Posts filed under ‘Meeting Planner’

The Conference we’ll never Attend

Here’s the annual conference I’d love to attend:-

“The World Conference on Failure”
20 Business and World Leaders honestly and openly discuss
the decisions and actions which contributed to their significant
business and political disasters/failures/catastrophes.

…but which for obvious(?) reasons it will never be held.

Why would I want to attend this type of conference?

We don’t learn one tenth as much from success as we do from failure. I don’t have anything but life experience to back up that statement, yet I know for certain that at some level it could not be a truer observation about how the world works. Success drives us in a single direction, and while the positive feedback is nice, it doesn’t motivate us to grow and change.

Failure on the other hand is an itch that demands scratching and forces us to explore alternatives.

You could argue that if we study the success of others, then we can emulate them and create our own success. That’s true up to a point, but the real secret of success is not found in learning how to follow a ‘recipe’, but in learning how to respond to a changing environment. When we look at success, it’s easy (relatively) to pick out what they did ‘right’, but much more difficult to understand how they avoided doing the ‘wrong’ things.

By studying failure, it’s possible to explore the specific actions that contributed to that failure, and delve into why those responsible were unable, (unwilling?) to avoid those actions. Learning how to avoid problems, how to avoid the common and uncommon traps, is the skill which enables us to chart our course when the success ‘recipe’ falls short.

What types of failures?

One of the failures which jumps immediately to mind is Motorola’s $6B investment in the Iridium phone which they eventually sold for a mere $25M… the mind boggles at the size of this mis-adventure. The question “How could this possibly happen?” if honestly answered, might actually justify the multi-billion dollar fiasco IF we could use the answer to avoid similar disasters in the future.

Obviously, people have looked at this fiasco and made their observations public, but what would be more informative is honest commentary from the people actually involved in the event. What exactly were they thinking? What motivated them? What honest mistakes did they make?

And… what mistakes did they make, that with 20/20 hindsight they now recognize as totally avoidable – mistakes that were generated not by the facts in front of them, but by the human flaws within them.

This personal perspective on failure is the real value the “Conference on Failure” would offer, it’s also of course, why such a conference will never become a reality.

Admitting avoidable failure isn’t something we do very well, and if/when we do muster the courage to tell the real story, we are immediately the target punishment of some sort, usually in the form of lawsuits.

And courage is necessary if we’re to honestly discuss our failures. I’ve deliberately chosen ‘loaded’ words to describe ‘failure’ when I use terms such as, “disaster”, “flaws”, “fiasco” etc. etc.

Why would I frame the topic this way? Because this is the framework of perspective that we wrap around the stink of failure. Speaking of any personal “failure” is incredibly difficult. Look at “The Room that Eats Speakers” posted a few days ago in this blog. Admitting, as a professional speaker, that I have ‘messed’ up was not done lightly… chances are it will cost me future business. Being honest, usually does involve a personal cost, but the benefits are worth it if others can learn from those mistakes and learn from them.

We can come close to the “Conference on Failure”

We can, when pushed, talk honestly about failure. During the discussion around Y2K, the IT disaster we sort of avoided, (if we can consider a $300B+ expenditure ‘avoiding’ a problem) there was much discussion about how/why we self inflicted ourselves with this problem. There was general agreement that the key component wasn’t technical. It was human short sightedness – there were other good reasons to do what we did – but the real problem was that we, the entire IT industry, didn’t take the long view.

One of the more popular category of TV shows on the Discovery and History channels are those that examine, from an external viewpoint, the reasons behind various types of accidents. From crashing Planes and trains, to crumbling tunnels and towers… each catastrophe has something to teach us.

Perhaps we can’t have the individuals involved in the big events explain what they were thinking, but we can shift some of our attention away from self congratulatory stories about ‘what made us a success’ to the more difficult and telling recollections about ‘what made us fail’ and with some careful attention, some compassion for those courageous enough to talk unveil themselves in public, and a little bit of effort, apply those insights to future endeavours.

April 30, 2008 at 11:28 am 2 comments

Notes Numbering Seven to a Meeting Planner

If you’re looking for “The Room that Eats Speakers” you’ll find it just below this article.

The article I posted yesterday was warmly received by almost a thousand meeting planners, so I thought it worthwhile to continue the theme for a day or two – here’s an article specifically for past, present and potential meeting planner clients.

——————————————————

1) Content first: Decide who you want to speak for your conference based on the value of their message and their ability to enthral your audience, not on their reported ‘fee’.

Once you’ve decided who you want as your keynoters, then negotiate with them.

Negotiation Lesson 101:
Make at least one counter-offer to anything that anyone proposes.
Negotiation Lesson 102:
If what they are asking is way above your budget, then come clean…
tell them your budget. Don’t be ashamed of it, just let them know it
your budget will NOT insult them.

Remember, fees are not cast in stone (regardless of what anyone says), stealing an idea from Pirate pop culture “they aren’t ‘rules’ they’re more like ‘guidelines’”. Believe it or not, speakers value more than just money, but at the same time remember that ‘exposure’ is not always a selling point. People can die from exposure.

2) The Clock is Ticking: Stick to the schedule. You’ve paid the speaker mega-bucks to speak for you for an allotted time. If you want them to do the best possible job for you, give them the time you promised them.

Professional speakers will never make your job more difficult than it already is: They will never never never speak past their allotted time. Please, please, please do the same for them. Protect the time you gave them, to do their best for you they need that time. (Although they’ll do their best with whatever time you actually give them.)

Yes, you guessed correctly! There’s some personal history here. What do you do, when you travel to the other side of the world and the 90 minute keynote is ‘trimmed back’ to 20 minutes because of avoidable delays? You do your best – knowing that they got far less than they paid for.

3) Listen to your Audience: Hand out speaker evaluation forms, read them, and pay attention to what they have to tell you. Feedback is gold, never miss the opportunity to bend down and pick it up.

4) Hug (=Squeeze!) your Speaker: Within reason, extract everything you can from your professional speakers.

a. Are they willing to meet with your breakout session speakers the night before
and offer some speaking hints and tips from the professional?
b. Are they willing to do an executive breakfast/dinner session with key members?
Board members? Student members?
c. While they’re with you, could you get them to give an additional presentation
for the local board of trade?
d. Will they do media interviews before the conference?
e. Will they provide a follow-on article for your newsletter? Web site?
f. Will they contribute books and materials for draws?
g. Will they do a book signing in the exhibit hall? At one of the vendor booths?

Not all of the above will be possible, not all of it will be for free, but a speaker who wants to create a long term relationship with your association will be more than willing to do one or two or three of the above. It costs nothing to ask.

5) Dark Speaker Secret: Even though I speak for a living… here’s a dark secret. Speakers – regardless of their fee, content or style – do not make your meeting a success; they merely add an experience for your people to discuss. Make sure you include enough networking time in your conference. Running from speaker to speaker is not a conference, it’s a marathon.

6) Google is your friend: When anyone gives you client references, they offer you the names of clients who are certain to provide good feedback; this is not a secret, it’s obvious. So… get onto the Internet, Google the speaker. Speak to some folks they haven’t provided as references.

7) Lucky Number Seven: And finally? If a speaker has done a great job for you? Write them a knock your socks off letter of thanks/reference, and spread the word to your peers on how they helped make your meeting a success.

Speaking should be a win/win/win proposition. A win for the meeting planner, a win for the audience, and finally — a win for the speaker.

I wish you all the best on your next meeting.

April 22, 2008 at 10:29 am 2 comments


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