attendeesthumbIt sounds like a zen riddle, doesn’t it? Who do you want your attendees to be? You want them to be your attendees, of course. You want them to show up, pay the entrance fee, take notes and come back next year. Maybe they learn something, maybe they meet someone, maybe a little business gets done. What’s the trick?

What if I changed the question slightly. What if instead I asked, “Who do you want your attendees to become?” Now we’re getting somewhere.

Your attendees become your attendees because they want something out of this transaction. People don’t spend three days in a ballroom in Orlando or Vegas or New York or Chicago without the hope that they will become somehow better at something. Better salespeople, better accountants, better customer support managers, better strategists, better geeks, better techs, better leaders, or even better people.

All of a sudden, our core question gets more complicated. If you want people to be better salespeople, you have to deliver something that will help them get better. But what do you need to know to give them that experience? By defining who you want your attendees to become, you need to understand who they already are. You need to know what level they are at, what their challenges are, who they work with, who their customers are, where they’ve experienced successes, how they learn, how much they can learn in a single sitting, etc. These questions focus your thinking, keeping you from getting distracted from the real reason you building this event.

Think about your next national sales meeting (or any other big internal meeting). Instead of asking if you can afford that new hot speaker everyone’s talking about, you can ask a question about who your audience really is and who you want them to become. It helps you define the problem and the solution.

There’s a deeper (and somewhat more selfish) reason to think about this. The things that used to be differentiating factors for an event are being commoditized. Speakers are sounding the same. Slideshows look the same. Ballrooms feel the same. Even the rooms and the food services are all being commoditized (you may never get a bad piece of fish again, but it’s the same three chicken dishes everywhere you go). Anyone can go online and book that golf trip anywhere they want.

attendeespostThus, the unique selling proposition of your event can’t be about the amenities, but it should be about how well you help attendees become who they want to be, instead.

There’s no magic answer on how to make the switch, but it all starts by asking the right question and making the right answer happen. Are you hoping your sales managers become closer and better connected? List all the things you are doing to make that happen. Are you building activities? Are all your presentations couched in those terms? How about your signage, event theme and off-site events?

Are you hoping your attendees become smarter about cloud computing? What are all the ways you are helping them learn? What about people who learn visually, kinesthetically, audibly? What about people who have no idea what a cloud is and those who are cloud natives?

The changes you make may not be drastic. In fact, attendees may not even acknowledge the change, but they will feel it. Your metrics will reflect it. Your events will help them be who they want to be, and they will return for more.