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What Corporate Meeting Planners Can Learn From Charity Events

My wife and I recently attended Believe Ball 2017, a wonderful evening presented by CURE Childhood Cancer, at the St. Regis Atlanta. Beyond the warm satisfaction of supporting a truly noble endeavor and having the opportunity to meet and mingle with new friends and old, it was a very interesting — and quite unexpected — learning experience for me.

Attended by more than 600 Atlantans, the event began with a cocktail reception followed by a silent auction, dinner, a live auction and a bit of late-night dancing. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised and, by all accounts, it was a delightful and successful Saturday evening for all.

On Sunday morning following, it occurred to me that corporate meeting and event planners can learn a lot from the way first-class philanthropic events are designed, planned and executed.

So Much Alike, Yet Different in Many Ways

There are obvious similarities between business meetings and charity events:

  • Both include a diverse audience.
  • Both must find a venue that is appealing and alluring, and at a fair price.
  • Both need quality lighting, sound, and projection.
  • Both involve menu planning, linens, florals, décor, seating plans, etc.
  • Both include “feel good” considerations that deliver a personal touch.
  • Both include detailed logistical planning and well-thought-out, persuasive messaging.
  • Both must generate money – one for profit, the other for principle.

And the list goes on …

But what I learned (or maybe it was just a poignant reminder) was that well-planned charitable events have a distinct clarity of purpose that’s often missing in business meetings.

And well they should!

When lives are at stake, particularly the lives and well-being of innocent young children who’ve been stricken with some form of cancer, there’s simply no room for ambiguity. This is literally life and death, so precise messaging and laser-focused purpose are vitally important if they are to generate funds and advance their cause.

On their website, CURE Childhood Cancer says: 100% Convinced. To us, this is not an uphill battle. With enough passion, hard work, and collaboration, we can do more than confront cancer. We can defeat it.

Those two dozen or so words say a lot. They ring of determination, ferocity, resolve and supreme confidence. We can defeat it.

Mary and I (and I suspect all the guests) felt that powerful energy at Believe Ball because the organizers went to great lengths to create an experience that drew you in, enveloped you, and made a deep impression.

It’s All About Connecting

They did it by sharing stories that began with the personal shock and fear that comes with a dire diagnosis then evolved to a message of hope and optimism; engaging the audience at a deep, meaningful level and bringing forth one of the most powerful dimensions of the human soul — empathy.

It’s quite something to hear someone onstage or onscreen sharing their story, “Back in 1974, I was diagnosed with …” and you see them today looking healthy and vibrant. Immediately, you’re swept up in the “We can defeat it” spirit.

Of course, there are also stories with not-so-happy endings that touch your heart (if not break it) and make you realize how vitally important this particular mission is.

In business meetings and events, we are too often barraged with data – performance results, sales gaps, competitive analysis, categorical measurements, bar charts, flow charts, scatter charts, pie charts, everything but eye charts! It can be numbing and altogether ineffective, not to mention a colossal waste of time, resources and money. The speaker droning on may be factually and mathematically accurate in all that he or she is saying but the audience member sits there – bored out of their gourd – wondering, “So, what does all this mean? What do you want me to do differently? Inspire me!”

Instead of death-by-numbers and measurement, why not kick off a presentation with a story, an anecdote, a testimonial. Even the 40-man writing team that created The Bible knew parables were the best way to bring a point to life and deliver a compelling, memorable message. And that was two thousand years ago!

If you’re in the pharma or medical device business, start a presentation – if not every presentation – with a first-person story being told onstage or onscreen by someone whose life was saved or improved by the product you’re paid to peddle. If you’re in the auto industry, have someone tell a personal story about how a safety feature protected them from peril. And if you’re in the foodservice industry, look beyond the importance of great food and quality service, and understand the momentary escape and haven your restaurant offers a dining customer.

Connect person-to-person. Soul-to-soul. Heart-to-heart.

Familiarity and repetition can quickly distance us from our life’s purpose, whether it’s played out in the business arena or personal arena, or both. From time-to-time, we need to remind ourselves why we do what we do beyond the paycheck, and how we make a difference.

Going About Your Business Doesn’t Have to Be All Business

All business meetings needn’t be, well, “all business”. Perhaps there are times when it’s entirely appropriate to depart from the data, eschew the discussion of sales goals, and connect purely at the heart level, not just the head level. Inspiration, drive and motivation come from the soul, not the analytical cranial computer we’ve all been gifted (that also happens to be devoid of emotion).

Doing so may just make you a better man, woman, husband, wife, father, mother, sister, or brother. And when you become a better person, you tend to become a better business professional. It all starts with passion and purpose.

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Corporate meeting and event professionals should study how top-quality charity events are designed and staged, and how they connect in a meaningful way with their audience through clarity of purpose.


Related Post: Sticky Stories

P.S. – In five days, America pauses to remember its fallen heroes on Memorial Day. It also signals the beginning of summer vacation season. Before we jump into backyard cookouts and watermelon seed-spitting contests, or gather to watch the Indy 500, take a moment to consider the more than 1 million servicewomen and servicemen who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms. God bless all of our heroes, living and passed.