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Tag: events

My events sucked, until . . .

Events that suck

Have you ever sat down to write the advertising copy for an event and found it just didn’t come together easily? Or put together the perfect event – and no one was interested? Does events management feel too hit-and-miss for comfort’s sake?

Of course, the best way to learn to manage events is to seek an apprenticeship with a maestro of events and learn at their feet.  But, I’m a just a spare-time events manager, as most of us are these days, and as a business psychologist, I wondered what my profession has to say on the magic of events management.

I’ve searched the university libraries and apparently we have nothing to say.  Hmm!

So, that’s the position.  I can carry on lurching from church to school, or I can dig into my kit bag of basic tools and put together a model from first principles.

That’s what I have done.  I took the well-known solidly-researched Theory of Social Influence (Herbert C. Kelman) and applied the trio of {rules, roles, values} to events.

Here is what I came up with.  This post is long (1500 words), so let me give you the basic structure and you can pick what you need.

  • Event Management: The Short Form
  • How I sabotaged my own event by mixing up the archetypes
  • 3 surprising insights that come with thinking more clearly about events
  • Checklists and links to examples in the wild

Events Management:  The Short Form

In short, we have three event archetypes, and they don’t mix.

  • Celebrity-based
  • Action-based
  • Value-based

Kool & the Gang Concert @ Montreal Jazz Festival by Anirudh Kuol via Flickr

At celebrity-based events,we experience AWE

We attend the event.

We see the celebrity.

We take home the t-shirt.


Not least,

We are remarkably passive.

Rock Climbing Mississippi Palisades (94) by akeg via Flickr

At action-based events, we experience AFFECTION

We are essential to the event.

We play in the team.

We take home the shared story of triumph and disaster.

And provided, no one asks too much of us,

We are amazingly loyal repeat-customers.

London Marathon 2009 by blitzy72 via Flickr

At value-based events, we experience ACKNOWLEDGMENT

We run our lives within the event.

We customize it to fit our tastes.

We take home a sense of having done good.

We have a sense of having been respected, and respecting the universe in turn.

But we cleave to our path and not the path of the organizers.

How I sabotaged my own event by mixing up event archetypes

Kelman’s model of {rules, rules & values} has helped me understand what I could have done differently to manage and advertise an event that flopped horribly.

I advertised a course in blogging for occupational psychologists (UK term for work and organizational psychologists) in our professional magazine.  Only one person called up – and he will probably read this post.

Why, I ask, was this event so poorly received?

Simply, I advertised a blogging-training course like a celebrity-event when I had a value-based mind-set.

Well, I was duly rewarded with a  muted response.

How would I focus my event on one event archetype and one archetype only?

Focus a celebrity-event on the celebrity!

  • First, if I wanted to offer a celebrity-centered event, I should have offered celebrities.
  • Second, I should have concentrated on the raz-ma-taz  – name tags, lunch and some good souvenirs.
  • Third, I should have let consumers consume.

Consumers want to enjoy not make an effort

The reception must be organized.  The seats must be comfortable.  No one must mind if their questions are off the point (but no one must be allowed to go on for too long and bore everyone else).  The dining room should be well appointed.  The participants pay good money and they want to know what they will get back.

The participants may be circulating like mad trying to meet new people but they don’t actually help run the event.  And, we should be clear about that.  Asking them to make an effort or take responsibility takes all the fun away!

Offering training (meaning the hard work of learning) is just not compatible with an event for consumers!

Either, I should have run the event with celebrities at the center and let them go home no more knowing how to blog than when they arrived, or, I needed to run an action-based event!

Focus an action-event on the team!

If I had wanted to promise training, I needed to improve my advertising and re-jig the event to match.  I didn’t do any of this so feel free to show me how to do it better!

  • Set a group goal and state how we will achieve it

“Bring occupational psychology to the attention of the corporate world with attractive blogs that readers return to again and again “

  • Assure participants that the training is organized

“Learn the basics with an expert on hand and graduate as a proficient blogger in one day”

  • Assure participants the group will be loyal to them

“Form a lasting network with experienced bloggers who are putting occupational psychology in front of the public”

  • Suggest ways forward

“Get an early start by registering with the event”

  • Tell participants what is needed

“Bring yourself, your ideas, your enthusiasm – we will provide the rest.”

Focus a value-event on the individual’s good judgment!

I also think that I may have blundered by designing my course as an action-based event while thinking in terms of  value – at least in terms of my own commitment.

The curious thing about value-based events is that the organizers stand back a bit and they rely on the good sense and judgment of the participants.  The good judgment of the participants is not a matter of chance, though.  We need to be close to our participants and not only understand the way they think, but share their values too.

If I were running a value-based event, then I needed to show my appreciation for their good judgement in my advertisement, provide facilities, and not take charge.   I am not sure at all that a value-based event works for people who have no experience in a domain but I may be wrong.  The dividing line is whether this event is about their judgment or mine.

If I had been running a value-based event, I would have said something like:

  • Talk to the situation and common values

“Join early-adopters who are bringing attractive and informative blogs to our clients”

  • Tell them what needs to be done

“Demonstrate to the profession the benefits of communicating with our public through the flexibility of blogs”

  • Tell them the resources

“Experience blogging with 30 other committed psychologists for a Saturday in a well-connected commuter room and specialist bloggers on hand to help with the mechanics”

  • Tell  them how to get there

“Click here for the venue, map, and sign up”

  • Keep in touch but stay independent

“Click to stay informed with the email newsletter”

  • Bring in their ideas

“Sign up here to add your ideas and shape our efforts in advance”

3 surprising insights that come with thinking more clearly about events

In truth, thinking clearly about events surprised me.

  • I hadn’t realized before that consumers like being consumers.

Often that’s what we want.  We want the magic of celebrity entertainment.  You do the work!  We’ll consume!

  • I hadn’t appreciated how much action-based events rely on the skilled delivery of levels.

Action-based events are games.  We love belonging, and in order to belong, the tasks have to be easy enough for us at the start and challenging enough for us as we level up.

  • I hadn’t been consciously aware that value-based events are curiously stand-offish.

After all, when we provide a luxury bathroom, we don’t tell people how to use it. They already know and may know better than us.  The core of a value-based event is our appreciation of our guests’ judgment.  We make the event possible with our facilities.

What do you think?

My event design has improved and I am sure will get even better as I apply some clear thinking to what I do.

Checklists & examples for good event design

Here are some check-lists and examples to get you on your way and for you to test out your thinking.  Do let me know what you think and the insights you glean.


Example of a celebrity-based event: SXSW Interactive 2011

Your checklist:

  • Who is the celebrity?  Why are they a celebrity to this group?
  • What is the takeaway?  Will it impress people back home or back at the office?
  • Are we letting consumers be consumers?  Are we expecting them to take responsibility – they want us to take the responsibility!


Example of an action-based event: Baking for Greenpeace

Your checklist:

  • Who is the team-based event?  Are the levels well thought-out and can people slip in at the right level for them?
  • What is the takeaway?  Is there a group goal that is achievable and can they see their own contribution to the goal?
  • Are we helping our guests work together in an enjoyable team?  Are we taking responsibility for their learning curve without micro-managing?


Example of a value-based event: Documentary Matchmaking at the Frontline Club [the link is now broken]

Your checklist:

  • What is the situation and what are the values that bring us here?  Is the situation immediate, is the action possible, and does it call on our values?
  • What is the takeaway?   What will people feel and remember after the event?
  • Are we giving our guests enough space to customize our facilities?  Are we celebrating their values or taking over?

Academic Background

And P.S. , if you’d like to follow up the psychology, look up Herbert C. Kelman’s Theory of Social Influence.


Where are the system specialists in UK? The amber light for UK today


If you are an accountant or financier, EPS means earnings per share. If you are a staff manager or systems designer, EPS means events, patterns, systems.

Events, patterns, systems

Here we are in November 2009, a good year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and two years after the run on Northern Rock.


Each of those is an event. People on the front line had to respond. They stood in the queue to get their money out of Northern Rock. They carried their belongings in a forlorn cardboard box out of the Lehman building.

Events are about doing. What we do brings them about. What we do deals with their consequences, good or bad.


Two banks going under (and later more) may or may not be part of a pattern. In this case, we have a pattern.

As soon as people made a “run” on Northern Rock, many of us will have asked, is the ea pattern? And if so, what shall we do about it?

Many of us sat down immediately to review the stability of our own banks. We checked out all the rules and moved our money about so all our eggs weren’t in one basket.

Patterns are about asking questions. Is a pattern emerging? If so, what are the forces behind the pattern? How will the pattern effect us? What does knowledge of the pattern allow us to turn it into an event ~ to do.


And as soon as we had moved our own assets to safety, we asked the next question: why? Why and how did we run our affairs so they led us to this peril? How was it that we missed earlier patterns and did not take evasive action earlier?

For ordinary people, systems are about pondering. And for some ranting and raving. Professional systems designers and staff managers review the information systems alert the people who “do” that something needs “doing”. We review the information systems that trigger, or failed to trigger, question. And we review the information we used to look for patterns.

Events, patterns and systems correspond to the three circles of managers.


On the front line are those that do. They need information to warn them of events and to manage events as they unfold.


One step back are managers. Their job is not to ask whether the doing is getting done ~ that is the job of doers. Their job is to look at patterns.

They might compile the information on whether the job is getting done and feed it to the frontline. But if the job is not getting done, they should ask whether the right information is being delivered at the right time.

System designers

A second step back are system designers ~ managers of managers. They neither control events nor deliver information directly.

They ask another question: will the system of doing, pattern detection and information give us the patten of events that we are able to manage?

Many people start to glaze over at this point.

What kind of work do you like to do?

Doing is busy and immediate

Most people work on the front line. They like it there. It is busy, active, sociable and very very immediate.

Good management works ahead of the action using information from days gone by

The old saying, though, is that without good governance, life is nasty, brutish and short.

Let me illustrate in everyday terms with the smallest act of good management. An irritation shared is usually quartered. When someone is carrying a heavy load, we stop to help. It takes us a few seconds and it makes a huge difference to easing their day.

When we have the right information at the right time and the right place, everyone is able to do more, more quickly. Manager might not carry the heavy loads themselves, but they will have alerted people that someone needs help, or found out whether the heavy load could have been broken into parts, or worked out whether it would be cost effective to get in some machinery.

Managers work ahead of the action by using information from days gone by. They still see what is happening. They see results and often dramatic results. But they are not doers.

Managers miss doing

In many organizations, managers come from the ranks of doers and they resent not being part of the old team. And they resent no longer having the thrill of immediacy. In some organizations, like universities, they resent the sharp loss of status because doers – those who do research – know that managers are unable to do.

In most organizations, managers also have the power to order, rather than advise, doers. Managers are also paid more.

Higher status & greater authority makes sense when we are unable to manage without first having been doers.

Increasingly though, it makes no sense at all for managers to be paid more than the people they manage. Take air traffic controllers, for example. They are unlikely to have been jet pilots. Air traffic controlling and flying planes are two different career paths which are learned and maintained separately. For very limited periods, air traffic controllers are able to give orders to pilots, but this is only a pragmatic arrangement. A system has been worked out where you “take a number and wait your turn”. Air traffic controllers are announcing the pilot’s turn ~ not telling them how to do their jobs.

We see instantly from this example that more people prefer to do ~ fly the plane ~ than control. That is how it should be. Nonetheless controlling is an important job for those who have the temperament to do it.

System designers are removed from the action but think up the system

And now you walk away, a little bored but satisfied that you understand it all. You’ve forgotten the system designers. Who thought up the system of air traffic control? Who investigates when something goes wrong?

Well, the third tier are widely despised! We don’t do. We don’t control. We are rarely seen until after the action and then only when things have gone wrong. We are the system designers and we come in two forms: the forensic – the after the event crew ~ and the designers.

Either way, our job is look at the system and ask whether it delivers a range of situations that are doable and controllable.

Obviously there are few of us. We aren’t needed every day.

The ongoing work of systems designers is seen more obviously in process plants. Highly qualified engineers design the plant and are on hand to advise when the process limps. When the system becomes luggable, or otherwise incomprehensible, the engineers are called in to reveal the more obscure ways of getting things to run smoothly again.

Design work is even more interesting because it is done ahead of time. Design work in human systems often attracts people who have a lot to say about the world. They don’t necessarily fit in well to systems work simply because the world rarely obliges us by doing what it is told!

Good systems designers are savvy. They leave plenty of room for the system to wrap itself round people and the way they do things. System designers have a good sense of side-effects, they have a sense of how long things take, and they understand the stop-and-go nature of human affairs.

But note, systems designers exist!  They’ve designed every thing you use. Banks. Post offices. Roads.

They check everything you use. There are engineers out there right now checking that the bridges are safe. There are doctors running medical “seeing ahead” to possibilities you cannot imagine. There are auditors checking businesses and banks to make sure your money is safe.

Where are the people who designed our systems?

What has puzzled me during the scandals of the last two years is that we haven’t heard much about the system designers – both designers and forensic investigators. I am not sure why we have this silence.

We are left with the impression that system specialists have been taken out of the system and the top level managers who are responsible for overseeing them haven’t being doing their job.

An amber light for the great system of the UK

For me, that is the greatest “system” amber light in UK today.

Why aren’t the system designers more visible?

Why don’t we point clearly to work units, to degree courses, to professions whose very job is to make sure life is doable and controllable?

Isn’t the lack of trust that people have in UK politicians precisely because they cannot see where decisions are made?

Who designs the system? Who checks that it is running? Point me to their offices!

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Stylish events in London

Rounding up Week 4 at Xoozya

Event manager supremo in London

Squeezed in between writing tenders, I was able to attend a most excellent reception in London hosted by the Blur Group and event-managed by the inimitable, Julius Solaris.

Cafe Phillies

On a blowy, summer evening, we converged on Cafe Philles, just off Kensington High Street, an Italian Cafe with elegant, contemporary snacks, light wines and Belgium beer.

Getting down-and-dirty with social media

We were a small gathering of start ups in the social media space.  Everyone was articulate about what they do – and they are doing.  Julius had carefully selected the guests and conversation was relaxed but focused on the economy and the in-depth discussions of business models, be they the economics of on-demand printing, databases for the assiduous management of  backroom cooperation between real estate portals, or communication systems for disaster management.  Everyone worked for start ups and was comfortable in their own skins.

Time to call in the professionals

It was a pleasure to be there.  I am not an event manager at all – I abdicate my events (!), but they are expensive affairs, even for the guests.  I would like to go to more events that are focused and smooth.

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