Don’t Lose Your Mind Over Events

As we pack our bags for the 2016 CASE Leadership Summit, this year’s theme, “See the Big Picture,” got us thinking about how easy it is to lose perspective when you’re preparing for a major celebration.

Sitting at the leadership table with the same stakeholders week after week, it’s not uncommon to find yourself stuck in a feedback loop. Listening to the most vocal voices, dismissing ideas because “we don’t do it that way” or “we don’t have the time or the resources to do it differently,” catering only to those who are fully committed to your mission—event groupthink is the enemy of creative inspiration.

Equally dangerous is the impulse to compete in the ever-escalating event arms race—doing something new or grandiose just to compete with your peers puts you at risk of creating events that don’t feel authentic or meaningful to the people who mean the most to you.

University events that grow out of either kind of planning can succeed on many levels, but still fail in helping you achieve big-picture goals of expanding your reach, deepening your base, and laying the groundwork for the future.

So how can you reclaim the perspective you need order to create an event that is authentic and exciting and strategically focused on how the experience can move your institution forward?

Find your focus. An event designed for everybody will connect with nobody. Yes, it’s your college’s sesquicentennial, but what are you hoping to achieve with this year-long celebration? Which audiences are most important, and why?

Expand the circle. Step outside of the feedback loop and listen to voices outside the inner circle. A landmark event is a rare opportunity, and if you want to use it to bring younger alumni into the fold or reach a specific disaffected cohort, start by listening to the people you most want to reach. Taking the time to do this before the event begins the process of building those relationships.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. It always feels safest to do things the way you’ve always done them. As the leader, you set the tone. Only you can create a planning environment that banishes groupthink. Give your team license to be creative and take strategic risks. The goal isn’t to turn your event upside down or to base your entire event on a completely new idea. But we urge you to try one or two unexpected things that may help you connect with a previously untapped audience. Getting outside your comfort zone in small ways lets you expand your outreach toolkit, and may have big long-term benefits.

Be yourself—your best self. Keep your focus on your own community, and build your event around details that will resonate the most with the people you care the most about. And, of course, execute everything you do with precision and flair. Only a small portion of your community will attend, but the social media buzz from the event will ripple outwards and expand its impact. Experiences that feel authentic and meaningful will solidify your base of committed ambassadors. Tone deaf moments or execution missteps will be amplified in the retelling.

Prioritize relationships. A guest with a drink in one hand and a canapé in the other won’t remember any of the details from your half-hour strategic plan presentation. What she’ll remember is how the event made her feel. The best events stir a deepened emotional connection with your institution and strengthen one-on-one relationships between your team and your guests.

We know you can speak eloquently on the nuances of your strategic plan and your mission, but do you and your team have a deep understanding of what the people you are hoping to reach truly care about and are motivated by? Until you do, you may not get the best return on the substantial investment you’ll make in a major event.

With your next event, we challenge you to banish groupthink, create a safe space for exploring new and unexpected ideas, and try at least one thing that takes you out of your comfort zone. Cheers!

Best Practices
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