At a time when technology is constantly offering new and unique ways to communicate, meetings and events provide vital communications forums for which there is no perfect substitute. That’s according to Richard Foulkes, director of special events and productions at London-based Imagination Group—a large, independent creative agency whose U.S. division is based in New York. Imagination employs a full range of specialists, from brand consultants to event managers, advertising specialists to interior designers, retail and digital specialists to direct marketers and event producers. Foulkes has been at the company for 27 years and has spoken to groups both nationally and internationally. Here are some highlights from a recent speech he gave in the Twin Cities to members and guests of the International Special Events Society’s Minneapolis–St. Paul Chapter. • Engagement: There are a growing number of alternatives to face-to-face dialog—everything from video and Web conferencing to threaded online conversations. All of these continue to get better as technology improves. While there is definitely a role for these technologies to play in live events, both in terms of pre-event communication and messages during the event itself, they can’t replace in-person interaction. How engaged can someone be while they have the chance to be doing multiple other things at the same time that you’re delivering the latest product story training or trying to motivate? Interaction does not always mean engagement, and a successful event requires both. We need the physical realm so that we can deliver multi-sensory experiences, create memories, amplify retention and impact, and—simply put—facilitate a handshake and a smile.
• More Than Content: An audience simultaneously processes both verbal and nonverbal cues. Put simply, it’s not just about what is said, but also how it’s said—and the “how” carries the majority of the message. Well-known psychologist and communications expert Albert Mehrabian researched the elements of face-to-face conversation and their effect on emotion, and he found that communication consists of three parts: body language, tone of voice, and words or content. Surprisingly, content accounts for only 7 percent of a person’s overall impression of an event. In other words, an event is way more powerful at communicating your clients’ message than other media.
• Environment: There are three principal characteristics of face-to-face interaction—environmental conditions (the “where”), physical characteristics of the communicator (the “who”), and behaviors of the communicator during the interaction (the “how”). Research into nonverbal communication has shown that environmental factors—like furniture, architecture, décor, lighting, color, and temperature—affect the behavior of the communicator and the audience’s impression of an event. Often there is very little meeting planners can do about the “who” at events as the person speaking is likely to be a company executive, but the “how” and the “where” offer a large and important opportunity. One way to boost the “how” is by allowing audience members to engage in experiential learning—the process of making meaning from a direct experience. The best event engages the audience with interaction in an environment that’s relevant to the message and that allows people to learn though hands-on activities, discovering insights for themselves through the stories and experiences that you create.
• Communications Channels: Today, particularly in the midst of a difficult economic environment, events and exhibitions provide vital communications channels.
These channels should be:
1.Ongoing: Along with online conversations, marketing efforts, and internal communications, events are components of continuous dialogue with your audience.
2. Aligned: Events have to prove to your audience that your internal and external conversations are one and the same.
3.Collaborative: Every aspect of your events should provide the audience with the means to contribute and collaborate—to participate in a way that makes them comfortable.
4. Responsive: Your audience should see and appreciate that you are listening and adapting to their input and involvement as things change.
5. Responsible: Every physical expression of your enterprise should make the greatest impact with the minimum material and fiscal consumption.
Companies that will flourish are those that meaningfully, honestly, and continuously communicate with their clients and their employees.
• Reputation: Positive perception means business. And actions speak louder than words—they build reputation, which is best substantiated through deeds, rather than advertising and PR. That means that event professionals should see themselves as a link in a chain of responsibility that unites supplier, agency, and client. Our decisions, actions, and assumptions have an impact—positive or negative—on those who commission our work and those who work for us. Downwards, this demands clearly defined, explicit briefings from client to agency, agency to staff, and staff to suppliers. Upwards, it means that we have to consider our work for every client through an appropriate “reputation filter” to determine what an event will say about the client. Events are live and personal demonstrations of a clients’ reputations and ethical and cultural stances. They contribute heavily to creating positive perceptions and provide a forum in which all stakeholders can align to ensure that a company’s message and its culture are experienced by its customers, its employees, and its partners. When you pitch for a project, the question to ask is, “How will what we are proposing add value and thereby enhance the client’s reputation?” It’s often said that an event professional’s job is to make clients look good. Every event that’s delivered—whether for internal or external audiences—is a visible expression of your client’s and your reputation.
For more information about the International Special Events Society (ISES) Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter, visit its Web site. For more information about Imagination Group, visit its Web site.