What’s the event for?
In every city there are business and financial talks, seminars, gatherings of the great and the rich, networking events. From one-on-one lunches to compare notes about the future of the industry to vast collections of the Davos kind, sorting out the world’s finances, people are meeting to learn, to weigh up, to teach, to enjoy, to see, to be seen. Singapore is particularly blessed with these events. On any weekday evening there are usually more than 25 lectures, buffet-and-brighten chats, things well worth attending – well, mostly – and places to be.
A sample of eight of them over the last three weeks suggests that the audiences for such events are changing – in their willingness to attend, their expectations and their responses when they do turn up. Not surprising with so much online from ‘find a spouse’ to ‘naughty nights’, from ‘learn English’ to ‘brush up your Mandarin’. Who needs to risk a whole evening of possibly disastrous boredom when a quick skim of the net will tell you what you might and might not like? Time is our most valuable asset and we are going to treasure it increasingly as we become better educated.
But we are social beings and a get-together is something we enjoy. Meeting new people is a form of gambling. You may connect with a life-long friend or colleague. I occasionally hired people I met at random gatherings, sometimes on the spot. They were among the most successful of all my hires and I did have a very special team. Seeing people outside work tells you a lot about their character. Their skills you see on the CV; you can only test those at work.
But there is a big gap between the successful events and the flops – and I have witnessed both in my recent sample. Success depends on the head of the organising business being totally committed to the event. S/he must decide the purpose of the event which must be quite specific. Networking is specific. People will attend purely networking sessions quite happily. These need very good planning, a four minute (max) talk about some current subject affecting the industry from which most present are drawn, plus delicious finger food and decent drinks.
More formal events require more planning. The requirements are: a clear, specific and tangible purpose by which those present can judge if the event succeeded or not. If this is done sloppily, or not at all, the event will fail. Excellent speakers are a prerequisite to success. They must be briefed on what their talk should cover and what it is supposed to give to the audience. If they cannot entertain, don’t ask them. In today’s world a straight talk is not the way to do it. Interactive is what is needed to keep an audience awake and motivated to ask questions. “Nothing succeeds for getting questions like asking questions.”
Cue Q&A time and you run into the biggest hazard of all. The facilitator is the key to this part of the jolly. Get a professional facilitator, not the expert on the subject under discussion. You wouldn’t ask a gardener to facilitate a discussion about landscapes but you would do well to have him or her on the panel. And it is with the panel that the facilitator has to work hardest. Seeing everyone gets a say but letting the brightest have a bit extra requires perception and tact.
Brief at least four to six members of the audience with specific questions (written by you) for them to ask, and tell each one, privately, that the first person to ask a question gets a bottle of champagne. This will hopefully create a bit of competition. More importantly it will break the ice that sits so firmly on an audience at the end of any talk. Hopefully, your own questions to the audience during your talk – whether rhetorical or genuine – will spur some people to ginger up the questions.
Getting people together involves taking their time. They will experiment with an organisation once, maybe even twice. But once the organisation has killed their spirit they won’t even read the notices of future events.
You can’t blame them. They give you their time.
You should give them value for it.