Recently, a few things happened that caused me to reflect about the work we do at Fern, our industry and the value of live, face to face events and how they were meant to be experienced.
The common thread that resonated for me was that live events are meant to be fully experienced in a way that impacts you emotionally, intellectually, and at times, physically. What does this mean?
It means going to see the Rolling Stones and being fully immersed and committed to getting the most out of the experience. Talking (yes, actually talking) to people who are there for the same reason you are, engaging with them, putting aside your differences to focus on what you have in common. Being willing to pay a little more to sit up close, to be in the thick of things, and to be so engaged we stand for the majority of the event. When we design experiences, we need to do it in a way that allows our attendees to be impacted, engaged, and become part of the experience. The Rolling Stones are a phenomenal band, and the fact that Mick Jagger is back on tour and able to perform the way he does is a testament to his dedication and level of professionalism. However, I am relatively confident that his recovery would not have been so quick if he is was only working in the studio to release a new album. In my opinion, the energy of the audience and the stamina he needs for a live performance certainly had an influence on his recovery.
Live events and experiences create a path for engagement that lasts well beyond the actual event itself; and if done correctly, a runway before, that lays the foundation for successful engagement. The challenge we have ahead of us, to ensure the success of our industry, is to work together to create an experience where people are lining up to get onto the tradeshow floor, lingering in the exhibit hall having conversations following show hours, and that the energy continues long after the lights go out.
The second thing that happened was much less exciting. Jim Beam Bourbon, in Louisville, KY, lost 45,000 barrels of product due to a fire at the distillery. Those of you that know me understand I am a fan of Bourbon. Yes, I like to drink it; but more importantly, I experience it. I like reading about the history, the individuals who make it, why they make it, how they got into making Bourbon. I have visited Louisville a few times, been to the Jim Beam distillery and may have driven by the brick house that tragically burned. So what does a fire at the Jim Beam distillery have to do with engagement and live experiences?
First of all, no fewer than 100 people in my social networks reached out to me about this, the majority of which I have met through live events. Second, having been on a few distillery tours, I thought about the actual barrels; the labor, the craftsmanship, and the hours that go into making them. A typical bourbon barrel takes 8-10 hours to make. In this situation roughly 400,000 hours of labor were lost. As a point of reference, the barrels lost represent about 9,000,000 750ml bottles of Bourbon. In total transparency, I have liked Bourbon for many years. It was not until I actually visited Louisville, touched a barrel, smelled the mash before it went into the still, saw the char of a barrel occur that I truly became passionate about the bourbon culture. The actual live experience and being able to immerse myself and learn about the bourbon culture through seeing, listening, and hands-on engagement mattered to me, and it matters to event attendees. Deep down I believe more event attendees want to be proactive participants, not passive, but they don’t know how, and sometimes we are not as effective as we should be in making this path clear. We need to help them feel comfortable. People often ask me what the right way to drink Bourbon is, and I tell them what I was told years ago; ‘drink it the way that you enjoy it.’ The bourbon community wants people to be engaged, and they make it easy to do so. Unfortunately, that is not true for all events and the organizations that create those events. We, as an industry, need to change that.
Face to face events matter and experiences matter. Let’s work together to create experiences where people are lining up to get onto the tradeshow floor, lingering in the exhibit hall having conversations after show hours, and that the energy and passion continue long after the lights go out and the bottle is empty.
Work hard, be kind, add value, make an impact…