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Getting All Emotional

Do we consider the delegate as much as we should?

Having enjoyed the roller coaster of emotions the Olympic opening ceremony served up, I recalled a pitch delivery some years ago when, for the first time, I was presented with the ‘emotional journey’ of a conference. How the three day conference, culminating in a product launch, would unfurl, and the many emotions attendees would experience along the way.

The highlight was the climactic launch moment of the new ‘blockbuster’ product that the ever-enthusiastic sales reps would take to market within a few days, adding to their bonus pool and helping pay for the next holiday perhaps. Unfortunately, this would come on the back of the boring corporate presentations, sales training skills sessions and the “let’s all burst balloons together after lunch”, energiser.

I was convinced this was a great way to assess an event's expectations and agenda, brainstorm the key moments, look how to improve those lower points, and take the highlights even further “up, up and away”…

Too Much, Too Soon on Too Many Details?

However, the person making the ultimate decision on the supplier was solely focussed on small details - wanting to know:

  • Would he get an upgrade to a suite in the hotel?
  • Who they would suggest for the band?
  • What about the paper stock for the menus?

And so the business went elsewhere and for the next few years the predominance of logistics and small details held sway over putting the delegate's emotions and needs at the heart of the event; the focus remained on what would happen and all attending would enjoy what was rolled out for them, or be damned!

In subsequent years I have reflected on this experience often; for all types of events in many sectors, and remain convinced of the benefits of balancing logistical need with emotional experience, after all:-

  • For a training event where to pass or fail could mean the difference between keeping or losing their job.
  • For the high achiever on the incentive, considering their experiences could shape a schedule to move from being great, to being the trip of a lifetime
  • For the conference elements of training, motivation, reward, activities and downtime, a clear emotional mapping can really help the organiser not only meet but beat all their targets and objectives.

Attendees are human and all will go through a myriad of emotions on an event, come from differing start points and will reflect, consider and evaluate their experience – so perhaps we should too?

An Example for Incentive Travel

An incentive is usually constructed around straightforward principles with key targets of giving attendees experiences they couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to arrange or afford themselves. To do this will lead to a real emotional high, be it exhiliration or even a tear or two. The moment your hand wins on the blackjack tables of Las Vegas, the sun sets over Ayers Rock, you look out over the cityscape of Dubai from the Burj Khalifa or the falcon returns to your glove at the luxury Scottish estate; whatever it may be, and it will be different things to each of us; you have had a high. that will take some beating.

Emotional Mapping Makes Sense

The challenge organisers face is that the world is getting smaller and easier to travel, experiences are easier to access and book, and holiday options include many of the elements that, just a few years ago, would be the highlight of the incentive trip. This is where the mapping of the emotional journey comes in. Put yourself in the shoes of the attendee, considering all that you know about the individual attendees and the group as a whole.

  • What are the demographics and socio-economic groupings?
  • Where do they typically holiday and what experiences have they had before?
  • What is their expectation of the trip and what would they consider being a good trip, perhaps based on expectations set through previous year’s itineraries?

Spend as much time as you can researching and considering these elements mapped against your planned itinerary. Take an evening’s dinner and entertainment and keep building and building the high’s in the plan:

  • Don’t just have one emotional peak, have multiple, something Danny Boyle's extravaganza did brilliantly well.
  • Why not keep pushing the boundaries of what people will expect and smash it out of the water?
  • When you know you need to finish off the evening, don’t be afraid to tell people. They won’t mind. 

And remember, there is a great reason why performers do an encore and why that Olympic opening ceremony will live long in the memory of millions the world over.

Twin Peaks?

A great way to deliver is to consider twin destinations. Imagine the number of highlights you can include? All well and good if you can afford it I hear you say, and budgets are tight. But this is our challenge and why we are able to deliver more than just logisitics. Yes it helps to have a healthy budget, but this should not restrict your ability to plan your event, consider the emotional journey of your attendee’s, and find ways to exceed their expectations. After all, it is usually only people that restrict creative solutions.

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