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We're Not In Kansas Anymore

By Bob Priest-Heck

When Dorothy stepped out from her black-and-white Kansas farmhouse into the Technicolor world of Oz, she knew right away she was a long way from home. I know how she feels. Sometimes it seems that the world we called “normal” was left behind ages ago. For those of us in industries that rely on using conferences, trade shows, and expositions to conduct our business, it’s as if the coronavirus was our tornado. Except the truth is, we haven’t been in Kansas for a while. Not really.

Within the last decade, we’ve become adept at using technology to amplify the live experience. We learned to stream video of our live events, incorporate social media, and layer in new digital solutions, such as second screen technology, to be more interactive. We’ve gotten more strategic about applying data analysis, AR, and VR to create more personalized experiences. With these tools in place, there was nothing keeping us from developing the perfect live experience platform — designed to leverage the strengths of each medium within a true, “omnicom” approach. It requires a lot of orchestration. It demands a deep understanding of the unique audiences we’re trying to reach. It means committing to the alignment of message content with the medium, format, or technology that most effectively connects with our audiences. It means doing the hard work of designing a platform for live events that optimizes all of the tools at our disposal.

We simply didn’t make it a priority. In a pre-pandemic world, digital solutions were often characterized as “nice-to-haves” or “too expensive for our event.” I’d go so far as to suggest that the option to develop a practical hybrid event platform simply wasn’t pursued because everyone has had their collective noses so close to the grindstone that we didn’t notice the scenery had changed.

What’s new is that these technologies — and the nascent hybrid technologies now in development — are suddenly, urgently, vitally important to the continuation of our business practices. I see that as a good thing. We need to use this time to re-imagine all the possibilities. Back in March, I posted a blog suggesting that we must make our events more accessible and inclusive, as well as safe. And I called for the creation of Renaissance Teams to explore new solutions for the live events medium.

Bruce Mau tells us that new wicked problems require new wicked teams to solve them. In the Renaissance, it was possible for certain polymaths (Leonardo DaVinci, Akbar the Great, Galileo, etc.) to have expertise in all fields of knowledge — art, science, literature, philosophy, and so on. Today, the field of knowledge in any one specialty is so vast and changing so rapidly that it is nearly impossible to keep up. That’s why we need diverse teams of experts to act as a composite “Renaissance Person” who can examine the challenge from every perspective, through every lens, to recommend multiple solutions.

This is what we are seeing with the Go LIVE Together coalition. Teams of people representing diverse disciplines — from logistics to digital experiences to microbial-pathogenic threat analysis — are coming together to solve issues relating to safety, impact awareness, and legislation for our industry. It’s the start of something big.

Those of us who are charged with leading our companies, associations, and industries have an opportunity and an obligation to take this on. It’s why you need to support the Go LIVE Together movement. Unlike Dorothy, we can’t go back to Kansas. We can go someplace better.

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