Starting Big. Ending Bigger
In Results1st we often speak of trying things at a small scale and building on what works. Some ideas, however, need a significant critical mass even for the first application. My partner Robyn Faucy illustrated that while CEO of Neuro Challenge, a multicounty leader for persons with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers.
Neuro Challenge offers a variety of workshops, presentations, and discussion groups. Robyn next wanted to build a regional event that would convene many people with Parkinson’s and those who support them. She envisioned and then built a Parkinson’s Expo that would attract at least 500 persons and—of equal importance—provide not just information but the prompts to use it. This was a large prototype in that she did not spend months planning an event to be implemented in a future year. She did the minimal work to get a first Expo rolling and learn from it. Given the scale, minimal meant far more than a little!
As a prototype, Robyn identified assumptions tightly connected to success:
If we build it they will come. If we have a program with lots of sessions at least 500 persons will show up for it.
A big named inspirational speaker is essential. This is what attracts people and makes the event seem important.
Volunteers can make it work. Without staff or a budget to hire people, we can attract and train volunteers to play the key operational roles at the event.
We can make money on it. While most such large events are loss-leaders designed to raise visibility for a need or cause, we can end with a net gain to make this sustainable. Sponsors were the key.
The event worked extraordinarily well. On the one hand, it attracted over 1,400 persons. Seventy five percent said in their feedback that they gained not just information but the skills and confidence to use. And it ended with both high visibility and $50,000 in the bank after all income and expenses. It has grown and refined as an annual event.
Here’s my take on why the Expo was such a success.
- A person made it happen. Without the energy, optimism and ability to engage others stemming in an individual, this event would not have launched. The Expo was not born in a plan, a committee, or a budget. At the outset it was Robyn.
- The Expo went to consumers. Many networks and coalitions bring together the groups that provide services. This one honored the highly dispersed field of those who experience Parkinson’s. They do not seek or need more awareness. They need more knowledge, skills and self-confidence to be effective dealing with a challenge which they have.
- Robyn worked her assumptions into design. For example, she learned from prospective sponsors that face-to-face contact with lots of people who could use their product was the key to sign ups. So she made the program free to take costs totally out of the picture.
- The Expo departed from conventional wisdom. Robyn was told that she needed a nationally known inspirational speaker to get many participants. She chose not to spend her precious little cash on that and instead relied on highly capable medical experts as the draw. She learned that those she attracted did not need or want keynote inspiration from a person from far away.
I wrote a few weeks ago about scaling programs that work exceptionally well. One way to grow is to make something larger. Another is to expand it to other places. This Expo reflects a different way to grow. Rather than to focus on Parkinson’s disease, it can spark Expos in other fields with huge problems and a great need for citizen engagement. The asset is the template, not the content. And it starts with a strong focus on intended results.
Robyn Faucy, CEO Results1st