Don’t Take Your Attendees’ Trust for Granted

If you want to innovate you are up, and get a second chance when you are down, you need to earn trust.

Crisis management strategist and keynote speaker, Melissa Agnes, calls trust, “an essential element.” Companies need to build trust with employees and clients, she says, not just because of the business advantages: In the event of a crisis, a company that has earned trust will be given the benefit of the doubt. “If something does go wrong, people will say, ‘Let’s wait and hear your side of it,’ before making a judgment,” says Agnes. “If a company is trusted, it will be given a second chance, whether it’s a corporate executive scandal or terrible food at a sales conference.” 

Agnes relates this personal anecdote. The first of many conferences that she attended this year was held at a venue in Florida that she calls “subpar even for average,” but the organizers didn’t consider themselves accountable to the attendees for the choice of venue. On top of an insect problem and terrible service, Agnes says, “The venue was so cold that at one point the organizers brought out blankets on stage as a joke, but they didn’t really take responsibility.” 

Related: For more on why and how to build trust through the event experience, read The Trust Factor

Agnes trusted the conference’s choice of venue; her trust was misplaced, and the issue was not addressed. Her recommendation for them would be, “an email blast acknowledging that there were problems and saying ‘rest assured that next year we will do more due diligence.’” Communication is especially important here because Agnes was a first-time attendee. She did not have loyalty built up by previous good experiences. Highlighting failures and mistakes might make planners feel vulnerable, but Agnes says, “Don’t avoid the elephant in the room. If you don’t say that you’ve fixed it, people will assume you haven’t.” 

As a meeting planner, it’s hard to fall short of perfection, but fear of admitting to a mistake can keep you from learning from one. One piece of advice for creating a high-trust environment from Paul J. Zak PhD, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, is a monthly “congratulations you messed up” celebration, so nothing is swept under the rug and trust is established between teams and managers. Any celebration can boost morale, but turning a mistake into a learning experience brings people together with a common purpose and lets them innovate without fear. 


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