by Janet Elkins, EventWorks, Inc.

Obviously, when you ask me this question, the answer is: That is how we make money. Not only does event production create income for our twelve full-time employees, it also affects countless contractors in many cities, states and countries in a very direct way. However, while the need for jobs in our industry is clear to us, the public perceives business meetings still in a very negative way; fat cats indulging themselves in tropical resorts, in some cases financed by tax payer money bailouts. The public perception and continuous negative media attention still do affect our business. Here at EventWorks we do our best to inform ourselves on how to adjust to the fast changing business world as well as the changing needs of our clients to best serve them. We established early on that especially in such tumultuous times, organizations actually have a higher need for meetings and events. On one hand they need to motivate, reassure and inform their employees, on the other hand they need to connect with their customers to either maintain the relationships through the crisis or develop new relationships. However, the rules of our business game have changed forever over the course of 2009. And they keep changing rapidly as we go through the ups and downs of the recession. How do we react? We do our utmost to stay informed by communicating extensively with business experts outside of our event world. Our goal here is to get fresh ideas and independent input to best understand our clients’ needs and address them accordingly.

So we are starting 2010 off fresh with a conversation with Professor Andrea B. Hollingshead, Clinical Psychologist from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication. Professor Hollingshead’s research addresses the problem of group ineffectiveness. Her latest work studies social influence on online communities and virtual worlds. The students in her Master’s Class are entrepreneurs and business leaders, i.e. people just like our clients.

Janet Elkins: “Professor Hollingshead, what is the current emotional state of the business world?”

Andrea B. Hollingshead: “We are definitely in a different place now than we were 12 or even 6 months ago. The shock is over. Initially people were very discouraged and unsure about the future. Now the economy has picked up a little bit. People are now getting down to work and business. They are realizing that they have agency. But things are going to be different from now on. We will not see the same kind of spending. And people no longer put off into the future what can be done today. Ultimately, this development will be good for the country.”

JE: “What should business aim to achieve with events and meetings now?”

A.B. Hollingshead: “Those big events where companies went all out – those days are over for the most part. There are different kinds of meetings, events to reach out to their own workers and events as a way to reach customers. The two different kinds require different strategies.

“Let’s look at the events for workers and employees. An organization does not want to appear to be spending lots of money. People had to take pay cuts or have not received raises in a long time. They have experienced layoffs. They don’t want to see an organization spending money that they would rather have in their own pockets. These events and meetings now need to concentrate on building motivation, trust and commitment to the organization in these tumultuous times. Companies can do this in inexpensive ways; bring people together to build relationships and enjoy each other’s company. The employees and team members need to feel that the organization believes in them, is committed to them and that employees have a say in their future. Also the opportunity to generate ideas is very important to people. It is what we call the “Wisdom of the Crowd”. People want to participate. You see a lot of user-generated content online. Meetings can be very good to say ‘yes, we want to listen to what you have to say’. Meetings are an important trust building time, it is important for people to feel empowered and part of the process as companies move forward.

“With regards to the second type, the customer event, one thing that is very important when you are trying to reach out and build your customer base is to have something value added that has to do more with information and knowledge and opportunities to network and to build your own business rather than giving somebody a fun kind of experience or opportunity. People now are very interested in what they can do to be more competitive in the future. Offering financial information can be helpful or opportunities to network with other companies in the same position where you share information. There needs to be focus on the value added that comes from knowledge and the relationship building that can come from the event rather than any fun or entertainment. People are more serious now and they expect other people to be serious, too.”

JE: “What are the Do’s and Don’ts at this time for our industry as we approach clients regarding events? Have things changed for us?”

A.B. Hollingshead: “That is an interesting question. I think that people’s expectations of what they take away are more intellectual rather than having a nice party bag to bring home. People are more serious. They are interested in knowledge that they can take away and that can help them either with their job now or in the future. I see among my students who are all business people that they are very interested in building their own skill sets. They have questions like “how can I become a better leader?’, they want an opportunity to talk to other people about issues they experience on the job, especially leadership issues. Giving people a tool set to deal with these various issues can be really valuable. And then there is time management and coordination. A lot of people now have more responsibility on the job because of staffing cuts. Providing information on how to manage time better, either through technology or through different kinds of time management strategies, is really helpful.

“Cooperation strategies, how to build productivity, relationships and trust among team members, building motivation – those are the issues now.

“People are concerned about their jobs; they have seen other people let go. Having seminars and meetings where you provide and share information and provide an opportunity for managers to discuss how to deal with employee motivation problems are really important. Having content that deals with issues that managers are facing because of the downsizing, because of the economic problems that a lot of companies are having, is really important.  Those types of events will be very attractive to people.”

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