If you want to be great at event management, you need to get comfortable with failure. Being an event planner requires you to constantly put yourself on the line: From taking a chance on an unknown speaker and convincing your board to change up how you program your conference or adding a new event app like Pathable so you can better connect your attendees with the relationships they want.
The more chances you take, the likelier you are to sometimes — even frequently — fall flat on your face.
And when it happens, occasionally all of the attendees are watching.
But as Robert F. Kennedy said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
Don’t beat yourself up for failing. These seven options will help you see your failure in a positive light.
1) Failure is a Chance to Increase Your Resilience
There are only two possible options to failure: Either you give up, or you dust yourself off and try, try again.
If you take the second option, you’re guaranteed to become more resilient. Trying again gives you confidence. The next time you fail (yes, you’ll fail again), you’ll remember this situation and think, “I got a little bit further towards my goal this time. I can try this again (and again, ad naseum).
Remember Thomas Edison’s words as he tried to create the lightbulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
2) Failure is The Beginning — Not the End
We tend to think of failure as the end of an opportunity. Your boss decides to go with another venue, so you pack away the capacity chart for the property you really wanted. The end.
However, every failure is actually a beginning. Maybe you keep an eye on the property to watch for renovations and updates they’re making. You build a new case for your boss on why this venue is the right fit for your event. They’re impressed by your persistence and decide to take a chance on the space.
As Gena Showalter said, “Giving up is the only sure way to fail.”
3) Failure Allows You to Build Tolerance to Risk
“Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.” – Robert T. Kiyosaki
Failure is proof that you thought you could reach the sky. That you were confident in your ideas. You could avoid having that uncomfortable meeting with your conference committee when “everyone” swears that new agenda structure fell flat with attendees, but you shouldn’t. Because sometimes you get the conference evaluation results back and 50% of the attendees actually loved it!
Sometimes you win big. Sometimes, it’s a draw. However, at the end of the day, you should be proud of your failures. Each one represents a time you put yourself out there.
Just make sure you’re learning from your failures. It’s a foolish person who repeats a bad idea once proven wrong.
4) Failure Keeps You Realistic
Winning feels good. Succeeding feels good. So, when we plan an outrageous idea that goes 1000% smoothly, it can go to our heads. Which can make us tough to live with and perhaps tempt us to bite off more than we can chew the next go round.
Taking risks and dreaming big doesn’t mean that you ignore reality. You still have to keep in mind the time, resources, and scope of your event. Keep this questions at the core of your thinking: is this best for our attendee experience?
Then go ahead. Think outside of the box. Just have backup plans in case out of the box is too big for your conference compatriots. And always do your research and create the business case for why you took the risk.
Because when you fail (and again, remember, you will at some point), and someone points a blaming finger, you’re well prepared to say yes, we did fail. Here was our thinking when we tried the ideas and here’s what we learned to do better next time.
5) Failure Helps You Test Assumptions
Event planners rely heavily on assumptions. Think about the ones you’ve made this month alone, from “That type of AV company can’t provide the support we need” and “Surely we can afford that event app” to “No one really likes that much chicken at conferences” and “They’ll probably get the most value from these this new program.”
Assumptions help you make better decisions. Just like it’s a rare venue that would take your business sans deposit without previous meetings history, your assumptions help you use previous experience to infer what will and won’t work. Sometimes, we can get the wrong assumptions into our heads. And we need to know we’re wrong so we don’t continue to repeat our mistakes.
6) Failure Can Make a Team Stronger
I once worked with an association who rebranded their organization and annual event and didn’t tell the membership it was happening until we magically changed the logo and redecorated the entire conference hall live during a morning general session. I think 50 people (out of 7,500) knew before we did it.
It didn’t go well.
As embarrassing and frustrating as the public failure was, though, our staff and board failed together as a team. From the CEO and the Board President on down, we shared the responsibility for the failure to be transparent, listened to the hurt feelings from the membership, and ate crow together as a team.
This memory might sound negative, but in hindsight, I look back and am incredibly proud of that time. We didn’t play a blame game. We instead acknowledged and moved forward, stronger.
7) Failure Helps You Reach Beyond Low Hanging Fruit
If you aren’t leading your events team to think about longer range goals and innovations for your attendees on a regular basis, then you’ll forever stay in a short-range, low-success space. We joke a lot in the events world about how slow change happens, but it can be startling to realize we’re part of the problem.
Meeting planners are risk-averse by nature. We want to know the outcomes and redundant backup plans for everything. This means that when we’re too focused on the now, it steals our energy and momentum towards later — our future.
Sometimes you won’t know the outcome before you take the risk.
Attendees have more options than ever for their professional development, their networking, and their conferences. Why sacrifice our long-term event viability and financial stability by holding too tightly onto our fear?
I mean, they’re called Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG) for a reason.
And the more you practice failing, the less likely you are about being scared about trying to achieve that BHAG.