIA’s Annual Industry Benchmarking Survey Results. Thank you to all those who were part of a mission to develop some meaningful benchmarking across the industry.

Download The Results