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The Big Reboot Starts Small

By Bob Priest-Heck

In a recent post, I acknowledged that while I have great optimism regarding the rebooting of the live events industry, I understand that this cannot happen everywhere, all at once, as if with the flip of a switch. And even if the industry could magically start up where it left off, it would not be a good thing.

We have an amazing opportunity to rethink event design in a big way. And at first, that could mean that the events we design are smaller. They might also be more regionalized and more focused on specific audience needs, which helps us make them more personal. This individualized approach creates new paradigms for the industry and a chance for unprecedented innovation.

For too long, our industry has focused on the size and scale of our events, sometimes sacrificing the quality of the attendee experience. Through our data and insights team at Freeman, we’ve done some exciting benchmark work which shows that not all attendee profiles are created equal.

In a post-pandemic world, we can shift our focus to getting the right people to the physical events — the decision makers, influencers and brand loyalists who drive revenue for the 1.7 million businesses who exhibit annually.

We can deliver pre-qualified prospects to our exhibitors. We can foster more meaningful connections for attendees. We can incubate more powerful breakthroughs. And we can use a hybrid platform to reach more people, beyond the core, on a virtual basis.

By starting small and getting closer to our respective communities, we can also invest more in our own people. (This industry simply has the best people — I never get tired of saying this.) We can train our people to champion the new way of thinking and help people embrace the new norms.

We can also seize the opportunity to toss out the window any processes or procedures that have been holding us back. One of Bruce Mau’s favorite questions is, “what should we stop doing?” We have a unique opportunity, as we start fresh, to employ design thinking, invite fresh ideas, and innovate.

This notion of starting fresh has broad application and we can already see it playing out. COVID-19 was a wake-up call to humanity that has led to changes in behavior around social justice and the environment. It has nudged us into a place of appreciation and gratitude for what we hold dear.

In the live events industry, it has led to deeper conversations with clients, new levels of collaboration amongst competitors and partners, greater flexibility in the workforce, and the freedom of tossing away the words, “the way we’ve always done it.”

The key will be keeping those learnings when times are good again. Think big. Start small.

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