What NOT to do when organizing / attending a Business Event!

I recently attended a business event by a leading multinational IT company.

Well, I confess, I attend quite a few such events, mostly on invitation by vendors, suppliers who want to keep the channel i.e. ‘Business Partners’ (BPs) like us well informed. But I don’t attend as many as I would really like to, as my job does not allow me such luxury. I am too busy selling…which I love anyways.

It’s suffice to say I attend enough to ensure anonymity of the said company, who’s event I shall discuss as the epitome of poor execution in event management.

Most events are product updates, new product launches, sales training sessions which help me keep my ICT knowledge current. Which in turn helps my clients, as I am abreast of technical innovations, new products, current products’ road maps  and ICT trends shaping our world. Surprisingly, these highly useful to let clients know with confidence, which much hyped product they just heard about, “WILL NOT” make it to NZ market any time soon…ha! 

Coming back to that particular product announcement event, I noticed so many things that were grossly mismanaged that I felt the urge to write down some thoughts on what NOT to do when you are in charge of organizing a business event.

1. Don’t invite all and sundry employees who together account for more than actual business partners and customers.

This event had more company employees in attendance, sitting at most tables, enjoying the wonderful feed, and chatting amongst each other, than business partners like me, or end customers. Actually there were no end users as this was a BP event.

I don’t get it. Internal Comms would have been used to arm employees with new product details so they can answer questions from their clients adequately. Why would you then invest again in travel, food and seating space for the same employees to be at the event. Surely, your relevant product manager, marketing person, and 3-4 key personnel can host the 30 – 40 odd attendees?

Would not that money and/or space be better utilised by inviting more clients and business partners who sell to your clients? Or better still save on venue etc. by keeping it small and personal if you knew not many were going to attend. May be just my personal opinion, but I’d much rather have direct access and time with Product Managers and Marketing peeps, to know the real or “glossy” story than be supposedly impressed by the huge turnout. (In this case, mostly employees…which defeats that purpose as well)

2. Know your audience (Regarding Marketing/Printed Materials)

Most of us (well, besides their own staff) were business partners, this was a BP event! It was advertised as such very clearly. But the contact / feedback form had all end user questions. Let me try re-framing the questions to protect the identity of the said organization, because this is not a personal attack, don’t want it to be one, and it’s more to learn from their mistakes.

Questions went something like – How many staff have you got? What’s your budget (range) for cloud implementation in next 6 months? Do you have ABC product in your IT environment at the moment? Would you like us to contact you for more info on this product? Your preferred BP?! Seriously? I put my own company’s name in there of course..

Okay, may be it was the wrong form, may be they were skimping on printing by re-using the end user forms. And believe me, BPs don’t mind most times, as these forms get used for some lucky draw at the end or may be used for attendance confirmation etc. But at no point, was there a realization, acknowledgement or apology for using end user forms for BPs. 

And in doing so what ever data collection was intended, ended up totally ruined, as most people didn’t fill anything except name and email / contact details…

3. Know your audience (For Speakers!!!)

Wow, wrong form was a certain level of lack of thought by organisers, but I could not believe till the very end, that none of the speakers even knew the audience. They kept asking questions which could only be answered by IT managers of end users, or, our clients! Of course, no one answered, and the speaker kept waiting for answers. One speaker even mentioned, that he was surprised none of us had actually budgeted for some sort of cloud infrastructure for the next 6 months, given that worldwide 70% or more CIO’s polled said that one or more cloud-related projects were well underway.

Again, serously? What did he expect? BPs to put their hands up role-playing on behalf of their clients to humour the speaker? And you would think, one of the multitude of staff present there would let the poor speaker, or the next ‘poor’ speaker know that these were BPs not end users, so he could then cater accordingly? But no, none of them bothered, they kept chatting, winking at each other and eating the sumptuous breakfast their company had so generously provided to them. If that makes your Head of APAC division look like a fool, so be it! 

4. Know who is attending from your own staff (or at least the disgruntled ones, especially the disgruntled ones!)

If point 3 made me uncomfortable, this one made me disgusted! The 2 employees sitting with us, as well as some others at the back of the room were shockingly open about their dislike of their own company or may be just the head honcho speaking there. They were making internal jokes, chatting in whispers, which was all too noticeable, and generally appearing disrespectful of the speaker as well as fellow attendees around them. And mind you, they were not some fresh faced, uni grads who could not control the urge to crack jokes, but these guys were industry seniors well in their 40’s and 50’s. Now this is more a reflection on the individuals than the company, as it’s just plain unprofessional, not to mention crude and crass, to undermine your current company at a public / external event. No amount of mis-management or hurt justifies attending a customer facing event for your company, and acting like spoilt brats out to embarrass their parents! If you do not agree with the management, or are unhappy, follow due procedures, alert relevant higher management or leave, and if attending an event out of compulsion, sit in a corner and shut up! And advice for the organization with such employees, if you know who they are, obvious, keep them away from your clients. In general, it’s wise to only have the most dedicated and presentable, or as I like to call it, “confident & converted” staff as hosts for such events, so they all have only good things to say and leave a positive impression with clients.

Well, just to end on a positive note, the breakfast and ambience was top notch, and the solution that was announced is going to be a game changer! They were missing a crucial piece of their solution jig-saw and this promises to fit in to complete the picture! Thanks to a NDA I signed, I can’t disclose anything more…