Saturday, October 31, 2009

Navigating Currents of Changing Event Demands — Why Bother?

I remember, as a young boy scout, my first canoe trip on a real river.  Our troop’s destination was the lower section of the mighty St. Croix River which forms 125 miles of the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The St. Croix, while a popular recreational river, is very wild and scenic.  Flowing through “federally protected waters” it is also known for its challenging rapids.  Prior to this adventure, all my canoe experience had been on lakes and slow “low-current” rivers.  Initially the experience was pleasant and uneventful.  However, on the second day of our trip things changed quickly, as we arrived at our first major canoeing challenge, Class “3” rapids.St Croix Rapids

Upon approaching the rapids we panicked.  In a desperate move, my buddy Jeff  and I foolishly decided to maneuver the canoe away from the rapids and towards shore, which of course is impossible to accomplish.  After several minutes of fighting the current, the river took complete control of our canoe and wrapped it around a rock.  Jeff and I both fell into  the dangerous current and all our camping gear floated down the river… by all accounts a total disaster!!

Obviously we both survived this ordeal but there were some significant learning lessons:

  • First and foremost you can’t back out of rapids, once you are committed to them.
  • When navigating a river with a strong current, or energy, it is best, at the very least to flow with it, not against it.  If you fight it, the river will win the battle every time, because its power is much stronger than yours.
  • Canoeing experts, or leaders, not only flow with the river, but they stay ahead of it, paddling at a faster pace than its current.  Subsequently they are able to guide their vessel wherever and whenever they feel is most strategic.

OK, so what is the point of this article?  This story is an analogy for how event professionals and their organizations should view the future of meetings and events.  Here’s why:Perfect-Storm

  • There is an unbridled passion or current flowng in the business world for events to become more collaborative, attendee-driven and flexible.  Furthermore, there is significant demand for content to be delivered through new, convenient and more affordable channels. (i.e. virtual, hybrid, etc.)
  • This river of influence has, as my friend Jeff Hurt stated this week, been fueled by a “perfect storm of the economy, social media and community.
  • Organizations attempting to paddle upstream, or avoid the current, will fail.  Those businesses embracing and navigating ahead of its flow, will thrive!

Question — Are you and your organization ready to embrace change coming to our world?  How are you preparing for the new flow of business models, markets, best practices  and standards?  Please share whats on your mind!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Salinger October 31, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Like your analogy about the river and trying to navigate close to shore without success, I fear many event marketing people and event designers are still stuck in trying to navigate their way out of the rapids approach and continuing to deliver very traditional models of event experiences and event content b y making their way to safer (or known) shores.

I think it is now dependent on the audience to exert some control if there is true change to take place. Event, conference, trade show, meeting attendees need to voice their displeasure when an event does not deliver value, provide the kinds of experiences that allow them to interact and network with people of real value for their careers or lives, don’t provide the kinds of technologies that allow for broader interactions with presenters, attendees and remote audiences at affordable prices and move away from marketing messages aimed at the lowest common denominator to dynamic content that engages the whole attendee community, whether live or virtual.

Innovative event marketers and event designers have some real opportunities here to guide the conversation, but it will take the mass voice of the audience to make change on a wholesale basis and change the way events are delivered.


Michael M McCurry CMP November 1, 2009 at 7:31 am

@Paul Salinger,

Thanks much for contributing to the conversation!

I think your fear is probably true. The thing is those trying to navigate their way out of the rapids will most likely end up in them anyways… they will just be behind everyone else.

In the new normal attendees have so many choices of events and content delivery systems so their voice will be heard through their actions. If event designers don’t respond attendees will go elsewhere and their programs will fail and organizations will fold their tents and disappear.

Its only a matter of time before the current of change breaks through, and yes it will be the audience leading the way.

Thanks again Paul for your comments!



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