That peculiar looking word is an acronym made popular in Robert A. Heinlein’s Science Fiction novel, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. It stands for, ‘There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch’.
The concept behind TANSTAAFL is simple enough; everything has a cost, nothing is free.
Every choice we make has consequences.
Every decision is a compromise.
This is as much a Law of the Universe as is gravity.
TANSTAAFL is unavoidable.
In project management, there’s a deep understanding that there are three things we can strive for… The Good, The Fast, and The Cheap --- and a reluctant acceptance that we only get to choose TWO of these; we can have it Fast and Cheap, but it won’t be Good; or? We can have it Fast and Good, but it definitely won’t be Cheap; and finally, we know it won’t be Fast, if we demand it be Good, and Cheap.
When planning an event? TANSTAAFL is fully in play.
Spend nothing on Marketing, do it as quickly as possible? And the outcome is going to be a lot of unsold tickets.
A key component of any event is information gathering, knowing what the audience thought about our event is how we decide what to change the next time around to make things better, to raise our event to the next level.
Here’s the type of feedback typically collected at many events;
The Food was cold
The Room was hot
The Coffee was late, and sweet it was not
Check-in was slow
Slides caused eyestrain
But the speaker was brilliant, so I’ll come back again.
Well, typical except for the rhymes, I made that part up.
Better than that, reprint some of the event feedback I’ve read over the years – rhymes are much more pleasant than invective.
Here’s a question: what’s the measure of a successful event?
Surely there’s only one answer: did people receive enough value in return for their investment of time, attention and entry fee, where ‘enough value’ means, enough to return next time we decide to hold the event.
People do not return because of the food.
Nor for the air conditioning
Never for the coffee, no matter how good it was.
They don’t really care about the speed of check-in, though faster is better.
And nobody really likes bullet points, no matter how much they’re in focus.
People return for only one thing. CONTENT. Did they receive information that will help them in some significant way?
There’s an irony hidden in the feedback from many events.
Events pay for food – even though food doesn’t bring them back.
Events pay for coffee – even though there’s a coffee shop on every street corner in the free world.
Events pay for rooms, and audiovisuals – even though the quality is highly variable and of little consequence in the long run in terms of our event success.
Events pay for registration systems – even though there are ways to do that efficiently with paper systems.
But there’s a growing trend: many events don’t pay for the single most important success factor of their event. They don’t pay for the content. For the engaging delivery of that content. They don’t pay for the very thing that draws people in, keeps them in their seats, and prompts people to return month after month, year after year.
We can’t afford to pay the speaker – is the rationale. How is this possible?!
We CAN afford to pay for coffee.
We CAN afford to pay for food.
We CAN afford to pay for the venue.
We CAN afford to pay for audio visuals.
We CAN afford to pay for Registration Systems.
We CAN afford to pay for marketing.
But we CANNOT afford to pay those upon whom the success of our events is 100% dependent.
Small events have small budgets. Everyone understands this.
There’s nothing wrong with small budgets. They’re a fact of life.
BUT when we pay zero for the core value of every event?
We’re forgetting everything what TANSTAAFL has to teach us.
There’s always a budget – spend less on bad coffee – and offer, at the very least, a token honorarium to those who can, will and do determine if our attendees found enough value in our event to return.
You’ll be surprised at the willingness, of even the most prestigious of speakers, to assist in making your event a success IF they see that you at least value what they bring to the table.
Luna City, Old Dome