Tag Archives: events

Why sustainability is not “good”

A couple of years ago, I saw Jeffrey Hollender speak at a Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) conference.  Jeffrey was a co-founder (along with a guy named Alan Newman, who went on to create another Vermont brand, Magic Hat) of Seventh Generation, a company that makes “environmentally friendly” cleaning products and is a leader in the corporate social responsibility movement.  Imagine an auditorium filled with a couple of hundred business people bent on being more socially responsible, and Jeffrey comes out with this: that he didn’t consider 7thG’s products to be good. Because there’s a big difference between “less bad” and “good”. He said that, “as much as I like Seventh Generation products–and I think they’re great–they are only ‘less bad’. All of our products create CO2 emissions, they create garbage, and they use natural resources. They’re better than our competitors, but they’re not good.”

He went on to say that it’s not enough to try to reduce the amount of damage we’re doing to the world—we need to renew and repair the damage that’s already been done, and to work towards positive change.  I figure that if we’re all headed for hell in a handbasket (although personally I’ve never actually ridden in a handbasket), the only thing “less bad” will accomplish is to slow down the ride a little bit.

Physicians taking the Hippocratic Oath agree “to do no harm.” Green hotels reduce their negative environmental impact by conserving energy, composting and reusing sheets and towels. Seventh Generation works hard to formulate products with far less undesirable chemical byproducts. And while producing special events may seem a whole lot different than manufacturing laundry detergent or treating patients, Jeff’s point about going from “less bad” to “good” still applies.

Don’t get me wrong; sustainable measures aren’t just good–they’re a great idea.  It’s fairly common practice to incorporate at least some sustainable practices into events these days and that’s definitely moving in the right direction, but we can do better than that. There are many opportunities to use The Power of Events to leave the world a little better place than before—and that’s good!

Breaking out of TV-Mode

The Engaging Events Series, Part 1

Here’s a simple question for you: why do people come to events? 
To help answer that question, I’m going to ask you another: Take a minute and think back.  What are your personal favorite events, out of all the ones you’ve ever been to?  Your answers might be different depending on the type of event—you might have a favorite social event, a performance of some sort, or maybe it’s the most memorable conference you’ve ever been to.  Or think about the best course you ever took in school (every class is an event, no?), one that you really got into and, probably, took the most from.  In all of these cases, what was it that made these events most memorable, even years later?

I’m going to take a guess: I bet it’s because you got deeply engaged in whatever activity was taking place and because of that, you threw yourself into it—using your brain, of course, but possibly also your emotions and maybe even your body, or all three at the same time.  And you took from it an experience that still comes to mind despite the time that has passed.

I’ve been a college professor for over twenty years now, and one of the things I dread most is a class (my audience, you might say) where the students go into what I call “TV-mode”.  TV-mode is when you sit on the couch with that glazed look on your face and the remote control in your hand, ready to jump to another channel if you’re not appropriately stimulated for a period of time.  TV-mode is when you have adopted the role of the watcher and expect someone else to do all of the work.  It’s the difference between participating and just showing up.  And it rarely results in much of lasting value.

So I’ve put a lot of thought and effort into designing experiences for my students where they can’t stay in TV-mode. For centuries, the traditional educational method has been what presenters like to call the “sage on the stage” approach—where the content expert lectures to the audience, who sit passively and listen, as if knowledge was something to be poured over their heads and simply absorbed.  It’s one-way communication and, although it may be entertaining and informative, it only rarely results in measurable change or action.  And in the age of YouTube and podcasts and Twitter and eBooks, it can make the event experience appear suspiciously unnecessary.  Instead, I’ve learned that the most effective way to use the time we have together is to avoid spending too much of my own time as the “sage on the stage” and play more of a role as the designer and facilitator of an experience created for them.

Lots of event professionals are experiencing great angst about the future of live events, particularly meetings and conferences.   Will people continue to invest lots of money and–perhaps even more valuable–their time in traveling and attending events, when they can get the same information by going online or ordering it from Amazon.com?  My answer is: yes, they absolutely will!  But only if you deliver an engaging experience that delivers value far beyond what they could just as easily read or watch on their TV, computer monitor or iPhone.  And that means an engaging experience, one that gets them actively involved.  The same principles hold true whether you are gathering face-to-face, or doing a teleconference or webinar.  You need to design ways to get people “out of their bubble”.   Remember when you were a kid and your mom or dad used to say, “Get off that couch, stop watching TV (or playing PlayStation, if you’re younger than a Boomer) and go outside to get some fresh air and exercise!”?   Well, this is the adult version of that.

Why is this important?  Because it is the key to maximizing the impact of your event and changing the way people will think, act or behave in the future.  And in the end, that’s why people come to events.

Up Next: Strategies for Engagement
As this blog series continues, I will be offering lots of examples of strategies event planners are using to engage their audiences, increasing the impact of their events and make a difference in people’s lives and their communities. 

In the meantime, I want to return to my original question: what is the most impactful event you’ve ever been to, and what do you think made it that way?

Targeted Change: 3 Ways to flex your event planning muscles

Positive change sounds great.  But what does that look like, exactly?
Everyone I talk to about my EventsForChange initiative says it sounds like a great idea. But then, I can tell that their brain immediately switches to “what does that mean, exactly?” mode.  The concept sounds fine, but the implementation isn’t always obvious. 

What kinds of “good” can we accomplish?  In his book Saving The World At Work, Tim Sanders says that a “good” company is “one whose mission is to improve the lives of everyone in its footprint: employees, suppliers, customers, supporting communities, and the planet.”  In Corporate Social Responsibility, Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee write that social responsibility is “a commitment to improve community well-being through discretionary business practices and contributions of corporate resources.”  So when we’re talking about events, I think it’s useful to think in terms of improving individual lives, the local community and maybe even the planet.  It all boils down to a simple question: how can we leave this world a little better place than before our event took place?

Now here’s the thing: YOU get to decide what kind of change you want to promote.  As the great baseball philosopher Yogi Berra said, “You got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”  According to Yogi, it all starts with being clear about our objectives.  And once you have an objective in mind, it’s time to design an event experience that will produce the results you’re intending.  Here are a few targeted changes that can be built into any event experience:

  • EDUCATE & INFORM: you can take the opportunity to raise awareness and concern about a cause, an initiative or a political issue.  Information is power and you have the means to inform many while you have everyone gathered together in one place.  Support a behavior change campaign.  You can help bring about changes in both attitude and behavior by creating an engaging experience that alters people’s perspective.   
  • COLLECT RESOURCES:  The most obvious example here is: any kind of fundraising strategy.  You can raise money through donations from attendees or by padding the admission or registration  fee to supply a little extra.  Vendors and exhibitors could donate a portion of their proceeds.  Sponsors can provide in-kind contributions of goods or services that they provide, often for a fraction of the retail cost. And if you design a truly engaging experience, you will inspire them to give even more.  Much of this is not any different than you normally do when executing the core elements of your event–you’re just directing some of the resources to another place, spreading the wealth. 

    But it’s not just about money.  You’re also in a position to recruit people who can provide time, expertise, problem-solving abilities and even brute force for accomplishing a task or re-shaping the physical environment.  You’ve got them right there; now it’s just a matter of creating the conditions where their money, goods, ideas or efforts can be focused on a specific task that will somehow improve lives.
  • ORGANIZE & INSPIRE ACTION:  You know this: it’s not enough to get people’s attention and deliver a message.  The only way you produce a lasting impact is if there is some change in behavior, and often that won’t happen unless someone champions the effort and facilitates the process of moving people to action.  While everyone is here, let’s get something done!

    Get a commitment from folks to go out and spread the word to 10 others after the event is over, or to distribute materials. Vote through a policy or rule change.  Organize an email-writing campaign to your legislators.  Build something or do something  to improve the physical environment. Back in 2008 at the Democratic National Convention, a dozen or so people from the Vermont delegation carved out a few hours one afternoon, went to a local school, and built them a new playground structure.  All it took was for someone to spot the opportunity, collect tools and building materials, and build it into the program.  Attendees, staff, presenters, sponsors…all of them can be organized to leverage their time and talents while they’re there. 

Of course, if you’re planning or executing the event, this doesn’t mean you have to do all of these things by yourself.  Delegate to a staff member, if you can.  Make it part of your agreements with vendors or venues.  Or there are plenty of cause-related or non-profit organizations that would be more than happy to have a stage for spreading their message, collecting money, recruiting volunteers or organizing action.  Your power ultimately comes from pulling together multiple stakeholders and from accessing available resources.  It’s just a matter of finding partners that match well with your audience and the change that you’re interested in supporting. The key here is to recognize the unique opportunity that occurs when you gather an audience together and to use it while you have the chance!

So if you’re an event planner, I have a question for you, while you’re here:  can you offer an example of how you’ve used any of these methods to flex your event planning muscles and create a positive change?   How did you go about it?  Share your story in the Comment section below.

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