Recently, I chatted all things future of events with Irina Graf of the MICE blog and in particular, we talked about some of the buzzwords circulating in the industry. It is amusing to me that with years of discussion around topics such as ‘community’ or ‘365-engagement‘, they only emerged recently as mainstream concepts in events. At the same time, it’s not surprising since human psychology is at play here. It made me reflect on how quickly we adopt new concepts and how it relates to the situation the events community has been facing for the past two years.
The driving forces of behavior
Rory Sutherland says in a recent podcast on why intuitive thinking wins, “Habit, norms, and social proof are the really big driving forces of behavior”. Under normal circumstances, changing behavior is not easy. And then we’ve got the pandemic that forced us to change the way we live and work. It established and facilitated new habits; a solution that nobody in events had been using on a mass scale just a couple of years ago has become an unstoppable verb (yes, I mean zoom): everyone is using it; and the pressure of social proof for trying out new practices (those things that both companies and individuals were reluctant to use, each for their own reasons) got huge.
Predicting the future of events
Fast forward to now, and we’re still trying to predict the future of events based on the wrong premises. We keep relying on market research (aka “51% of executives predict that all live events will include a virtual piece from now on” What?). I’m not saying we don’t need data – we certainly do. But we should not rely on it as much because it leads us to believe we can solve problems with ‘logistical’ tools when the root of many problems is behavioral in nature.
Rory offers an excellent example from the transport industry: data indicates that people are happier if trains and planes arrive on time. If we make the wrong conclusion that punctuality is key here, then we introduce some ‘logictical’/engineering improvements so that transport arrives on time. Truth is, unpunctual transport doesn’t make people unhappy – a feeling of uncertainty does. What they truly (and unconsciously) want is to avoid that emotion, and to feel relaxed.
So rather than expensive pilot trainings and extensive changes to operational procedures for airlines, all you need to do to make the customers happy is to say a few words when it is announced that there is a delay. Compare “Flight number xxxx delayed” with “Flight number xxxx delayed for 37 minutes”. The latter eliminates uncertainty; passengers can make calculated decisions about their plans and determine whether or not they should make changes – call a family member or a colleague, cancel the meeting, rebook the connection flight, etc.
The outcome? A happy customer. What did it take us to make them happy? Putting psychology first.
Increase creative solution space with behavioral science
Now, back to events. In events today, there is a great amount of uncertainty on every level. Instead of attempting to guess if another market research will help you, I urge you to embrace the following advice: “we should acknowledge that there is much more uncertainty in the world that we like to think…When you get people to acknowledge it, it does not guarantee you’ll be successful but it massively increases the possible creative solution space”.
So event planners and suppliers – I’m looking at you. If you want to mitigate the negative consequences of what we are experiencing, at least to a certain extent, and if you want to innovate, you need to incorporate psychological solutions into your toolkit. Another quote: “Once you admit psychological solutions to the armory of possible problem solving tool, the scope for creative imagination and imaginative testing goes up enormously. The greatest value of behavioral science is not that it provides you with answers but that it encourages you to test much more widely than conventional logic would suggest.”
Applying such solutions requires the courage to experiment, and I’m happy to see there are eventprofs out there who are willing to explore ways that may feel counter-intuitive – like the Freelance Business Month team who I collaborated with to test some psychological concepts.
In times like this, I shouldn’t be trying to convince you that understanding human behavior better is the most important skill to develop. Yet, I feel that we are not yet at that critical mass level as with ‘community’ or ‘365 engagement’, so I keep talking #eventpsychology. I believe it is key in making the future of events bright, and the most forward-thinking eventprofs are already taking advantage of behavioral science insights. Are you?