Don’t Be Right — Be Effective

Shouting never helps.

Is it me, or is everybody getting a bit overwrought these days? Election rhetoric tends to cause a certain degree of national divisiveness, but this year it is compounded by the added stress of pandemic concerns, economic woes, and social justice issues. Everything seems to be subject to debate, even such former “givens” as whether or not our kids should go to school. We’ve somehow lost the ability to engage in civil discourse; the simplest disagreements can provoke rage.

There is plenty of misunderstanding to go around and not enough empathy. No one was ever convinced to listen to a differing opinion when it’s being shouted at them. In fact, most opinions are grounded in our emotions — and an appeal to logic is wasted. People don’t like how they feel in confrontational situations. Arguments don’t lead to understanding. That’s why, as people of influence within our community, our businesses, and our families, we have an obligation to take the high road.

Don’t worry about being right — worry about being effective. Work toward unity. Act with integrity. Focus on common goals. Be productive. Inspire other people to do the same. This is the only way we can move forward as a country, a society, and an industry.
There are only two ways to deal with a landmine — you can set it off, or you can quietly, patiently, carefully dig it out and defuse it.

It it’s time to come together. The first move is yours.

Getting Back on the Bike

It’s what we do after we fall that matters.

The other day, attached to an email from an old family friend, was a video — an old home movie shot on a spring day, probably on Super 8, with no audio. It shows a little boy on a big new bike. His mom gives him a shove and he pedals a confident loop around the front yard. But, when he stops, his legs can’t reach the ground, and he falls hard, with the bike on top of him. He looks at his mom, shakes it off, and walks the bike back to try again. The banana seat comes up to his ribs, and he has to use the porch step to climb back on. The next fall isn’t as hard. Soon, he’s riding like an old pro.

I haven’t thought about that bicycle in years, but the video brought it all back. It was a beauty. When I pedaled really hard, the handlebar streamers fluttered out and I imagined I was flying. I don’t really remember falling down, but I do remember worrying that I would. I was afraid I couldn’t learn to ride that gorgeous bike. And I remember my mom assuring me that I could.

This object lesson in falling and getting back up came at a good time for me. It’s been many, many years since I’ve faced something where I actually worried about failing. But this pandemic and the economic fallout — defined largely by what we don’t know — is a confidence shaker. What if we don’t have what it takes? There is so much riding on each decision and each action that it can be paralyzing if we let it.

Here are a few lessons we can all take from a little boy, a big bike, his mom and a spring day. We only fail if we stop trying. We will learn the skills we need and someday we will master the bike because we will grow to fit it. It will take us to places we’ve never been. And that sense of freedom will be magical.

Today, around the world, we face a challenge that is bigger than any of us can face alone. It’s seriously intimidating. We also face an opportunity to explore new things and to liberate ourselves from outdated assumptions and business practices. Many of us in the Live Events industry share an audacious vision that requires us to get back on the bike and keep riding. We will most certainly fall a few times, but we can help each other back up. And we can keep pedaling until our fear becomes joy.

Our industry-wide movement is adding members every day. You can join us at You can learn about opportunities for action and toolkits you can use to engage your employees, partners, the media, and legislators.

Bring your worst fears and your brightest hopes. We’ve got this.

Preparing for the Future – Part One

Ensure a viable future by being the best we can be today.

In February, at the UFI Global CEO Summit, I was a panelist on a session that explored the sustainability of the exhibitions industry and what we should be doing to prepare for the future. Frankly, it’s a conversation I have almost every day with future-focused clients. Here are a few key considerations.

Treat every Brand Experience (a.k.a., event, expo and conference) as if it’s the first one.

Everyone knows that you have one chance to make a great first impression. But it only takes one “meh” show to keep people away forever. That’s why we must plan each brand experience to deliver ultimate value to the various stakeholders – the organizers, the host city, the sponsors and of course, the participants. Consider their individual needs. Ask, how can we exponentially increase the value that the brand experience medium provides each group?

Be a brand/community manager, not a margin manager.

Unfortunately, the very group that should be advocating for added value in the exhibitions industry – the individuals who should be brand managers for their events – are under pressure to behave like margin managers. (And I am not saying that margins are not important – we all know they are a reality.) There’s a huge temptation to just push the “same-as-last-year” button: it’s quicker, it requires less up-front work and therefore creates the illusion of saving money. But this misguided focus on minding the margins has caused a devaluation of net-new content and undermined the relevance of experiential marketing as a medium.  How much better to invest in the development of new solutions to share with event participants – which will give you both eternal youth and good margins.

New content is essential to sustained relevance.  

After more than 25 years in this industry, I have a lens into the world of “net new content.” When I started out working in expositions, there was a huge emphasis on the creation of original content. That was the draw. That’s what made us relevant. Over the last decade, we’ve seen content continuously defunded. Print has been deprioritized (for obvious reasons), and even some digital assets have been trimmed from budgets.  Event planners are forced to rely on exhibitor boards and committees that bring repurposed content. When conferences and shows become nothing more than content curators, it can begin a death spiral. Attendees discover that they can more easily and effectively find what they want for themselves, and the event becomes superfluous.

Don’t confuse short-term activities with long-term strategic, measurable action.

Another thing that threatens the viability of the expositions industry is the tendency we all have to pursue short-term activities instead of beginning the more challenging, long-term strategic action required to keep our brands relevant.  For example, we obsess about who will speak at our General Session and never stop to consider whether a General Session with wall-to-wall talking heads is even the right thing to do. Or we jam new technology into our conference without understanding what we want it to accomplish. We collect data, but we don’t use it. We fail to learn what works and what doesn’t, because we don’t design with a specific outcome in mind; we fail to design metrics into the execution. There is no substitute for strategy.

In my next blog, I’ll pick up with this thought, and discuss how a design-thinking approach can help any organization prepare for the future. 

Rocks vs. Boulders: Clearing the Road to Success

Because we live in times of exponential change, many business executives face the task of leading strategic organizational transformations. The best of these leaders are able to articulate a clear vision of what success looks like – spelling out the guiding tenets, strategic imperatives and value creators required to get there. But unfortunately, too many still cling to a tried-and-true, operationally-focused management style; they think in terms of activities and check lists, instead of goals and strategic action. The only question that matters, as my friend Albert Chew says, is “What is required to make it work?”

I refer to this as a “rocks vs. boulders” mentality. The transformation of an organization – its road to the future – cannot be achieved with a business-as-usual approach.  Certainly, success with any goal requires some basic work. If you’re building a road, it helps to clear out all the rocks in your path. But that really isn’t progress – it just feels like it. If I’m the foreman on a road crew that’s designing and building an amazing highway to the future, no one cares how many buckets of rocks I’ve moved today, or my plan to move more rocks the next day. The team needs to know where the road is leading, what we’re going to do about the boulders blocking our way, and the metrics we’ll use to know if we are on track. People want to understand what benefits they can expect when each of those boulders is removed. They want to embrace a shared vision of what beautiful looks like. That’s the work that matters. That’s where your focus needs to be.

Whether you are trying to transform a small workgroup, a corporate division or an entire organization, be strategic about how you measure your success. It can be very satisfying to rip through a long to-do list; it may even look good in your report. But unless your actions are moving the boulders, and advancing the true opportunity, it’s wasted motion. Concentrate on big outcomes that are aligned behind your strategic imperatives. Invest your time and talent in creating true value.

The only road worth building is the one that leads to a successful, sustainable future. That’s taking the high road.