More, more and more: how the events industry got it all wrong

I am very excited to share with you this guest blog post by Julius Solaris from the Event Manager Blog ‘More, more and more: how the events industry got it all wrong’. This article has significantly influenced how I organise my events and think about the events I attend, and I can highly recommend to anyone who works in the events industry to read it because it contains important advice about why less is actually more. Going for quality over quantity will help you add more value to your delegates and organise more successful and impactful events that have a higher purpose. 

Now, every time I see an event website claiming ‘1,000+ speakers/ sessions’, it makes me cringe because it is fundamentally wrong. No attendee will have time during the several days of a conference to attend such an extensive programme, and this aim doesn’t add any value to any of the stakeholders. Offering large choice doesn’t translate to better events and Julius brings this point across very well! A must read!! 

By Julius Solaris

The event industry is simply amazing. The constant strive for excellence and the obsession to be at the top of the game makes our environment unique. The work that event professionals put in (under an incredible amount of stress) to crafting amazing experiences that wow attendees is unmatched.

Now that I’ve put on paper my admiration and love for the work you do, dear reader, let me tell you one thing I don’t like.

Because after all, EventMB was born as the blog where Julius gets to rant about things. Through the years I’ve learned that ranting for the sake of ranting is worthless. I also learned that sometimes it is great to say something, just to make things better.

I feel that attention to detail is sometimes an excuse to justify our obsession with more.

More ticket options.
More speakers.
More keynotes.
More panels.
More technology.
More social media accounts.
More food.
More drinks.
Because more is better. Right?
More Choice = More Attendee Satisfaction = Better Event

We can all agree on that. But I don’t like assumptions, so I decided to investigate.

The fact everybody offers ten tracks and 300 concurrent sessions, doesn’t mean that you are better off doing that.

Similarly, the fact that 15,000 people attend your show doesn’t automatically translate in your event being profitable. You may be losing a lot of money.

The Paradox of Choice

Are you giving your attendees too many choices? As much as that may make you feel better with your conscience, a monumental amount of research says otherwise.

‘But it works so well for us.’ Really? If you have research to prove it, I am all ears. And it may well be the case, but I want you to be super sure of it. If you have a tiny fraction of doubt, hear me out.

Sheena Iyengar and Barry Schwartz have written two very successful books on how we live in the illusion that more choice is better. I just finished reading their books, and I invite you to do the same.

The core concept is that offering more choice is not always better. Less choice leads to better satisfaction.

This concept is not the $12 New York Time Bestseller type of superficial c*&p we need to regurgitate as ‘incredible insight.’ It is supported by a substantial amount of research.

More – The Best Way to Fail Our Attendees

One of the most interesting pieces of research on the subject is a paper on goal attainment and how giving too many options means setting the scene for failure. The paper is called All Roads Lead to Rome: The Impact of Multiple Attainment Means on Motivation.

When presented with multiple ways to attain their goal, people will usually fail. An easy way to accomplish a goal offers a much more straightforward way to achieve it.

What does it mean for you? Oversimplifying things, attendees come to your event to achieve mainly three things: education, networking, entertainment.

If you offer too many options to reach these goals, you are effectively failing them.

An excellent example of the above is a favorite industry event I attended a while ago that had not one, not two, but three ‘official event apps’. To make networking easy. Right?

What about offering ten tracks to achieve your educational objective. What about breaking out break out sessions with campfires and getting all your staff to call the room up to quickly enter the starting keynote session. Because we need to keep all the speakers happy, after all, more speakers mean better events.

‘400+ sessions’ is such a recurring statement on event websites it is not even funny. As 400 is not enough, they need to put a + next to it. If your show guide resembles a phone book, you know there is something not right going on.

But What Does Good Look Like?

Everybody is escaping noise these days. I feel I am repeating myself quite a lot recently, but I am inundated with emails after I made this post and this webinar (the most successful we ever made) on how broken sponsorship is. I am gravely concerned by how many are struggling to sell sponsorship packages.

Good means simple these days. I know this will sound like a statement of a pageant competitor, but LESS is MORE. There I said it.

What can we do then?

  • Brands are running their smaller focused events. Many events are happening via invitation only on closed Facebook pages. Guess what – offline word of mouth is kicking social media’s ass.
  • Tracks based on simple goals may be better than hundreds of meaningless keywords. Simple, participation driven sessions may be better than bite-sized, self-pleasing schedule design.
  • Digital displays showing what is coming up next and giving default choices to attendees have proven to help satisfaction.

Everybody Loves a Huge Buffet

What about dozens of choices on a buffet. That can only be good right?

We’ve discussed how awful is the amount of food waste that events generate, but I decided to speak to Patti Shock, CPCE, CHT, Academic Consultant at The (amazing) International School of Hospitality (TISOH) – an industry pioneer and institution when it gets to planning events. She enlightened me with the following advice:

  • ‘Put inexpensive food on tables with 360-degree access, such as vegetable platters or cubed cheese trays. (Cheese is incredibly filling)
  • Tray pass expensive items, such as shrimp, lobster or beef Wellington. Time service so everything is not available at all times. First, tray pass the shrimp, wait 5 or 10 minutes, then tray pass the lobster and so forth.
  • There is so much plate waste with large portions. You would be amazed at how much food goes into the garbage. Food that has been plated and served or put out on a buffet cannot be donated to the homeless. Only prepared food that was not put out is accepted.

Buffet foods should be in smaller platters and bowls. Psychologically, people take larger portions out of larger containers. If you have a huge bowl of salad, when it is half empty it is not as attractive and still contains a lot of food that will be discarded, if not consumed by the guests.

If that huge salad was divided into four smaller containers, that were replaced when emptied, that half that was not consumed was not out on the table, thus can be donated to the needy.’

When it gets to food, more can be harmful.

Eagle Birds

The first time I saw eagle birds I couldn’t believe my eyes. Marketing early is a great thing, but is having 20 ticket options going to help your event?

Better getting into crowdsourcing then, because some event websites resemble kickstarter pages.

Simpler ticket options may lead to increased revenue. If you’ve ever had anything to do with an e-commerce or conversion-oriented environment, you would know that by now. Don’t get me wrong, long live up-selling and all of that, but giving simple options to your attendees helps them to quickly assess the situation and make faster decisions.

What About Technology?

What about it? How is that any different? Why more should be better? Oh, wait because our competitors have it. So let’s add a Snapchat account to our social media graveyard, it will be a perfect companion to that Twitter account nobody has updated in weeks.

OK but everybody uses event apps. We better have one!

Maybe or maybe not. Does your app help simplifying decisions for attendees or is it yet another unnecessary means to achieve a goal that is quickly disappearing in front of us?

Does the technology help to make things easier or does it complicate the experience?

(I hope you, dear reader who thinks I am tech biased, are reading this and it is roger, roger, well received).

What Your More Should Be

Events have a single objective; they change behavior. In an industry with hundreds of associations and verticals, it seems most tend to agree on that.

Is your plan to change attendees behavior laid out through simple means?

Are your marketing, content and logistic elements simple enough to let participants concentrate on actually reaching that goal instead of creating unnecessary confusion?

I believe your goal should be bigger. The more should be in the promise you make. In how revolutionary the reason to meet in person is.

Because yes, we do come together to learn, network and be entertained but maybe it is not enough anymore. Maybe, just maybe we can be bolder in how we want to change the world by making attendees meet. Maybe we can offer more meaning.

More meaning. More reason why we do things. Not just doing for the sake of doing. Not doing things this way because this is the way we’ve always done it.

In Conclusion

Can you make your event simpler? Can you achieve more by doing less? This is the challenge your friends at EventMB are giving you for your next event.

Is it going to be difficult? You bet it will. But what are you doing? Are you changing the world or are you just planning an event?

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1 Comment

  • Richard Larson 5 years ago Reply

    Great post! It seems like everything has become “more is better” so it’s nice to hear that less can be also. Making sure you have quality over quantity applies to many aspects of shows. Making things simpler and more meaningful is a great approach.

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