As author Neil Gaiman puts it , “Empathy is a tool to form groups, to enable us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals. You learn that everyone else is you too. He is being someone else, and when he returns to his own world, he will be slightly changed .
All very well, in theory, but thinking and designing empathy first isn't always easy.
However, that doesn't mean it should be avoided - it 's crucial to creating a great experience for your visitors.
Putting Them First - Planning events and exhibitions with your needs in mind rather than just yours will take time, but is crucial to success.
What exactly is empathy?
There is nothing wrong with having your own goals; in fact, organizing any event without first knowing what you are aiming to accomplish is a huge waste of time and money.
You can feel that: you know the latest trends, the key people, the main developments. But did you really stop to find out what things look like through the eyes of your guests and event exhibitors?
In 1990, Elizabeth Newton, a psychology student at Stanford University, illustrated a phenomenon known as " the curse of knowledge ."
He assigned volunteers for the role of 'listener', and asked the gatherers to take advantage of the rhythm of a well-known song on the table for the listeners to guess.
The extractors predicted that 50% of the songs would be guessed correctly. In reality, this figure was 2.5%.
For the gatherers, who were very familiar with the melody they were playing and couldn't play without hearing it in their heads, the answer was obvious.
For listeners, who simply listened to the taps as they were played, it was almost impossible to choose the melody.
When organizing an event, you may have a whole tune in your head, while your exhibitors and visitors are faced with a spotty touch.
His work? Make sure the song is audible in its entirety to everyone involved.
Why is empathy so important in events?
You can assume that you have already defined all relevancy - after all, the previous events you have organized have been comprehensive, have generated profits, and have received positive feedback from participants.
But assumptions are dangerous things to do, and if demographics change and audience needs change, your approach may have to change as well.
This is where the curse of knowledge begins. Richard Shotton's The Choice Factory describes a disconnect between our own views of our marketing efforts and consumer views.
As an example, he cites digital screen advertisements, often created with the assumption that they will have "the luxury of a few seconds to grab a reader's attention . "
However, in reality, eye tracking has shown that the average online ad display time is just 0.9 seconds, suggesting that more simplicity is needed.
Event organizers can easily fall into the same trap.
"We've always done it this way and we always get the numbers we need", "Competitor X uses this format and their events always sell out", "[topic] is the current big trend, so people will want to know" - But do you know for sure that these statements are true?
The first could be because there is no other alternative, but if given another option, the attendees would take it.
Competitors may sell out, but you have no way of knowing if they have had to hand out free tickets or reduce booth prices.
And a certain topic may be popular, but is it an exhibition your target audience wants to know about, or can you get all the information you need elsewhere without incurring time and financial expenses?
Exhibitors, too, can suffer. You may be so close to your own offering, and so knowledgeable in your field, that you've forgotten what it's like to talk to a beginner who doesn't know anything about who you are and what you do.
Talk to your booth visitors like you would a colleague… and then wonder why they don't seem as excited as you thought they should be.
In both situations, the problem is not necessarily what you are doing, but how you are doing it.
The right content needs to be presented in the right format, to solve the right problems and communicate in the right way, and all for the right price, or you'll have a hard time getting the reactions you expect.
How to organize an exhibition with empathy.
The key to avoiding the curse of knowledge and being truly empathetic is understanding - putting yourself in the audience's shoes to get a first-hand view of whether what you are actually doing is exactly what they want and need.
It's what Dove did with its Campaign for Real Beauty: realizing that what its target market wanted was not a bar of soap or a bath bottle, but, as initial research found, to feel beautiful.
His mission, as a result, was "to make women feel comfortable in the skin they have, to create a world where beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety."
His approach was not product-driven: instead, he focused on the pain points, wants, and aspirations of his audience.
He spoke to them on a personal level, rather than just listing the standard benefits. What's more, it doubled sales of Dove Firming Cream in just one month.
The campaign was based on research, giving Dove a deep understanding of its audience. And while pre-event polls and post-event feedback can help you get in the right mindset to empathize with your audience, could you go further?
Could you visit other events as a visitor or exhibitor and write down what works and what could be improved? Could you collaborate with your audience from the start, to design a stand or exhibition that fully meets their requirements? Or could you meet your target market, spend a day with them to really get to know them?
The latter was an approach that worked for Airbnb founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia. In a chance encounter with Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, they were trying to figure out exactly why they weren't growing.
Graham asked them where their clients were. It turned out that most were in New York, Chesky and Gebbia were in Los Angeles. Graham's advice? Go to New York.
By heading to New York and meeting their clients face-to-face, they were able to gain valuable information that they would not have already obtained.
So they were able to build a brand that people loved to deliver great value and address some of their direct concerns.
The images kept popping up again and again - homeowners were concerned that their property would not look good.
To help, Airbnb sent a professional photographer to take professional photos of the apartments. This small change made them double their weekly income.
This was the first time Airbnb had made a profit in more than eight months, and it was all due to a greater understanding of its target market and a more personalized approach.
For them, it was the photos that made the difference - for the exhibition organizers and exhibitors, it's a different story.
Empathy and events: things to consider.
Whichever approach you take, it is not only in the design of the event that it is important to involve the element of empathy, but also that it encompasses the entire life cycle of the exhibition and a wide range of elements.
- Communication. Are you using the channels, language, and tone that best suit your target audience? Are you communicating in the right way, at the right time, before, during and after the event?
- Content . Put yourself in their shoes - are they likely to get exactly what they want from visiting you?
- Format. You'll want to make a profit, but are there alternative income streams you can add that will also attract attendees?
- Location . Is it easily accessible, with hotels and train stations or airports nearby?
- Food Are you catering to all dietary requirements, with options to suit the format? For example, are you offering a three-course meal when all your guests want something quick and easy to eat while networking, or between theater sessions?
Understanding how to organize an exhibition, event, or exhibition stand is not simply a case of filling up the floor space, reaping the financial rewards, and hoping for the best.
Instead, put yourself in the shoes of your audience and look at your plans objectively, asking yourself, "Am I getting what I really want from this event for the time and money I have invested?"
If the answer is no, it's time to go back to the drawing board.
As Richard Branson said , "To be successful in business, you have to be original, but you also need to understand what your customers want."
Without thinking about the customer first and putting empathy in everything you do, can your event be a success?