Event Management

11 Stupid Event Rules that Drive Everyone Insane

Just because it’s always been done that way, is no reason to continue the foolishness. It’s time to get rid of these 11 outdated rules and traditions in the event industry.

Every job has its stupid rules and sacred cows that may have existed for a reason at some point but their need has long since expired. Sadly, they’ve endured. For instance, the Olympics has a “stupid rule” that only two athletes from each country can progress to the gymnastic finals. The event industry is no different. These “stupid rules” drive everyone insane…

Pick a Track and Stick to It

There are still conferences out there that insist on attendees selecting a track and only participating in the sessions in that track. First of all, we’re not all one-dimensional careerists who have no other interests outside of our track. Plus, when you limit people like that you encourage them to ditch the sessions they’re not interested in. Since they can’t leave their track and go to another, they’ll create their own sessions in the hallway and guess what? They likely won’t keep to discussions in their track. This rule also flies in the face of allowing attendees get the personalized learning experience they likely want.

Instead, be flexible in allowing people to choose what works for them. Try to avoid overlaps of popular sessions at the same time.

No Smart Phone/Social Media Usage During Sessions

While this one is thankfully dying the death it deserves, there are still some speakers out there who in addition to silencing cell phones also want attendees to put them away. In their minds, the phones are distracting. What they don’t see is that people use their phones for a lot more than texting. Avid phone users, who never make eye contact with the speaker, could be just as engaged as someone staring at the stage. The head down attendee may easily be tweeting every bit of conference goodness thus recruiting more attendees for next year’s event.

In addition to banning smartphone usage, some conferences ban social media all together because of WiFi bandwidth. Conference organizers worry that if everyone is using it, it will slow down too much so instead they ban it altogether. Don’t do this. Just upgrade your WiFi.

Everyone Has to Look the Same

Whether it’s event staff or vendors, many companies believe people working the event should all be dressed in boxy khakis (or black slacks) and a polo. This clothing is often unflattering and when people don’t look their best, they don’t perform as well. Instead, select something that gives the same general look but is flattering to each individual. For instance, leave the actual clothing up to the person (or suggest colors) and insist upon them wearing a noticeable (and assigned) scarf.

You Must Begin with Housekeeping Messages

Writers are told to begin stories with the action, not the back story. Why? Because the backstory is boring. Grab your audience first. Excite them. Then dribble in the backstory where needed. The event industry needs to take a page from that novel-writing tip book (pun intended). Don’t begin your conference with “housekeeping” details like where the exits and restrooms are and how attendees should silence phones during sessions. These details are boring and immediately turn people off. Not sure? Just watch people during the airline safety message before a flight. Passengers’ lives could depend on that information and still no one is paying attention. Do you think they’ll actually be listening to the event details when lives aren’t at stake? If you must provide housekeeping information, and don’t want to place it on your app or somewhere else people can see it on their own, take a look at what this Southwest Airline flight attendant did.   

Everyone Must Wear a Badge

Yes, nametags help people remember one another’s names, but most conference name tags contain only a name and maybe a company and are in fact fairly pointless. It might be time to take a suggestion from Disney, and other theme parks, and include another piece of information on them that spurs conversation. Disney uses name and hometown. They employ a lot of people from all over the world and they have visitors from a lot of different countries as well. This little tidbit on the nametag goes a long way to make people feel at home. You could do something similar by including valuable information depending on your demographic. Gaming nickname or twitter handle could be used as could the number of times the person has attended. What you’re looking for is a way for people to make connections with one another outside of where they work.

You Must Serve a Three Course Dinner

No one wants a rubber chicken dinner. It had to be said. When budgets are limited, it is better to serve an impressive snack than an unimpressive dinner.

You Need a Keynote and S/he Must Use PowerPoint

Keynote speakers often fall into two categories – famous and expensive or unknown and affordable. Some events will select a keynote based on name only even if the message that person has is only loosely tied to the audience. These big name speakers eat up a huge portion of the event budget and usually spend very little time at the event. The ROI simply isn’t there in many cases especially if the message misses the mark for a niche audience. Many groups feel an unknown can’t be a keynote because your keynote should help get people in the door, and they believe an unknown can’t do that.

Don’t feel like a keynote is mandatory.  There are a multitude of other options including panels and Ask Me Anything sessions. You can even have an open session about issues facing your attendees. For this you need only a great moderator and a portable mic.

Whatever format of speaking sessions you decide on, remember PowerPoint is the rubber chicken dinner of presentations. Today’s technology has far surpassed PowerPoint’s capabilities. Even if its capabilities are great, (we can debate that), people use it as a crutch or a springboard to boring presentation central. Instead opt for more creative tools like Canva, Adobe Spark, or Prezi. Better yet, work on your presentation skills all around and use different kinds of media to keep your audience’s attention. Things like live polling, videos, and podcast clips can be used in conjunction with one another for a much more memorable presentation.

The Panel Decides the Session Topics

In most events, speakers pitch a topic and a panel votes on them. This ensures, that if selected, they will speak about whatever it is their book or latest money-making activity is about. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the content can be very predictable. The Nonprofit Enterprise Technology Network (NTEN) turns the tables on that tradition. First it asks for public submissions, then the public votes, only after the public votes does the panel have a say.

Alcohol Must Be Provided

Evening events always seem incomplete without alcohol, at least that’s the rule of the event industry, right? Whether you have an open bar, an open sponsored bar, or a cash bar, there’s always liquid courage available and the Instagram pictures posted that night to prove it. No peer pressure here folks. You can have an event without the adult beverages but you’re going to have to get over the crutch of alcohol as entertainment.

Provide Printed Agenda and Materials

Okay, this one is not really a stupid rule, more of a pet peeve. With electronic personalized agendas, e-badges, and 100 other ways to ditch the paper why do so many people still cling to it like a life raft? From the environmental costs of printing off thousands of agendas and feedback forms, to the staff time, to the impossibility of customizing these materials or changing them once they’re printed, why do we continue to use something this inefficient?

Treating Every Attendee the Exact Same

Again, not a rule, but something the industry should be moving away from. Instead, use your data to create personalized moments of delight for attendees. This does not mean every single attendee needs to be showered with his/her favorite things. But it does mean the knowledge about preferences should be used.

In Conclusion

There are a number of stupid rules the event industry is clinging to. As preferences evolve and social media continues to play such a big role in our lives, it’s important to embrace the changes it brings along with it – personalization, crowdsourcing, and the idea that everyone is a publisher. To ignore these changes is to do so at your own peril.