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Free Drinks, Celeb Influencers, and Other Things that Will Endure for Events in 2021

Guest Feature: Jordan Kallman

As a future-oriented thinker and experience designer who has spent his entire creative life focused on changing culture, the majority of my attention gets dedicated to understanding how to take advantage of things that are changing. Yet, we find ourselves in a time when nearly everything for live events has flipped upside down; making sense of the disruption is nearly impossible.

In chaotic times like these, when the only abundant resource seems to be more time to wait for large-scale gatherings to return, where do we look for opportunity? I would argue, we anchor ourselves back to a steady frame of mind, one rooted in first principles.

At a conference in 2012, Jeff Bezos famously stated the following:

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What's going to change in the next 10 years?' And that is a very interesting question; it's a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What's not going to change in the next 10 years?' And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two -- because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. ... It's impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, 'Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,' [or] 'I love Amazon; I just wish you'd deliver a little more slowly.' Impossible. ... When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

If you are in the live events industry, you need to be asking yourself, “What do I know to be true that will endure no matter what?”

I have a few likely suspects.

Do you still believe?

No matter where you are in your pandemic adventure, whether you are out of work, furloughed, pivoting, patiently waiting or starting new things (congrats if this is you), the first truth you need to confirm, begins with you.

Over the years, we have all seen inspired and youthful upstarts come-and-go. The live event industry has a way of washing out the faint of heart.

But for even the most hardened veteran, the pandemic has given belief systems a shake. It has forced each of us to ask ourselves, “are live events my future?” The answer is important. Take measure, analyze the results and test those collaborators you want to see return. While we wait, confirm that your belief system is not going to change.

Can you imagine a future where we don’t belong together?

Looking into the future, can you hear one of your attendees say, “I love your live event, but I don’t want to do it in-person”, or “I wish we could always do this by Zoom”? I would argue the latter statement is impossible. The former? Depending on your event format, very nearly there as well. We will gather again en mass, in real life, without fear. And it will be a jubilee.

We know from historical pandemic accounts that crises change behaviour. Consumers become more hygenic, new interests are grown, faith preferences shift and new creative pursuits are started. But what I do know is that crises, even big ones, don’t change how our neurochemistry works.

Our minds experience happiness by the way of only four happy hormones: serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin. And our biochemical evolution requires us to combine the physical presence of others with shared activities to reap the full benefits of all four hormones. And when you do? It not only creates joy, it can honestly extend your lifespan.

What won’t change by next year? An urgent need for space makers to set up festivals where we combine a shared love for music and movement. Personally, I can’t wait to be back in Black Rock City listening to deep house from the speakers of an art car on the playa of Burning Man. We will need promoters to open venues where we can find new connections and collaborate with other talented friends. Video calls are great, but building things together in person is much greater. And we will need organizers to design places that celebrate each of our unique selves, spaces where no one feels excluded because of them. These three things are not going to change in ten years.

The consumer will always desire physical places to escape to, collaborate simultaneously within, randomly find a new connection, celebrate collectively, advance interests, and to maximize the feeling of living well, together. And that consumer will be willing to support an economy that provides this.

Does the persistent digitization of content continue to expand?

Yet, this truth comes with caution. We all know Zoom doesn’t spread joy, yet we are living in a period where our lives are continuously augmented by the digital world we carry inside our phones. I would call the last twenty years a “great digitization” of all content forms. You just need to look at what happened to music, film, television and news. And what is happening right now with art and collectibles.

When I ask myself, “what will endure?”, one thing stands out: technology advances. And, I would argue the great digitization is coming for live event content next. While gathering together physically will always remain, our entertainment formats are going to change one-by-one. Live event content types will be swallowed whole by our online world, and it is going to be dramatic when we look back ten years from now.

But even with this coming digitization, I’m confident live events will flourish. Our desire to connect in real life will continue, while the always on, persistent digital world amplifies our human experience. What won’t change? Think about it this way: I enjoy listening to Spotify on my AirPods, but I long for another Eddie Vedder performance with tens of thousands of others outdoors. And you do, too. I know it.

What won’t change and what it means for live events

Remember when Napster unlocked “free digital music” in the early 2000s? That platform changed the music industry forever. And well, for better or for worse, the live event industry may have just experienced its Napster moment.

If you are seeking new opportunities, I would encourage you to look into the coming digital tsunami. But for those traditional experience producers amongst us, society is going to need you very shortly. A few principles that I firmly stand behind as we move toward a new golden era of gathering:

  • Venue matters. Your chosen chateau or virtual platform sends signals to your attendees that tell them what your event stands for. This will not change;

  • Free drinks rock. Access to VIP areas, meet the band moments and just simply being tossed a complimentary beverage from the organizer will remain a badge of prestige;

  • Celebrities always draw a crowd. We are creatures of imitation and nothing allows us to live out our aspirations more than projecting hopes and dreams onto someone we admire. Book those headliners;

  • Orchestrate a moment. We like to be drawn to a culminating ending after investing time, energy and enjoyment into a live event. Converging anticipating attendees will continue to hold tremendous influence, and;

  • Nothing generates success more than organic word of mouth.

Live events will remain difficult, risky and a very long-term game. But nothing beats the emotional feelings we get from a warm hug, a new handshake or a dance under the stars. And that will not change. Not ever.

Want more where this thinking came from? Subscribe to Jordan’s twice monthly digest here, follow him on Twitter for regular insights or join him for a conversation on Clubhouse.


About the Author

Jordan is the Co-Founder and Partner of The Social Concierge, a leading Canadian event design agency that specializes in generating unrivaled anticipation, moments of happiness, and lifelong memories. He writes about the latest wonders, most influential psychological movements and hottest patterns keeping leaders engaged in the experience economy.

In the last decade, The Social Concierge has launched and expanded a range of cultural festivals that are stylistically unique, including an annual fashion-focused derby, the country’s single largest one-night dinner party, a grand harvest festival designed in the spirit of the legendary Oktoberfest, an architectural design showcase raising funds for charity, a cocktail-hopping trolley tour series, an operatic, duelling sword fighting tournament, annual carbon negative celebrations for Earth Day, a floral exhibition that reimagined the art of dance, a stadium-sized idea conference and a summit meant to explore cutting-edge tactics that lead to life a longer life.

Since the pandemic onset, there have still been grand gatherings. The Social Concierge has raised over a million dollars for charity through virtual fundraisers, built a virtual copy of Paris to host culture enthusiasts inside the virtual world, and sharpened our process in creating carbon negative virtual events that bring households together from across the country.

We believe in the spectacular, and that will never change.

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