Event Bait: Inflated Promises, Empty Wallets, Stolen Time


An invitation to an incredible event or convention arrives in your inbox, and you start to feel those little fizzy bubbles of excitement washing over you as you read through the details. They’ve promised to bring that business guru you’ve always admired to a panel, the location looks like a dream, and you’re already trying to guess what’s inside of the mysterious goodie bags they’ve sufficiently bribed you with. Visions of life-changing conversations with fellow conference-goers and bump-ins with big-name guests are already swirling around in your head, and at this point you’ve justified the hefty price tag that’ll ensure all the above is yours for the taking.

And then you arrive.

The food is lackluster, the panels offer the same old tripe you’ve heard a million times over, and you’re surround by attendees feigning smiles while the crushing regret of spending time and money to be there overwhelms every fiber of their being. But hey, at least that goodie bag sitting on your hotel bed includes some delicious caramel corn you can devour once you get through this next speaker. There’s even chocolate drizzle on it!

The $$$ Event Industry

According to the Convention Industry Council’s “Economic Significance Study of Meetings in the U.S. Economy,” roughly 225 million people spent over $550 million on corporate, not-for-profit, and association-sponsored events, conventions and trade shows in 2012. It’s important to note that this data comes from a time when the economy was still on unstable ground, and when budgets weren’t exactly robust. The study also marked a 10% increase in event attendances from 2009, and it’s safe to assume the participation number keeps rising.

Of course, a percentage of these events leave attendees feeling at least sated, if not invigorated. But there’s no denying that many fail to deliver on overinflated promises and rob you of precious time and money.

Mary Thorne, based in the pacific northwest, recently attended a ~$500 marketing conference that was paid for on behalf of her employer. Though she didn’t feel the sting associated with paying for the event herself, she was still underwhelmed and lost precious time that could have been spent on something more productive.

“They had pretty high brow speakers, and there were more than a couple that were bummers because they were almost out of touch with reality,” she explains. For example, “marketing execs from Microsoft talking about how great bots are,” or big-name company panelists discussing topics and ideas that “were either above my head or were rooted in affluence.”

Thorne says that even though there were positive aspects of the event, she still left feeling frustrated. And she’s not alone.

Travel writer Karon Warren attended one of the industry’s biggest conventions a couple years ago – covering admission, lodging and food on her own dime – and was appalled at how poorly planned and unprofessional it was from start to end.

“It was disorganized, the sessions I attended did not reflect the session description in the program, and the speed dating was a mess,” she explains.

She added that the overall vibe of the event felt more like a “party scene” than a professional conference, which further added to her frustration. She even took the time to discuss the above issues with the organizer, but with no success.

Event Planners – You Can Do Better

“With the occasional exception, my mood in conferences usually swings between boredom, despair and rage,” writes Duncan Green in a rant posted to his blog, and then later at The Guardian. As the primary conference offenders, he cites “self-aggrandizing keynotes and coma-inducing panels, followed by people (usually men) asking ‘questions’ that are really comments, and usually not on topic” and “the chairs who abdicate responsibility and let all the speakers over-run, so that the only genuinely productive bit of the day (networking at coffee breaks and lunch) gets squeezed.”

Bottom line: If people are laying out tons of cash and forfeiting their time, make their investment worth it.

For starters, go beyond the clichés – “we should empower women!” “Bots are great!” – and feature a diverse range of keynotes and panelists who offer groundbreaking, genuinely compelling information in their field of expertise. Will it be easy to find these people and pull the good stuff out of them? No. Will your efforts be worthwhile for participants? Absolutely.

Also, don’t lock attendees in a stuffy conference room and subject them to a nauseating festival of dry Powerpoints. Mix up the format with well-planned speed pitching and interactive events, and carve out plenty of time for collaborating and networking.

On that same note, long doesn’t equal better. The average attention span of humans in 2015 was 8.25 seconds, and while you’re not going to accomplish anything of significance in that period of time, you can at least be mindful of the fact that people don’t do well sitting and listening for extended periods of time. Keep the panels interesting and informative, but also make sure they’re not unnecessarily longwinded.

The moral of the story here is not that events, conventions and conferences are bad. Contrarily, it’s that they have the potential to be outstanding. So event planners, if you’re going to bait attendees, at least vow to put something really delicious on the end of that hook.

3 Min Read

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.