One major underlying concern that I hear over and over again from the leaders of organizations is this: Are we ready for the resurgence of our events business and the changes that will be required?
What they are saying is, is my team — and more specifically, the leader of my organization’s event portfolio — in the best possible position to leverage the opportunity before us to harness the demand from our new in-person and digital event future? The five qualities I hear them saying they are looking for may be considered soft skills, but they are absolutely essential to successfully navigate the hard realities of post-pandemic events.
1. Ambition, vision and confidence. There is no substitute for a burning desire to achieve something great, something big, something transformative. The word “ambition” gets a bad rap. If it’s directed towards the right vision and if powered by the right motivation, ambition is a beautiful thing. Ambition is contagious, it’s magnetic, and it instills confidence in those around you when you demonstrate that you can see where we should be headed. Leaders want to lead, share the vision, and let their team see themselves as part of a bright future. This quality is what sets the great organizations apart from the followers who will miss the big opportunities waiting in 2022.
2. A strong sales and business development mindset. In 2022, the equivalent in the events industry to the three most important things in real estate (location, location, location) is revenue, revenue, revenue. Designing a better mousetrap next year is the name of the game — your event needs to be dipped in chocolate, smell like freshly baked cookies, and make your business partners salivate when they hear what you have in store for them. It’s been said that life insurance isn’t bought, it’s sold. And to win next year, you need to have the horsepower to sell, overcome objections, persuade, guarantee, and deliver an audience that is eager to meet with your exhibitors, suppliers, sponsors, and industry partners who are waiting for your event to help them succeed.
3. Comfort with change, ambiguity, and uncertainty. The fog that still exists isn’t going to lift tomorrow. The event industry has been mostly operating as it has always has, with a focus on precision, predictability, long-term contracts, stable results, and smooth implementation — thanks mostly to a well-oiled system of partners, processes, and the good work of meeting experts who know how to deliver the goods. However, for many of you, the digital event environment, the loss of staff, the retreat of exhibitors and sponsors, and the demands on your time have taken their toll. The upside is that you’ve survived and are stronger, more resilient, and better able to deal with what’s next. It’s time to embrace the change that is upon us and chart a clear path even as a curtain of fog remains. Design your 2022 event based on where your industry is headed, not where it’s been.
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4. The ability to see events as a business vs. a logistical and operational endeavor. Attendees hire events to do a job for them, just like any other product or service they consume. Your event is a business that requires professional acumen and expertise. The skills you’ve honed over the years must be supplemented with new expertise such as marketing, pricing strategy, and new digital technology muscle. The great news is you can perfect these skills on the job with resources that are within reach. The business of events has never been more important to organizations, the industries and professions they serve, and to the overall economic recovery. Bring your CFO, CEO, and board of directors into the early stages of planning your business model for 2022. Logistics will always matter, but without a compelling P&L that drives the process, the real opportunity for recovery will be missed.
5. Leadership across the organization. The future of events will require every department, function, and team to operate horizontally. Silos are for grain, not 21st- century organizations that require a shared vision, aligned objectives, and teamwork unlike anything we’ve attempted before. Our advice is to appoint an event CEO who has the accountability, authority, and cross-functional diplomacy to bring everyone along on this new journey. As the saying goes, if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. Event professionals need to go both fast and far and the only means to those ends is great leadership.
Today, more than ever, there is an opportunity to start thinking about your events like the businesses that they are. Join forces with other leaders in your organization to see 2022 for what it is — the turning point for your members, your industry partners, and your team. To bounce back and be a stronger enterprise than you were in February of 2020.
Everyone is counting on you.
Don Neal is founder and CEO of marketing, strategy, and experience agency 360 Live Media.