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The Game of Events

What Event Planners Can Learn from Game of Thrones


Caveat: if you are not one of the estimated 30 million people who watch Game of Thrones, this post about the show may not be your cup of tea. But skim it before you skip it, as I tried to provide helpful context. And consider yourself warned for spoilers if you aren’t up to date!


When you play the Game of Events, you win, or you die. That might seem a bit over the top, but figuratively it is true. Your event either wins with revenue, audience, and innovations; or it fails with losses, no-shows, and unhappy attendees. With so much competition, and what feels like increasingly-ever-higher stakes, planners are battling to deliver better events with bigger ideas and smaller budgets. I thought it might be useful to see what we could learn about hosting better events from some of our favorite Game of Thrones characters.


Jon Snow Knows Organizational Readiness

Jon Snow has become the reluctant leader of the army that battled the Night King. For those of you not up to speed, the Night King has an army of reanimated corpses that are coming to take over the world. Jon recognizes the threat and has been working hard to get everyone else to see it too. He built a guiding coalition of different parties, including Wildlings (who were originally enemies), and he’s provided data and proof as needed, even bringing a wight (reanimated skeleton killing machine) to King’s Landing to get everyone on board. Jon knows that to get people to fight with you, they have to believe in you and believe in what you stand for, and he knows how to tell the story to bring them along. His biggest goal was to get everyone ready for what was to come.


Daenerys Targaryn Should Think About Audience Research

Dany has been a forceful leader for several seasons, leveraging her resources to get what she wants. (It’s hard to say no to someone with three dragons who can walk through fire). But Dany is not always the best at reading a room. She’s a little hung up on her needs (taking back the Iron Throne, killing anyone who disagrees with her views, etc.) and doesn’t understand the cultural needs of her audience. Doing a few surveys could help her with creating more positive experiences and give her insights on how to bring people along with her changes.


Sansa Stark, Master of Rebranding and Reinvention

We first met Sansa as a typical 13-year-old teenage girl—she knew everything, her parents knew nothing, and she only cared what a jerky boy thought of her. Sansa did not stagnate though—she grew through every season and endured some incredibly difficult times. And each season she would adapt her style and rebrand herself for the situation. She would change her hair and clothing to match whomever the authority figure was, until she finally returned back home and created her own style that honors her roots. Now at 20, she is the Lady of Winterfell, and she commands attention and authority. She has reinvented herself into a leading hero of the story by not being afraid to grow and change.


Bran Stark Could Use Some Presentation Rehearsal

The short version of Bran’s story is: paralyzed as a child, possesses magical abilities to see backwards and forwards in time, and has become the keeper of the memoires of humankind. However, Bran got kind of weird with all of this. He basically just sits and stares a lot, and every now and then makes some mic-dropping comment that the audience understands but the people in the show only understand on a limited basis. He talks like a robot, and there’s no personality in his conversation. People listen to him, but you can tell they are uncomfortable about it. Bran would benefit from a little presentation polish, a rehearsal session, and some guidance on how to talk to an audience.


Ayra Stark Knows the Importance of Setting Goals and Revisiting Them

Ayra saw some terrible things as a young child and, as a result, developed a list of people whom she planned to kill. She would recite the list every night before sleeping. It drove her to train and learn how to actually change her face so she could take care of the people on her list. Her goal was to become a Faceless Man, and she worked hard for this, but she realized the goal was no longer in line with her core values of being a Stark. So, she revised the goal, stopped her training, and headed home. She continually revisits and revises her kill list. Sometimes people no longer need to be killed. Sometimes they have died in other ways. Sometimes they became allies. Ayra knows the importance of updating her goals to remain on the correct strategic path. After all, her biggest and most important target was never even on her original list.


Cersi Lannister Stays True to Her Organizational Mission

Cersi believes in one thing—her family—and she’ll do anything (and I mean anything) to ensure her family’s rise to power. She even “keeps it in the family” by having children with her twin brother. She also poisons those who get in her way. And she eliminated a good number of the cast in one fell swoop when she perceived them as threats to her son’s (and her) power. Even when Jon Snow shows her the proof of the incoming army of the dead, it does not sway her from her mission. She might be mistaken that the threat does not directly affect them, but that is her perception, and she chose to not participate in Jon’s fight because it does not support her overall mission and guiding principles.


Tyrion Lannister Knows How to Surprise and Delight

Some of the show’s very best lines have been spoken by Tyrion. (I know I’m not the only one with a glass at home that says, “I drink, and I know things.”) Throughout the series, he’s been a consistent voice of wisdom, thoughtfulness, and humor. He brings great perspective, lots of knowledge from reading, lots of experience from being open to trying things, and lots of great stories from living a full life. Tyrion has been the adviser to royalty, a surprising leader on the battlefield, and a source of clever ideas and thinking. He has a “yes and” approach to life, and he embraces intelligent risk. This all leads to him delivering unexpected victories and entertaining one-liners, increasing our enjoyment of the show.


The Night King Knows How to Build an Audience

Aside from being the embodiment of death and true evil in the world, the Night King is a super successful event planner. He has a 100% attendance rate—when he plans something, his people show up. He has great youth outreach (he takes human babies). He knows how to steal best practices from other successful people (ice dragon anyone?). And he knows the importance of touchpoints to reach your audience. (He actually touched Bran once and left a mark on him, and now he can find him anywhere). Through teaser campaigns of artistically arranged body parts, he has gained the full attention of the audience he wishes to reach (and take over). And he knows the importance of testing out pilot events. Before engaging in the major battle, there were many smaller attacks as he built up his army. The only criticism is he did not have a solid emergency plan in place. It’s a good reminder for planners that you have to have some order of succession arranged in case something happens to you onsite.


As the final season draws to a close, three episodes remain, and there will surely be more lessons to learn that apply to event planning. But until then, valar morghulis and valar dohaeris!



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