Many of us are trying to work out if we are heading in the right direction – are our events going to grow?
And, from discussions I’ve had recently, many of you are probably thinking what about your journey – what is your next role??
Lifecycles in events
Everything in life has a lifespan. It is the same for your events. We are all trying to increase the profile or scale of our events, and it is often difficult to know if we are trending in the right direction.
EventBrite’s 2019 industry survey found the #1 challenge facing event professionals is finding growth for their events. And many of the event people I speak with are also working out what their own growth path looks like, where their next opportunity will be.
So here are a few recognised models that may guide you onto the right path. Of course, there is no one roadmap to success, or we would all be taking it, but there are some frameworks we can follow as you navigate your way. The 3 models below focus on your events, but you may choose to substitute ‘event’ for ‘my role’ (so you can use these models for your benefit as well).1. Growth Curves – knowing how to grow
We are all seeking rapid success, immediately when we start, or for that breakthrough moment where our event will become ‘the place to be’. We hope to be an overnight success, but the reality is – as it is in most areas of life – that things take time.
We expect growth to be in line with time, or the effort we put in. Again the reality is most often a different story. Most events have started small and followed an incremental growth path.
There is always a lag in progress, between effort and results.
You may wish to consider this in the context of your role. Or another part of life. We often need to put the time in, before we see the rewards! (i.e. in the gym, from your diet, your career, etc., etc.).
Our most famous events have started with a small group of likeminded people, and grown over time. The 177 runners in the original New York Marathon. Only 1,500 came to Glastonbury in 1970. The same year 145 people attended ComicCon. They now get 145,000. The early adopters were eventually joined by the masses and we have what we have today.
Recent global success story parkrun had 11 participants at the first event. TED Talks just 500 attendees. More often than not events start with humble beginnings, and then incremental growth…
Are you in the Valley of Doubt??
We need to be aware that our expectations probably won’t match the reality. This gap between where we are at, and where we expect to be, can be very demotivating. So hang in there, and, have a plan for where you want to go.
Evolution and nature show us that ‘breakthrough moments’ are a relatively small moment in the whole lifecycle of something. Water is water until it reaches a point where it freezes and becomes ice. Bamboo grows extensively underground, and then once it breaks through the earth, it grows exponentially. The thing is, we don’t see all that groundwork going on.
What will enable your tipping point?
The famous TED Talk conferences only became famous after many years of trying. The second conference was held 6 years after the first, and it wasn’t until years later that the breakthrough growth moment occurred. TED “used to be 800 people getting together once a year; now it’s about a million people a day watching TED Talks online”.
TED reached its billionth video view 5 years ago, but it had taken some strategic shifts to enable that growth. It was only once the event model was flipped to a more ‘shareable’ one that the ‘Ideas worth spreading’ received exponential growth. The tipping point was the when the pool of content that had been developed was freely shared online with the world. The exponential growth was enabled by the decision to make the ideas truly shareable.
“We decided to flip the organization on its head and think of ourselves not so much as a conference but as “ideas worth spreading,” building a big website around it. The conference is still the engine, but the website is the amplifier that takes the ideas to the world.” – head of TED, Chris Anderson
Importantly, what TED did, was identify the need for change, to evolve, to grow.
2. Where are you going?
Three things may happen with your events lifecycle, it may grow, stagnate, or it may die. And if it is growing, there are two likely paths it may take, exponential growth, or incremental growth.
The Exponential curve (also known as a J-curve) occurs when there is no limit to population size (or market opportunity). The Logistic curve (also known as an S-curve) shows the effect of a limiting factor (in this case the available market for your event).
The J & S Growth Curves
J curves and S curves are two modes of measuring population (or event) growth.
Participation sports events such as marathons followed enormous growth throughout the 1980’s-2000’s. This ‘Running Boom’ growth then tailed off as the potential market of marathoners was limited, and almost maxed out. What then accelerated the next phase of growth was that running became cool again, and as the rise in women’s participation opened up new growth, this caused a ‘jump in the J curve.’
And then, once the Running Boom 2.0 growth hit a limit, new parts of the population were accessed, with the emergence of obstacle and themed running style events.
This is simplifying the running market scenario a little, but represents the growth trends that emerged.
Womens’ only events, Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathons, Colour Run, Tough Mudder and Spartan all opened up new growth in the active participation event markets.
These growth trends and lifecycles may be observed in many event markets, especially in sports and entertainment today.
How can you jump the J curve?? What is the next phase? The next market??
Analysis and strategy is essential for the next phase of your growth. Looking at where your event is at in its lifecycle, and, the capacity of that market is critical. The smart people I’ve worked with all recognised this is the path to a productive event lifecycle.
The rugby sevens concept gave rugby the opportunity for global growth in new (and existing) markets. And then, with these 7’s events, changes have been made, such as shifting locations, to make sure rugby is jumping into a new J curve.
And for you – look at where you are at within your current organisation, is there something you need to do to jump onto the next phase of growth? Picking the next best wave to carry you forward in your journey.
3. Why aren’t you growing?
Sometimes we need a reality check. To check whether we are on the right path.
So often in events, we repeat what we did last time, and it is natural given we are looking for efficiencies, to use our learning’s, and to lessen risks. But we should check what we are doing, seeing if it is still giving us the desired results.
The Law of Diminishing Returns
This Law means that we reach a point with our efforts, or our entire events, where the level of benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy we are investing into it.
Yes, it is difficult to pull back or drop out
Admittedly our human wiring for loss aversion (we fear losing more than we desire gains), coupled with a reluctance to give up something we’ve invested ourselves in – the sunk costs – means this can make these discussions more difficult to make. But we need to be aware of what is going on.
Likewise from your personal perspective, there is the usual pattern that your role on an event is exciting in year 1, a chance to make things great in year 2, but starts to reduce in years 3 and 4. This isn’t always the case, perhaps check if you’re in a state of diminishing returns within your role. If there is, having a chat to your manager about your next phase may make a big difference.
4. The reality is
I work with event teams to help design events, but what I’ve also found is that the most significant demand is in the redesign of events. And I think this is a case of many events reaching a mature state, of us realising there needs to be a new way of working, to navigate our way towards growth.
THE REAL JOURNEY
Scott Belsky’s brilliant book ‘The Messy Middle’ gives some great tips on how to navigate these journeys. The main points being, to set these cycles in motion, we need support, some clever tactics and tricks as we go.
So often events lifecycles and our own lives take on a seemingly random path. We are all working out where we are going on our journey, both with our events and for ourselves. But despite the 2 steps forward, 3 sideways and 2 back scenarios that we seem to encounter, the paths we take will often follow these models. So I hope they may help guide you in your next phase of growth.
If I can help with that, please let me know.
And… a good friend reminded me recently if you don’t ask, it doesn’t happen. So please, can I ask you to share this with anyone you think may find this valuable? And if you do, thank you!