I can only feel pity for those who are forced to bring forward the most completely insane ideas of their boss or senior leadership team. At least, I did in this case.
I was developing an executive conference in partnership with another organization, which was trying to apply a degree of influence that was vastly disproportionate to its financial investment. We had weekly calls, as one does. These largely consisted of me bringing forward ideas for speakers I had researched and in some cases provisionally secured, and our partner criticizing those ideas and (even though they really had no veto power) vetoing them.
Near the end of one such call, someone who worked for this firm (an incredibly nice person) haltingly mentioned she had one more point to bring up.
“I feel kind of awkward even saying this,” she began, “but we feel that, given his profile and his ongoing impact on the image of Canada and Toronto in particular, that Drake would make a great keynote speaker.”
I’ll give you a moment to stop laughing.
Come on, stop laughing.
Really, I know it was nuts, but . . .
But what, really? Why didn’t I laugh them off the call, given that this particular executive conference didn’t have a budget to pay for a mid-list author, let alone one of contemporary pop music’s biggest stars?
I was trying to be professional, and a good partner. I appreciated their willingness to dream big and aim higher. I also just didn’t push back as much as I should have. Instead, I chuckled that I would do my best.
Much earlier in planning this executive conference, a senior leader at this firm said that it was critical we concentrate first on landing what he called a “whale,” or vey high-profile speaker. Once we had that, he said, all the rest — other speakers, sponsors, registrations — would follow. This seemed to make sense to me at the time.
I’ve since learned, however, that in some cases “whales” in an executive conference are less important than simply curating an outstanding overall program. I’m seriously thinking about going to C2 Montreal again in a few weeks, for instance, but it’s not because they recruited Snoop Dogg to be their closer. It’s because there are dozens of fascinating but lesser-known speakers from great organizations I want to hear from.
When I worked on the upcoming 2018 Blockchain Summit I’m chairing with the Conference Board of Canada, we didn’t go after any whales. We went after people who are demonstrating deep insight, achieving real results and who can clearly contribute to a relevant conversation about the most intriguing (and controversial) technology trend of the year. Guess what? We got some of the biggest vendors and consultancies sponsoring our summit, I’ve been turning down speakers and we are about to sell out.
Just like brands who try to lure people with a deep discount or a buzz-worthy feature instead of focusing on an excellent customer experience, you need to think deeply about what you want an audience to get out of the event, and then build the program accordingly. I’m trying hard to do this right now, and I’m thrilled it’s working. I encourage everyone else out there putting an event together — whether it’s a two-day summit like ours or just a breakfast thing — to do the same. Sure, having the money and power to secure a major star as a keynote speaker would be nice. But as Drake is currently singing, nice for what?
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.