Like most people I was glued to the TV during the London Olympics. I got swept up in the “will he, won’t he” medal drama surrounding Michael Phelps. And I saw something happen during his first few races that I think is worth noting: He lost. More than once.
And it reminded me of why it’s important to fail every now and then.
Now that Michael Phelps has become the most-awarded Olympic athlete in history, most people will forget that he failed to qualify for a couple of the finals and lost one of the races by .05 seconds to Chad le Clos. But I think those failures galvanized him. I don’t know that he would have achieved as much in London as he did had he won easily at first.
The narrative NBC painted in its sports coverage prior to the competitions was that Phelps has been in a slump since Beijing. Repeatedly they mentioned that he lost his motivation to train. They showed clips of an interview with him in which he talked about how he tried to do everything (even slipping out the back door) to avoid going to the gym. Then they wove in clips and stories about teammate Ryan Lochte talking about how much he’s going to enjoy beating Phelps, how hard he works, how due he is to gain Olympic gold, etc. etc. … It was almost anticlimactic to see Phelps underperform after all the media build-up.
But he didn’t dwell on his failure. He didn’t go away. After Phelps’ disappointing finish in semi-final and final events, he didn’t pitch a fit for the cameras. He admitted to gearing his semi-final performance to a certain time he and the coaches thought would be fast enough to qualify, not expecting the last heat of swimmers to be faster. Later, he said le Clos deserved to win. You could tell that he wasn’t proud of his performance. But whether he’d be able to rally was still a question mark.
Quietly, he returned over the next couple of days to compete in group relay and individual races, and he started to win. Phelps, the familiar champion from the Beijing Olympics had returned. (And Lochte, though also a winner, proved to be something of a douchebag. But that’s another story.)
When Phelps retired to his room after those disappointing first few days, I wonder if he was thinking about the same thing I was: That it’s hard to be the “best.” It gives you nowhere to go. You’re up against people who have never won or who want to knock you off your throne. They’re hungry. And you’re well-fed.
You’ve succeeded. Multiple times. You’ve got everything down pat. Without even meaning to, you go on autopilot.
And that’s when you start to miss things. You start to fail. You miss touching the wall because you started to coast when you should have taken that last stroke. You miss the cut because you were aiming for “just enough” when you could have given it your all.
My father used to tell me that no matter how smart, funny, talented, strong or good I was, there would always be someone better. The trick was not to get swept up in measuring myself against the competition or to rest comfortably on my laurels. No matter how hard it was, I had to remember that what mattered was that I gave it my all.
That’s why I was so glad to see Michael Phelps lose. It made his victories that much more meaningful. It re-lit a fire in his belly that seemed to have gone out after the last Olympics. He can retire in peace and start a new chapter of his life.
The next time someone blows past you while you’re coasting by on past glories, remember: It’s not how you win. What matters most is what you decide to do after you lose. Your life (and career) is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. So how are you going to tackle those hills?
There’s a really important question people are asking, and it’s one I’m afraid is falling on deaf ears as #eventprofs advocate a new model of engagement, education and event design.
It’s “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM). And it comes in many forms, including: “Why should I care?”; “How is this useful?”; “Why should I invest time/money in this?” and “Why is this better than what we already do?”
If we want anything to change, WIIFM is first question we should answer when we’re pitching something new, whether our purpose is to educate, correct, consult, engage or change.
Resistance comes when you forget to mention WIIFM
Last month, I was executing an event in Sarasota for group of travel writers. Like many associations, the membership skews older. In a session on essentials for Web design, the instructor began to talk about new forms of journalism our members could use to engage audiences virtually. As she started explaining how to livestream written and recorded content through an online portal people could subscribe to and comment on in real-time, a woman in her 60s interrupted her and said: “I’m sorry, but I can’t see how this will ever be useful.”
She didn’t say, “I don’t understand this.” Or, “This technology frightens me.” (That’s what she confessed to me hours later, on the way to lunch.) But I heard her loud and clear. Others may have thought she was being rude, but I knew she was really asking WIIFM.
The instructor was a little taken aback, and it brought the session to a halt. So I answered the unspoken question.
“It may never be useful to you,” I said, “if that’s not how your audience wants to engage. And it’s not meant to replace what you’re doing. It’s just another option you can add to your bag of tricks as a writer, should you need it.”
“But,” I continued, “I know former newspaper journalists who are now hired by companies to issue real-time reports on events in this way. For those writers, it’s a new revenue stream. And it’s a way to introduce new audiences to your work. If either of those things are important for you, then this might be a useful platform and skill to learn how to use. If not, then you don’t need to adopt it.”
The difference it makes
Later in the day, a 20-something writer who’s new to the association came up and complimented me on how kind and gentle I was to the woman. In his view, she was being unreasonable. I explained that she wasn’t trying to cause trouble, she just needed to understand why it was relevant to her because it was such a foreign idea.
There are a lot of ideas we agents of change share that no longer feel foreign to us. But it’s important to remember that not everyone is comfortable with the personal/professional mix social media requires, giving direct reports the freedom and agency to try new things, crowdsourcing ideas or having beanbags in classrooms instead of chairs, to name a few trends that some find “duh” and others think are cutting-edge.
Break it to them gently
That’s why you can’t tell someone that they should start doing something new without identifying WIIFM first. In my experience, there are six main reasons why someone will take a risk:
- It will make them money.
- It will save them money.
- It will save them time.
- It will make them feel better about themselves.
- It will make other people look at them differently (in a good way).
- It will get them laid.
But since we’re strictly talking business, ignore No. 6 for the time being.
That’s why, when I educate meeting planners about creating hybrid events, I concentrate on those first three items before I start talking technology. I explain that they already have the skills they need to create a successful hybrid event. I stress the similarities: Whether the meeting is hybrid, virtual or face-to-face, you are crafting an experience that is dictated by the goals of the meeting, the budget and what works for your audience.
If you start with telling people WIIFM, you’ll find that your audience — whether it’s a client, students in a classroom, staff members, your boss, volunteers or your kids — will have an easier time understanding why change is needed and be more receptive to considering what you propose.
Realize that pushback may be coming from place of fear and be compassionate. Explaining WIIFM can help, but it takes real wisdom and maturity to be able to acknowledge when your path is not the right one for the people you’re with.
Plan well and prosper friends,
Driving home from work last week, I heard a story on NPR’s Marketplace about how a year after the Tunisian revolution, people were still protesting in the streets. The prevailing feeling, the commentator said, was that even though the government had been overthrown, nothing had changed.
“I have a Master’s degree in English and I’m still unemployed five years,” said one Tunisian man. If you read my last post, you’ll understand why this struck a nerve. But it also reminded me that a lot of Americans are in that same position — overeducated, underemployed and annoyed at the stagnant position our economy is in.
More than a year ago, a group of people upset with the bank bailouts decided to occupy Wall Street. In major cities across America, #occupy movements popped up like McDonald’s franchises. There were murmurs that maybe this was some kind of American version of the Arab Spring. Unlike the Tea Party movement, which was born of the same disgust with government waste and financial abuse but leaned towards the other end of the political spectrum, the #occupy movement garnered a lot of positive press. Even meetings publications started talking about how we should #occupy our old meetings format to drive change.
But you can’t #occupy change. And anyone who’s seen footage of their general assemblies can tell you why.
Watch this and see if you can guess why I think they’ll end up being, at most, a footnote in the annals of history:
On Quora, I mentioned that I found this kind of group chanting (and spirit fingering) creepy. It was explained to me that the intention was to act like a human microphone so people throughout the crowd could hear what was going on. Because they “are the 99 percent,” their focus is including everyone and valuing the wisdom of the group over the value of an individual’s contribution. It doesn’t matter what the majority thinks, if there’s a portion of the crowd that’s unhappy, no motion goes forward because it might divide opinion. Going back and forth to hear everyone’s opinion on one topic before anything happens can take hours because they want unanimous consensus. It’s quite possible they might reopen something for discussion after it’s been shut down and dismissed because someone is dissatisfied with the outcome.
Although I fully understand the intent and political statement they’re attempting to make, this sounds like a board meeting from hell.
There’s a reason why our founding fathers decided to create a republic rather than a democracy. They also originally limited the privilege of voting to people who owned land.
If you’ve ever watched reality TV, you know why. It’s because — and I know this isn’t politically correct — not everyone is blessed with brains, drive and ability. There are a lot of shiftless, selfish, stupid people out there who are easily led but lack the cojones to lead. And although the trappings of civilization and prevailing mores do change with the times, people never really do. The founding fathers felt that if you didn’t at least own property that could be taxed, you didn’t have enough skin in the game to make an informed decision.
The American Revolution — like many revolutions — wasn’t planned by committee. And it certainly wasn’t a unanimous decision supported by everyone that it was going to affect. It — like many revolutions before and since — involved a small group of people agitating for change, creating a plan of action and assigning out responsibilities and deadlines for getting things done.
In short, every successful revolution has been proceeded by a series of incredibly effective meetings.
So rather than trying to #occupy change, make things happen. If you’re not sure how to do that, here are five steps that will make any meeting more effective and 12 things you can do right now that will revolutionize the meetings industry. If you have any more ideas about it, please share them below.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Change doesn’t happen all at once.
Ten years ago, if someone told you that you’d share private elements of your life in public with strangers, you’d call them crazy. Today, you probably get annoyed at the friends who haven’t joined Facebook yet. But you didn’t just one day start a Twitter account and start posting pictures of your breakfast.
Whether it was because a band you liked was on MySpace, or you had to create a business profile on LinkedIn for work, or you were seeking advice on a chat room from your peers, or you fell in love with Wikipedia and discovered you had things to contribute, eventually you got used to the idea that your information was valuable, that people cared what you thought and, slowly, the concerns you had about privacy or security started to recede. Now you “pin” pictures of places you’d like to go, “like” stories you read, tell everyone on Twitter when you check into a place on Foursquare and share what kind of music you’re listening to on Spotify.
We all have skills that are appropriate for what we do now. But will they still be valued 10 years from now? What are the little things that we are dimly aware of now that will ultimately transform how we live and work tomorrow?
I met my husband 10 years ago. You know how you can take a picture and then doctor it with Instagram to make it look awesome? He used to do that with a paintbrush on real photos for high-end women’s fashion magazines and less reputable publications like Penthouse (he says he was only focused on covering the bruises…). You know how you can drag and drop text and images in spaces to create magazines, books and enewsletters? Back in the days before computers, he’d physically lay out publications on a table, paste the pictures and text down, photograph them, send them to press and go through the bluelines from the printer to make sure nothing had shifted. And a little-known fact: He was one of the last people in America to be certified a Journeyman craftsman in Quality Control and some other antiquated, but essential skill, that people no longer care about.
In the 10 years we’ve been together, he’s been laid off three times. At his last job, he was in charge of the production of 200 magazines nationwide. Thanks to his efforts, he negotiated print contracts that saved his company $2 million. He was laid off less than a month after they were signed.
That was four years ago. Despite sending out resumes every day, he’s still unemployed. Because he possesses knowledge no one values anymore. He spent his life mastering skills particular to an industry that’s in danger of losing its relevancy. Not one to rest on his laurels, he started his own line of greeting cards kids can color and send. It’s a dream he had for a long time. And one that he really hopes takes off because he wants Cozmic Fun Lines to also produce children’s books and toys.
But the process of reinvention is slow, difficult and painful. He’s having to learn skills he never thought he’d use (sales) and ones that he naturally dislikes (marketing). Despite being shy of social media and distrustful of popularity contests, he’s entered the Get on the Shelf competition with his Color Me…Gift Cards and is trying to get people to watch his video, vote for it often and share it with their friends before April 3. If he makes it to the second round of voting and wins that, then he’ll get seed money and prominent placement in Wal-Marts around the country. The chances are slim, but he’s putting it out there, and I’m proud of how far he’s willing to go outside of his comfort zone to make this work. (By the way, he’d be embarrassed if I asked you to vote for him and tell all your friends. But if he won, he’d get over it.)
What does this have to do with you? I’m wondering how far you are willing to go. And if you realize how close to the edge of corporate extinction you may already be.
Did you know 87 percent of marketers believe that in four years half the meetings they plan will be virtual ones? Online meeting platforms like Go to Meeting and WebEx aren’t a lot of fun, but they get the job done. And they get it done cheaply. Do you know how to articulate the importance, relevance and bottom-line impact of what you do?
If traveling from place to place continues to get more expensive and air travel continues to become more unpleasant, it’s not hard to believe that attendance will continue to erode at live events. Do you know how to incorporate hybrid technologies that bring face-to-face attendees together with remote ones and make those virtual participants want to convert to attending in-person next year?
It’s a time of great disruption: high unemployment, revolutions overseas, domestic unrest, economic uncertainty. Which also means: This is a time of great opportunity. I dined with a man last Friday who’s invented an app that lets you take a picture, set a price and send it to media outlets. Newspapers, television stations and magazines in Europe already use it to send assignments out to citizen journalists near the sites of natural catastrophes, accidents and other newsworthy happenings. It will completely transform the field of photojournalism. But do you think the people lugging $5,000 worth of camera gear know that yet?
Learning doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, I know that there are a lot of people out there (I’m talking to you Jeff Hurt and Midori Connolly) who go out of their way to make it fun. So, friends, it’s time to start going out of your way to brush up on things that you could probably care less about.
I promise, those of us who care about you and your future will go easy on you. After all, as my ballet teacher used to say, “Everyone was a beginner one Sunday.”
Join me in Tampa March 21, Denver on June 19 or Chicago in July to learn about hybrid event technology (and if you don’t think it’ll be fun, watch this short trailer). I’ll also be in St. Louis, Mo., on May 11 to teach planners how to work Smarter, Faster and More Efficiently (and if you’re in MPI, headquarters will pay my speaking fees for this session through June 2013 if you request it through the speaker’s database).
Are you based in Dallas? Then don’t miss Jeff Hurt sharing his insights on innovation on March 28. Stormi Boyd, CMP, will teach you how to ditch your conference binder and go digital in San Antonio April 12 and Austin May 16. And Midori is everywhere. Follow her @AVGirlMidori to see her jam-packed dance card and see if she’s coming to a city near you.
Need a steady infusion of inspiration? Subscribe to the newsletters and various media I curate for Plan Your Meetings. The 2012 PYM Annual is all about revolution, innovation and what it takes to succeed in this business. And throughout the year, we publish a steady stream of how-to best practice and advice articles and videos online that demystify new technologies and can help you adjust to new challenges. Think of it as a cross between Real Simple and Wired, but for #eventprofs.
Plan well and prosper, friends.
Take a look at this picture. What do you see?
I’ll tell you one thing I don’t see: The table for the panel I was scheduled to host in this room. But it’s there … squished up against the wall on the left side of the audience. If you squint hard, you can barely see the tops of the chairs, partially obscured by the podium.
Naturally, my panelists and I (all of whom plan meetings) opted to stand for our session — after all, we wanted to engage the audience in conversation and, quite frankly, be seen. But we were left scratching our heads over this set-up. Not only was there no elevated stage for the panel discussion, but there were 182 seats crammed so tight together that it was impossible for anyone to move around or see anyone If you wanted anything on the screen to be visible to the last row, you had to use a minimum 45-pt. font size. What’s worse is that my first session in this room was billed as an “interactive roundtable.”
How could any event organizer, knowing what sessions would be taking place in this room, have asked for this layout? Once they were on-site, how could they have walked in and approved of how this was set?
They didn’t. They couldn’t have. Right?
My best guess is that they ran out of time to check it, or they just trusted the convention center to do right by them, not thinking about whether or not any thought would be put into the attendee’s experience.
Now look at this picture. What does it make you feel?
It’s cozy right? People have plenty of space to move around. There are conversational nooks where people can gather and discuss things. It’s colorful and visually appealing. I imagine it even smells good. In Amsterdam, we’d say it was gezellig, which doesn’t have a true English translation, but is used to describe anything that makes you feel comfortable, homey and content. What a fabulous state of mind to create for people you want to connect, collaborate and learn.
In case you don’t recognize it, this is an image taken by Erica St. Angel who attended and spoke at Event Camp Vancouver. One of the event’s organizers, Tahira Endean, just published a fabulous white paper about all the thought that went into the event’s meeting design and execution. Do your attendees a favor and read it.
Life’s too short to sit in uncomfortable seating arrangements.
In New York, things are in fashion for barely a season before they’re passé. In America’s other big cities, three to four years may pass before that fashion catches on. Ten years later, you’ll encounter people sincerely hanging on to that look because it’s still new to them.
The events world is similar. Tasting tripe may be big with hipsters right now, but no one is rushing to put it on a banquet menu. That’s not because event organizers don’t love innovation. It’s because there are still attendees out there who are amazed that mashed potatoes can be served in a martini glass (believe me, I met them just last year).
Which brings me to the presentation style called Pecha Kucha.
Chances are you’ve either heard of it but haven’t seen it, have seen it and are over it, are all about it and love it or have no idea what I’m talking about.
What the #%(*& is it?
To summarize: Pecha Kucha was developed in Tokyo by a couple of architects who thought other architects talked too much. They limited speakers to 20 slides that auto-advance every 20 seconds. Now it’s a “thing” people do in cities all over the world and sometimes at conferences. When done well, these 7-minute Pecha Kucha presentations can be stunning, hilarious, moving and/or thought-provoking.
Sound interesting? It is. And when you mix in drinks, it’s a lot of fun for the crowd, too. But mark my words, Pecha Kucha is in grave danger of becoming as stale and overexposed as a mashed potato martini. And, what’s worse, it can seriously backfire on you. So before you add one to your event, there’s a few things to consider.
Three things you need to know
The first is that no one knows how the hell it’s pronounced. Is it peh-CHA koo-CHA or PEH-cha KOO-cha? At a recent event, one attendee earnestly told me how excited she was to see that night’s “Hunky Monkey” presentations. For the record, I think that’s how we should all pronounce it.
The second thing is that it’s been around since 2003 (feel out of the loop yet?), so there are actually trademarks involved. Want to Hunky Monkey at your conference? Please contact the founders first.
The third thing you need to know is how to educate and prepare the people presenting. At a lot of conferences, attendees are encouraged to sign up and present Hunky Monkeys for each other. (And its founders encourage this “bottom-up” approach to curating content.) Because even professional speakers may be unfamiliar with the format, everyone who participates is taking a risk.
Be cool to your speakers
Unless you want to create an evening that will scar and horrify your presenters for life, please let them know:
- 20 seconds is a long time. Don’t believe me? Imagine you’re at a birthday party and someone is singing “Happy Birthday” to you, but they’re doing it really slow. They get to the end and, just before you blow out the candles, they start singing the song again. You just have to wait until they’re done. That’s 20 seconds. And that’s the feeling your presenters will have when they realize they said everything they wanted to say about this slide in 10 seconds but the slide that won’t go away because …
- The slides auto-advance, so you don’t control them. There are no do-overs. There’s no “Can we go to the next slide, please?” Make sure you remind speakers that they are at the mercy of the machine.
- The audience is on your side. Everyone knows the Hunky Monkey is difficult. That’s why only a fraction of the audience is presenting. Mentally prepare them to have a Plan B. Remind speakers that it’s OK to fall down, pick themselves up and keep going, because everyone is rooting for them.
- Faster and louder is not better. When ballsy people get nervous, they get fast and loud. Thought 20 seconds was long? Try surviving 400 seconds of ear-splitting adrenaline-fueled hoo-hah as the presenter tries to beat the clock on each slide. Do your audience a favor and remind presenters that if they talk less, there’ll be less stress … and that it’s OK to breathe.
- Practice may not make perfect, but it will keep you from looking like an ass. It doesn’t matter how charming a presenter is, they can’t “wing” a Hunky Monkey. The minute someone takes the stage who is honest and present, knows what slide is coming next and has thought out the visuals accompanying their story, the “winger” will look like a jerk. Please let them know that in advance so the audience’s disgust doesn’t take them by surprise.
- Friends don’t let friends drink and stumble through a high-speed presentation. Caution the presenters about imbibing too much liquid courage, especially if there’s more than seven speakers and an open bar. Believe me, drunken Hunky Monkeys aren’t pretty.
Finally, a word about judgement. Recently, I was at a Hunky Monkey where the speakers were lined up on stage while drunken attendees texted in who they thought did the best job. The results were shown in real time, allowing the presenters – who had just risked everything to try something new – see just how many (or few) people thought they did a good job. That’s not cool. Audience choice awards are fine, but keep the results private.
So, what do you think about Hunky Monkeys? Are you over it, all about it or going to try it?