Putting New Faces to Events Can Give Them a Refreshing Lift

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"We have a specific way of putting together our events, a branding way we do it," Anne Holland, co-founder of Anne Holland Ventures Inc., told me a couple weeks ago. She and co-founder Cassandra Farrington—they both also run Marijuana Business Daily (MBD)—will be keynote speakers at the SIPA 2017 Annual Conference, June 5-7, in Washington, D.C.

"We turn down people if they have [spoken] at our show [or] have been speaking in other places. Why would somebody come to my show if a speaker's been everywhere? We also work very hard to have women highlighted, and diversity. We're looking for every bit of diversity that we can. There is a problem in the trade show industry with guys in khakis. If that's all you have on that stage you have a problem.

"It's important to us," Holland continued. "[If we're] running advertisements or marketing campaigns for our shows, [that the] photograph for what our show looks like better have both sexes in it. It's a company-wide rule. [Our] graphic designer would never give me a photo with just men. I cannot tell you how critical this is for us."

So far, the formula has worked. MBD's fall and spring conferences recently appeared on Trade Show Executive's Fastest [Growing] 50 list in more than one category—Number of Exhibiting Companies, Total Attendance, and Net Square Feet of Exhibit Space.

The idea of bringing new speakers in makes sense. In an article on AssociationsNow, Karla Taylor listed five steps to turn your ordinary meetings into extraordinary experiences. Her number one step? Realize change is essential, not optional.

Among Dan Hanover's 10 habits for putting on successful events is this: If it works don't do it again. "Reset and refresh your campaigns every year," said the Access Intelligence VP. "We try to one up ourselves every year—there's always a better way of doing something. Resetting events gets attendees to come back. Changing out content is not enough to be considered an event refresh."

(Hanover will be presenting a Pre-Conference Workshop at SIPA Annual with Tom Billington, founder and CEO, Billington CyberSecurity, titled Successful Conference Strategies and Best Practices: Maximizing Sales and Creating Additional Pipeline Opportunities.)

Hanover also believes that the fear of missing out is stronger than the positives of saving. "We say, 'You're going to miss these five things and your competitors will know them,'" he said. "Instead of save or early bird, we say prices go up this Saturday! Lead with the content not the discounts. Design to the attendee—calibrate the look and feel to the sophistication of your attendee."

From your audience's perspective, the need for change is rooted in brain science, said Jeff Hurt, executive vice president of education and engagement at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. Simply put, spending year after numbing year in hotel ballrooms, they cease to pay attention to what you're trying to convey. "Most conference experiences are status quo—they don't move the needle for performance improvement," Hurt said.

"We're looking for experiences—ones that transform thinking, attitudes, behavior, skills. That's a completely different design process that takes attendees through a completely different journey," he adds. It also requires the marketing diversity that Holland referred to.

"The diversity of thought and approach which comes with having different backgrounds and life experiences is critical to creating an effective and broad-based approach to our customers and our business challenges," Farrington said. "There is no rule that says the traditional business approach is the best one..."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…