Anatomy of a Business Event – Through the Eyes of A Guest

photo: MaxPixel

I’m an event planner, but often I’m also an event guest. I wanted to share a recent experience I had with you, as a sort of case study, and would love to get your feedback.

I received an invitation to come to a sales event for a brand of event software. This event promised lunch and networking. It seemed like a great idea: Check out a possibly helpful software tool, have lunch, and meet other event and meeting planners. To top it off, the event was being held in a popular downtown venue. Sounds great! I signed up online for both myself and my event manager, and put the event in my calendar.

That’s when the unrelenting phone calls started. For an event software company that used online registration, I was really surprised that they would telephone me no less than eight times to verify that I still was coming to the event. As someone who does a lot of design work as well as writing, both of which require uninterrupted thinking time, the constant phone interruptions regarding the upcoming event were a bit off-putting.

The day of the event came and I arrived ready to soak up some knowledge. It being 2018, I was surprised to see that the software presentation did not include any terminals set up for a hands-on demo, but a rather traditional (and boring) Powerpoint presentation with lots of small text on slides and a salesperson lecturing from the front of the room. As a creative events and meeting professional, I was also surprised that a company hoping to demonstrate their innovation would choose such a bland and traditional take on sales, when there was the opportunity to do more. Especially since this audience has seen every kind of event software and are hungry for something new. (Remember that word “hungry” — it’s going to come up soon.)

Nevertheless, I remained dutifully in my seat even as the presenter used the word “girls” when referring to women shown in one video portion of the presentation. Ugh. Then…the food arrived.

This is where the event, which had been teetering on the respectable side of mediocrity, took a definite divebomb towards Bad. The salad was a few leaves of lettuce with a tasteless dressing. I found myself picking through the salad looking for some morsel of sustenance. Neither bread nor a beverage other than water was offered.

Still, hope springs eternal, and as the presenter went on, I cautiously awaited the entrée course. During the presentation, the salesperson apologized several times for the “boringness” of his presentation and even skipped over some slides, saying “you aren’t interested in that”. This did not inspire confidence. At least there would be more food coming, right?

Then, the entrée arrived. We were served a quarter chicken on the bone, with a giant smear of day-glow yellow aioli, and three more lettuce leaves. That’s it, no veggies, rice, nor potatoes; no bread, just chicken on the bone with a bit of lettuce. And the chicken seemed more bone than anything else. It wasn’t just me, as I watched my fellow event planners pick carefully around the bony chicken, working hard to draw sustenance from the meal. Sigh. I would be leaving this lunch hungry.

I turned my attention back to the Powerpoint. The presenter went on about an app we could download in order to take a tour of the software; unfortunately, there was no open wifi in the banquet space and he didn’t offer to give us a password. Despite that, I was curious, so I sacrificed some of my cellular data in order to view the app. It wasn’t immediately apparent where we were supposed to login, or what we were supposed to do. I decided to put the phone down and check out the app later when I’d have access to wifi.

Finally, the presentation was wrapping up. The last three minutes of the Powerpoint was actually an engaging and interesting video with a case study from one company. This video could have easily summarized the entire hour-long presentation.

A much better use of the luncheon, I thought, would have been to open with the video, allow us all some hands-on demo time in a wifi-enabled environment, and to wrap up with simple-but-hearty finger foods and drinks. A format like that would have facilitated far more networking and buzz about the product.

If you are trying to sell me something, I understand the value of having a presentation, and I’m grateful to be taken out for lunch. But in the end, the event has to feel worth the time. Event planners have a million things to do. To use up a client’s time with a gathering that feels unfulfilling is not going to put you on their good side, nor create goodwill for your product.

As it was, as soon as the presentation was over, the salesperson asked if there were any questions and all twenty of us left the room faster than you could say “rubber chicken”.

Am I a horrible ingrate for not appreciating this lunch? Are event planners too jaded? What do you like to see at a sales presentation? Please leave me your feedback in the comments below.

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