03/18/2013 12:12 EDT | Updated 05/18/2013 05:12 EDT

What I Learned This Week: The Power of "Who's In The Room"

When we discuss "who's coming" to a conference it's about who's actually coming to the conference...namely the faces in the crowd. Frankly, at many events, the value of who's in the room grossly outweighs the value of who's on stage.

Given that I am one of the speakers at the upcoming C2-MTL creative conference in May, and given that my years in showbiz and in tech have provided me with myriad international contacts, I've been put on the event's strategic planning committee. It's a great group. We have a 30-minute conference call early every Thursday morning, at which we usually discuss one major issue: "Who's coming?"

Aside from me (he says with profound humility), C2's speaker line-up is studded with business superstars like Sir Richard Branson, designer Phillipe Starck and supermodel/entrepreneur Elle Macpherson as well as prestigious thinker/doers like Neri Oxman of the MIT Media Lab, Nicole Piasecki of Boeing and Fred Dust of IDEO. You can see the full list here, but frankly...rarely are any one of them the subject of our weekly C2 meeting.

When we discuss "who's coming," it's about who's actually coming to the conference...namely the faces in the crowd. Being a commercial event, the sale of tickets to public is imperative (and given my many years running Just For Laughs, you can never overestimate the difficulty of this task). But so are the special guests, contest-winners, grant recipients, sponsors, government partners, media members and other luminaries who will also fill the seats. The proper attendee mix is imperative.

Anyone who has ever run an event, or even attended one, knows the value of the answer to the question of "Who's coming?" Frankly, at many events, the value of who's in the room grossly outweighs the value of who's on stage. Look at the TED conference, for example. The attendee line-up -- a hefty, magazine-sized document -- is a much coveted holy grail and "wish list" for possible encounters for just about everyone going (except, I guess, if you are one of the A-plus-listers besieged by meeting requests).

Same goes for our industry component at Just For Laughs. I remember, in the early days, so many people's attendance commitment hinged upon the answer to the question: "Is Morty coming?" ("Morty" being Robert Morton, at the time the producer of the David Letterman Show).

This is why, at our most recent C2 encounter, I floated the following as a possible slogan/ad headline:


The "who's in this room" principle isn't just pertinent for conferences. The same goes for restaurants, bars, dinner parties, show premieres, Bar Mitzvahs, retail stores...I can go on for hours. In fact, the same day of the aforementioned C2 meeting, I was told by one of my ebullient colleagues that Brad Pitt and George Clooney would be attending the premiere of Eddie Izzard's show we were putting on in Paris that night. And later that eve, when I took my son to dinner at a small Greek restaurant, we marveled that our tablemates included the CEO of one of Canada's largest media companies and the namesake of one of the country's oldest breweries.

So the lesson of the week may not be a brand new one, but it's one that bears repeating...and acknowledging:

The success of any product or service is not necessarily defined by the product or service itself, but by who actually uses it.

This is why the tailor down the street flaunts framed photos of recognized names that wear his clothes.

And why Samsung Galaxy S III deftly positioned itself as the choice of the young and hip by counter-positioning Apple iPhones as "your parent's products" (amongst other derogatory associations).

And why we're so committed to make sure that the faces in the crowd at C2 won't just be another face in the crowd.

Forget who's "on stage." Remember who your real stars are.

Most likely, they're sitting right next to you.