Mrs. Shinn Makes a Spectacle

Mrs Shinn130

Sad but true: Not everyone tasked with planning a corporate retreat, a class reunion or a charity fundraiser has the business acumen to generate excitement and actually make it a success. Some fall into the job by default (i.e., “You’re the most recent hire so you have to do the annual fill in the blank campaign”). Others are guilted into volunteering (i.e., “Don’t you care about the plight of endangered muskrats?”). Some see the title of “organizer” as a fast track to the popularity that has previously eluded them (i.e., “They’re finally going to know my name.”). Then there are those who shamelessly wrest command on the basis of their social clout; would anyone in River City, for instance, challenge the entitlement of Mayor Shinn’s wife to direct the Ladies Auxiliary Dance Committee?

All of these scenarios have one thing in common: If the person in charge has invested either too little heart or way too much ego, the event will probably fall flat.

Let’s start with corporate off-sites. Like a summons for jury duty, it’s always a mandatory event. And – like jury duty – “mandatory’ is not synonymous with “fun.” While it’s time spent away from the office, the work will continue to pile up in one’s absence and, thus, create a stressful return. Depending on the venue and duration, it’s time spent away from one’s family as well. This, in turn, disrupts the home-life routine and fosters grumpiness. Lastly is the question of why corporate off-sites are even necessary. According to the pricey facilitators brought in to run them, it’s all about team-building and the loopy premise that group hugs, tearful disclosures, and role-playing games will cause everyone to suddenly become besties when they’re back at the office. Seriously? I have yet to see this happen.

Even if your participants aren’t a captive audience and can exercise free will insofar as attendance, five critical considerations should go into the event planning process:

Incentive aka “What’s In It For Me?”

Your employees, classmates or prospective donors are more likely to embrace your vision if they can see a correlative benefit to their own lives. Will it provide them with exciting networking opportunities? Will they glean knowledge on how to achieve their goals? Will they be served an incredible meal? Will they feel better about themselves for supporting a cause that’s dear to their hearts? Never lose sight of the fact that your event likely has plenty of competition for your participants’ attention. If it’s something that’s going to take them away from their loved ones, cause them to miss another event scheduled for the same weekend, or require them to ask for time off from work in order to fly or drive, it will always be easier for them to RSVP with a “no” than a “yes.”


The current economy has given rise to a whole lot of belt tightening. In the business world, the use of teleconferencing, webinars and podcasts has proven to be a cost-effective alternative to physically sending staff members out of town. If it’s daunting to think about paying for a large group’s transportation, lodging and meals, consider hosting a virtual event that takes place on a technology platform instead. For events in which prospective participants are paying out-of-pocket (i.e., a writers conference), be sensitive in developing a pricing package that is realistically within their reach. You might also offer an “early bird special” in which those that register by a certain date can do so for a lower fee.


A colleague of mine is skipping his upcoming college reunion. Although it’s a landmark decade – and, accordingly, a steadily shrinking alumni – the reunion committee chose a venue that is 75 miles from the closest airport and has no nearby hotels. Further, it didn’t put any thought into a formal, themed program beyond a no-host bar and just sitting around. In a nutshell, the only attendees that have thus far signed up are the committee members themselves (who didn’t want to travel outside the comfort zone of their home zip code). Whether your own event is scheduled for a few hours, overnight or a weekend, you need to address factors such as (1) how do participants get there, (2) where do they park, (3) is there a shuttle service, and (4) will the hotel offer a group discount.

Weather Or Not

I used to belong to a national writers group that held their annual conference every July. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many places in the U.S. that are particularly enjoyable that time of year. Nonetheless, quite a few events do get planned for June-August, the primary draw being that attendees with families can build a vacation around it without having to take the kids out of school. If it’s the peak season at your intended locale, it’s going to be more expensive. If it’s off-season, you can usually score some perks. And, of course, never schedule your event around or near a major holiday or three-day weekend where your attendees will have to contend with heavier traffic.


If it’s going to be a recurring event (i.e., the annual Founders’ Day Social), it’s essential to find out what worked (i.e., the music), what didn’t (i.e., Mrs. Shinn’s Grecian Urn Tableau), and what everyone would like to see next time around (i.e., more food). Make it as easy as possible for participants to share their two cents., for example, lets you create a free, online survey without your respondents having to go find an envelope and a stamp. While backend feedback is useful for future improvements, it’s just as valuable to ask for input prior to an event’s implementation (i.e., “Where should we hold our first auction?”). If, however, you reject every idea that’s presented and, instead, go with whatever you wanted to do in the first place, don’t expect such decisions to be met with feelings of unmixed delight and esprit de corps.


My savvy guest bloggers this month include:

How To Increase Employee Engagement on ‘Dirty Jobs’ – By Dana Barker Davies

Were You Born To Do Something Great? – By Marlon Smith

Reduce The Complexity When Franchising Your Business – By Brian Keen

The Science of Social Media – Better Engagement/Better Measurement – By Sam Reader

Shutting Down the Whinery


It’s a fact of life that (1) we don’t always get what we want and (2) it’s only natural to want to kvetch about it. Consider, for instance:

  • The book publisher who rants that all of her authors are back-stabbing her.
  • The graphic designer who laments that the cute guy from Starbucks with whom she had a perfect first date hasn’t called her back for a second one.
  • The small business owner who trashes his competition for holding a sale two days ahead of his.

These individuals are entitled to be paranoid, weepy, angry, disappointed, or even confused about the hand they have been dealt. Catharsis, as they say, is good for the soul. Unfortunately, it can be detrimental to your brand and to your reputation if you take your venting to the cyber-highway without considering potential consequences. This is especially critical for the self-employed (many of whom operate without any formal media policies) wherein the zeal for instant and widespread visibility oftentimes overrides good judgment. Even if you’re sensitive to such issues yourself, is discretion the watchword of everyone on your team? As an example, a colleague is currently dealing with the fall-out of an intern whose FB post – “I hope I get a cool job out of the merger” – precipitated the corporate news being made public.

As of this writing, the United States Census Bureau estimates that Planet Earth is now inhabited by over 7 billion people. Research further supports that over 25 percent of these people have access to the Internet. Staggering numbers, yes, but really not that hard to absorb. On any given day, I’m pretty sure that at least half the content wafting into my personal and business email accounts is generated by entrepreneurial spammers promising to share their inheritance, get me in on a ground-floor investment, or turbo-charge my sex life. While our mailboxes – both the traditional and the electronic versions – have always been subject to unsolicited intrusions, the accessibility of today’s social media networks has created a ‘global scattergun’ approach to sharing information, not all of which is necessarily welcome, useful or even appropriate.

The inability to separate personal content from business content is illustrative of a growing belief that there’s no such thing as TMI. And it’s not just today’s youth who are guilty of being immature; the trio of individuals referenced at the beginning of this blog are all over 40 and, frankly, should know better. The fact that social media sites are figuring so prominently in employee background checks, online shopping and story research by reporters should be a prevalent red flag if you’re ever tempted to uncork all of your woes and those bottled up emotions and splash them all over a public forum.

At the end of the day, would you really trust someone to handle your company’s needs/secrets/finances – or, for that matter, to even show up for a live interview – if s/he has such an open-book history of recurring meltdowns, vitriolic ramblings or anxieties about self-esteem? Your public persona – the one that relies on sales, favorable PR and customer goodwill in order for you to make a living – calls for an artfully scripted approach that doesn’t deviate from the bottom-line message and skill sets for which you want to be admired, trusted and respected.


Here’s the lineup of this month’s blogs by my guest contributors:

Communicating with Color – by Jeanette Chasworth

Five Strategies to Succeed as a Green Business – by Shel Horowitz

Warning: Old Fashioned Fundraising Methods Can Kill Your Non-Profit – by Amandah Blackwell

Finding the One – by Nicole Reaney