What directors want from event professionals

In 2000 a movie was released staring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt entitled What Women Want. In the movie, the character Nick falls in his bathtub while holding an electric hairdryer and suffers an electrical shock. The next day, as he walks through a park and meets various women, he realizes that he can hear all their thoughts. The film speaks to the ageless issue of men’s supposed inability to understand what women want.

In a number of events, such as annual general meetings, trade shows, and tribute dinners, special events organizers are required to deal with the company’s board of directors. Being a member of a board of directors represents an exalted level of business achievement with far reaching responsibilities.

What directors want from event professionalsIt is the board of directors’ duty to represent the interests of the shareholders. They approve corporate strategy, confirm that the company conforms to all laws and regulations. Most importantly, the board of directors is responsible for hiring, firing and paying bonuses to the executives of the company – your clients. Over recent years the duties of directors of have grown and become more complex, so they usually have a lot on their minds. Needless to say, your clients would like you, the events coordinator, to impress the board of directors and allow the executives to bask in the glow of the successful event.

You might wonder if that isn’t true of any supplier. Not entirely. As an event organizer, you are far more likely to come in contact with a board director than most other suppliers. If an annual general meeting or high profile corporate dinner goes badly, directors are far more likely to remember that than a poorly phrased paragraph in an annual report or office furniture that does not quite fit the décor for example.

So what do directors want from event professionals? What can you do as the event organizer to impress them and leave a happy and grateful client?

As with the movie, the challenge is to know what directors want.

Early in my career, I thought that given the elevated status of directors and their vast experience, what could I say or do that they don’t already know? After several events I noticed that directors, left to their own resources without support or direction, tended to stand around looking confused and uneasy. This is a situation that the CEO of your client company never wants to see a director in.

The key to understanding what board directors want, is to understand who they are, what they do and what they expect. Directors of companies usually sit on several boards. They are often simultaneously CEO’s or senior executives of other companies. They are used to strong staff work and good planning. They expect that everyone, including special events, is doing their job and keeping them informed.

Let me illustrate by an example. A company that I once worked for participated in a major three-day international trade show and conference. All the world’s major customers and competitors were there. The trade show was so important that all the members of the board of directors attended. It was also for us, a very complex event. Several directors were speaking; representation was required at a number of presentations; we were holding a major client evening; a number of private side-meetings were scheduled, and we were manning a large booth in the middle of the trade floor. An almost military-liked planning was required to pull this off successfully.

The company in question had a considerable engineering practice. As a result, we decided to emulate an engineering project management style. After close and careful consultation with the company CEO and the chair of the board of directors, we provided each director with a conference work package that outlined the schedule for the three days, where they should be and what they should do – including working shifts at the booth on the trade floor. There was some worry that the directors might feel as if they were being pushed around. On the other hand, the directors were busy people who wanted to be certain that all their time at the conference would be efficiently and effectively used. Most importantly, they did not feel it was their responsibility to figure it out for themselves.

Our presence at the conference was very successful. The directors were relaxed because they were comfortable that everything was thought through. They threw themselves into every activity with confidence and enthusiasm.

What do directors want from event professionals? They want:

  1. You the specialist to think through everything that needs to be done.
  2. To know what the objective of the event is and to be provided with concise background information.
  3. To be told in very clear and simple terms what is expected of them. (Clear and simple does not mean abrupt or rude. Be sure to treat directors with the respect that they are due.)
  4. To have someone always nearby who can answer a question or help with a request. (At large events it is best to assign one-person full time to supporting directors.)

In my experience most directors are pleasant, agreeable and engaging people. There is no need to feel intimidated by their status. They understand the challenges of organizing major events because they themselves attend a lot of them. The genuinely appreciate the help and support they receive.

As for understanding what women want – that will remain a mystery for men for sometime to come.

About the author:

George Bothwell has spent a career leading marketing and communications strategies to build corporate reputations in North America and Europe. He has acted as the senior marketing and/or communications officer at Bank of Montreal, Barclays Bank and Atomic Energy of Canada. In these capacities, he has held the corporate responsibility for special events including annual meetings, franchisee events, media conferences, financial analysts’ briefings, employee meetings and major sponsorship programs such as the Olympics. He began his career in the Government of Canada where he was Departmental Assistant to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce; Secretary to the Foreign Investment Review Agency; and Vice Consul and Trade Commissioner at the Canadian Consulate in Philadelphia. After leaving the Government of Canada he was Vice President of Communications and Environmental Affairs for Coca-Cola Canada and Director of Packaging for Coca-Cola Europe. He has managed marketing and communications programs in Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia. During his career he has lived in Ottawa, Toronto, Philadelphia, Brussels and London. He currently runs a consulting practice focusing on marketing and communications issues.

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