The other day, a bout of curiosity about the type of literature out there for event planning pros led me to conduct an impromptu online search. A quick query on Amazon for “best event planning books” returned hundreds of results, with titles varying from beginner’s guides (Meeting and Event Planning for Dummies), to technical tomes (Special Events: A New Generation and the Next Frontier) to resources that weren’t totally on topic but were good for a grin (How to Look Smart in Meetings).
But, despite the fact that I’m the founder of an event technology company and a diehard attendee-experience advocate, few of these books piqued my interest. That’s not to say that some of them aren’t inherently valuable to event professionals. And—full disclosure—my lack of enthusiasm could be a symptom of the fact that it’s now 110 degrees here at Attendify’s offices in Scottsdale, Arizona (it’s hard to get too worked up about anything for fear of expending precious energy).
So I switched gears and thought about the books I’ve read recently that have made an impact on me. Even though there wasn’t an “event industry” book in the bunch, I realized that three of them had major takeaways for event professionals. Which just goes to show you, sometimes you find the best inspiration when you step outside of your comfort zone. Read on for the full list, and why event organizers should give these books a shot.
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
By David Epstein, Riverhead Books
The gist of it: Conventional wisdom tells us that specialists thrive in the modern world and workforce. Everywhere you look, there are high-paying jobs—entire industries, in fact—that require deeply specialized employee skill sets (think software engineers, doctors and lawyers). In light of this philosophy, doubling down on one narrow area of focus as early in one’s career as possible would seem like a safe bet for professional enrichment.
Yet, in his research, Epstein found that those now at the forefront of highly specialized fields didn’t necessarily specialize early on in their careers. Instead, in most instances they displayed diverse backgrounds, which consequently resulted in more complete worldviews and more than compensated for fewer years of specialized practice. Entrepreneurs are a great example of a peer group whose diverse interests and natural curiosity has facilitated unexpected ideas and connections.
What’s in it for event organizers: Like entrepreneurs and other professional pioneers, being a successful event planner requires a diverse skill set. Not only do event pros have to manage a slew of tactical issues, they also must put themselves in their attendees’ shoes in order to curate winning content and craft a great event experience. Being able to balance both the macro and micro elements of events is what separates the best planners from the rest.
Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence
By Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans and Avi Goldfarb; Harvard Business Review Press
The gist of it: If you’re looking for an engaging and extremely accessible book about machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), this one’s for you. The authors offer a simple foundation for thinking about where ML will have the biggest impact in today’s economy, framing it as a way to reduce the cost and effort involved in making predictions about outcomes.
Predictions, it turns out, are at the crux of our everyday lives, and technology—whether it’s a self-driving car predicting the risks of navigating a city street or sales software predicting the likelihood that a lead will turn into a customer—is primed to make them faster and cheaper. Prediction Machines cuts through the AI hype and explains in layman’s terms why we should value these technologies as agents of change: They are vehicles for decreasing our rote processes, and they could leave us with more energy to make even more important decisions.
What’s in it for event organizers: Machine-learning-driven features like session recommendations and content sentiment analysis are just a couple of the exciting innovation curves the event tech industry has recently introduced. And there’s no doubt that AI’s impact on events is just getting started. This book will help savvy event planners find applications for ML that are grounded in delivering real value to the industry—not the usual flash-in-the-pan gimmicks that plague event technology.
Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
By Kim Scott, St. Martin’s Press
The gist of it: First of all, Kim Scott is living proof for the argument presented in Range (the first book on my list). A former leader at both Google and Apple, Scott’s earlier career included stints as a senior policy advisor at the FCC, the founder of a diamond-cutting factory in Moscow and the manager of a pediatric care clinic in Kosovo. With those experiences under her belt, she’s written a lively book about the benefits of providing transparent feedback and building honest and open relationships.
Contrary to the book’s title, her philosophy is not about being blunt all the time and steamrolling people. Rather, she makes an argument for freeing yourself to give authentic assessments in the most positive way possible, through the realization that it’s ultimately in everyone’s best interest. As the book puts it, it’s about striking a balance between being “obnoxiously aggressive” and “ruinously empathetic.”
What’s in it for event organizers: Let’s face it: Executing an event is ultimately a major team effort. Managing relationships before and after an event is hard, and event-day stress amplifies even minor personality conflicts 10x. This book provides a framework for providing colleagues with genuine, empathetic feedback while still getting things done—a particularly important skill in the high-pressure world of meetings and events.