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.
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.”
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.
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:
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,
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