When we asked Aaron Wolowiec of Event Garde LLC to lead a continuing education class on justifying conference expenses, he had a fundamental problem with the premise.
"I don't think justifying expenses is a practice we should be supporting," said Wolowiec, who's been in the business for more than 10 years. "Justifying expenses, to me, has a really negative connotation to it."
He envisioned people getting called on the carpet and having to do some serious CYA. So, what did he want to talk about? Demonstrating conference value. That sounds much more pleasant, doesn't it?
"It won't be unreasonable to have high costs in certain areas if that's where you hope to achieve your desired outcome," he said. But Wolowiec is a realist. He knows spending more in one area means finding savings in others. And you find savings in one of two ways: controlling costs or maximizing value.
Controlling costs is self-explanatory. If your evening entertainment is where you know you'll get the most impact with your guests, then go big. But at breakfast, opt for continental instead of the omelet bar. In meetings, use water pitchers on the table instead of pricey bottles.
Maximizing value isn't always so obvious. It's finding ways to get more out of what you already paid for.
Woloweic used an orange as an example. If a recipe calls for a half cup of fresh squeezed orange juice, you buy an orange, squeeze out the required juice and you're done. But how many people will then throw that orange away? What about squeezing more juice to drink, or using the zest of the rind for flavor?
Now say that orange is an event speaker you paid $5,000 to give a lecture.
"What is their zest?" he said. "We want to get more out of that five thousand dollars so we can maximize our resources."
Some ideas? You could ask the speaker to:
- Write a blog post before or after the event to create buzz or continue the conversation.
- Host a Twitter or Facebook chat.
- Record a promotional video.
- Write a newsletter article.
- Be part of a magazine interview.
- Host a webinar.
- Participate in other onsite events.
That adds a lot of bang for your buck. And when you successfully find those areas to maximize value, remember to tell people. You know: your stakeholders, those same people who might have asked you to justify expenses.
We learned this first-hand: Not only did Wolowiec deliver a solid message for our continuing education class, he stayed for lunch to answer questions from attendees and he agreed to be interviewed for this blog.
I'd say we maximized our resources on that one.
In his presentation, Wolowiec illustrated the difference between justifying expenses and demonstrating value: The first is reactive, with the focus on how much money the event organizer spent. The second is proactive, focusing on the value of the attendees experiences and how it aligns with conference goals. Which approach makes more sense?