The Spark: Five Ways to Ask ‘What If?’ About Your Meeting

Author: Don Neal       

Don Neal

When I’m facing a tough challenge, I grab a blank sheet of paper and write down “What if?” It gives me permission to clear my mind and think differently.

Try it for yourself. What if someone from outside of your organization stepped in and was charged with designing your 2020 conference or annual meeting? Imagine they were a creative director from Apple, a writer of a hit Broadway play, or a retail executive from Ulta Beauty. What would they do differently?

Before you throw your hands up and start listing all of the constraints you currently face — like your venue, budget, volunteer leaders, lack of staff, or expertise — allow yourself this moment to ask, “What if?” and see where it takes you. When you start to imagine what might be possible, you have the opportunity to take a bold, new approach to designing your event. All of the reasons to say no melt away.

There are five key areas of your event that you can easily apply this creative exercise to right now: Purpose, Personality, Place, People, and Positioning.

1. What if your purpose was different? Starbucks’ purpose isn’t to make coffee. It’s to be the “third place” in society where people are attracted to come, stay, and (of course) spend money sipping expensive lattes. If you homed in on the purpose of your event this way, what would it be in the eyes of your audience? To help them get better at their jobs? To advance their careers? What if you redefined the purpose of your event to match your audience’s wants and needs?

2. What if your personality evolved? Southwest Airlines’ brand is lighthearted and fun, right? What would Southwest do if you hired them to adjust the personality of your event? How would they make sure to engineer joy and laughter into your event? What if you dedicated time and resources towards infusing your event with the vitality you know is required to retain attendees year after year?

3. What if your place expanded? Place doesn’t have to be confined to the inside of a convention center or ballroom. What would National Geographic do if they were in charge of your venue? When the American Institute of Architects (AIA) convened in New York City in June for its 2018 conference, the city became its event campus. The program featured educational walking tours in a variety of neighborhoods and general sessions at Radio City Music Hall, turning the single-focused location idea (i.e., everything in the convention center) on its head. Place became an entire city. What if your event sprawled outside of the venue itself in ways that align with your audience’s interests? What would that look like?

4. What if new people came? Suppose Amazon was in charge of the audience for your next event. Do you think they’d have a one-size-fits-all strategy? Of course not. Amazon would customize the experience based on the last five events each member of your audience attended, and they would make recommendations based on their behavior. What if you started collecting and analyzing data on your attendees? What would you discover about their motivations and spending habits?

5. What if your positioning changed? We all know that Volvo’s brand rests on the word “safe” — it’s their word. How are you positioned in the minds of your audience? What’s their word for your event? What would you like it to be? What if the word that came to mind was “inspiring,” or “meaningful,” or simply the “best”?

When you start to think differently about these 5 Ps, you’ll be surprised how many new possibilities come to you. From where I sit, the Law of Attraction — the ability to attract in our lives whatever we are focusing on — is real. What will you attract by asking “What if?”

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