Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When Gratitude Turns Ugly

Dear Event Organizer,

I've noticed something about your events.

Anywhere a keynote speaker or acclaimed panel lurks three or four spots down on the program, there is always a lot of verbal clutter, frustration, and boredom until you give me the good stuff.

The event emcee may spend upwards of 10 minutes simply reading off names of their organization's supporters, sponsors, and volunteers, which to the event organizers might seem like an appropriate gesture of gratitude. It's as if someone started reading from the Book of Numbers, which, by the way, is the least quotable book in the Bible.

Then, of course, after the thank-yous, there is the inevitable recap of the host organization's long, strange trip, from inception to now, complete with inside jokes that only one or two others in the room understand.

Finally, these events give way fully to the paddleboard of sponsorship by allowing a representative of a sponsoring organization to stand at the podium and recite mission statements from the internet.

This is the recurring formula for today's conferences, workshops, and fundraisers, including the conference I attended today.

That is not, however, what the audience signed up for. (Unless, of course, the event is touted as the "Mother-of-All-Thank-You's" Conference.)

In fact, I will go one step further and say it is essentailly hijacking the audience by witholding what they came to see and often even paid to see.

Perhaps it is a simple misunderstanding between the meanings of gratitude and graciousness.

Certainly, an organization must express gratitude to its volunteers and sponsors by putting their names in brochures, giving them letters of commendations, immortalizing their donations in patio pavers and on the backs of t-shirts.

As a gracious host, however, an organization is obliged to attend to the needs of its guests first and foremost. This is best done by meeting their needs: keep the coffee coming, bathrooms clean, and speakers on time and relevant.

The ten minutes wasted on thank-yous to strangers and kow-towing to corporate sponsors is ten minutes I plot my escape and spread negative word of mouth. Spend that ten minutes building my trust with your organization by giving me what I came for, or, like the guy next to me today, we will start playing Tetris on our cell phones.


If I wanted to pay to practice patience, I would have gone to see The Time Traveler's Wife in the theatre.

Don't you want your event to be a seamless, audience-focused presentation instead of a clunky series of polite gestures?

May I suggest that you use your introduction to fire up people about the speaker (or panel)? If you work with your audience, help get them hooked, and move to the "good stuff", not only will your audience remember your event favorably, your speakers will feel like a million bucks because you cared enough to build them up and keep the event momentum focused on whatever theme you've established.

Oh, yeah, since we're on the topic of your events: could you please tell the caterers that if there is half a muffin on my plate, that means I am not done with that plate. They should step away from me until said muffin has met its maker.

Thank you for letting me vent! And I hope your next event goes better!

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