Back in March of this year, the world came crashing down on all of us. Faced with a global pandemic that is still sweeping the world and reaching across continents, the events industry was suddenly facing total collapse. And even the most resilient amongst us had to take a minute to let it sink in. What would happen to us now? Should we keep everything on stand by and wait for it to get better? And how are we supposed to survive this as event professionals?
But now that several months have gone by, we can breathe a little easier. More than that, we can look back at everything that happened and think about what we learned. So on this episode of the Event Brew, recorded live with the help of ILEA, the Brew Crew will be discussing the COVID-19 lessons they learned. There’s plenty to analyze and talk about, so dive right into it!
Events With Empathy
Not long before the pandemic hit in full force, the Brew Crew was discussing designing events with empathy. And looking back now, Dustin is curious to know what they’re seeing in this regard within the new paradigm. “So empathy is important now more than ever. And I feel like this pandemic pause has given us an opportunity to just be authentic and be us”, says Thuy.
“I think that a lot of the things that we’ve been saying in the events industry, it turns out we’ve only been saying them”, adds Nick. “And we haven’t actually been living them. And I think that the reason for a lot of that is that things were good. We were in the ascent, in the salad days. And it’s funny because no innovation generally really happens in good times”.
“We were thinking that we were innovating and that we were at the peaks of where we could go. But the reality is that we didn’t have enough opposition to what we do in order to truly test us. We were just taking advantage of trends in technology specifically, that were existing in all other industries that were probably lagging. And the reality is, we only kind of dipped our toes into the water of things that we really need now, skills we really need now, like designing with empathy”, he adds.
“The other half of it is, we’ve said that we were storytellers. But we really weren’t telling stories. I think the majority of the event people are hospitality people. First and foremost, I think that the industry came out of hospitality. And the stress of the last 15 years has been on the word experiential, a word that describes experiences that have some roots in hospitality where I don’t believe virtual events do at all”, Nick continues.
Due to these roots in hospitality, Nick doesn’t believe that “we have virtual event professionals who are on average the people who are going to be the innovators in the virtual space. I think it’s going to come from outside of the industry. And I don’t think that the people who have a calling to work face to face are going to be the people who figure it out for virtual. I don’t think that the majority of the industry has what it takes to be the people who take us across the mountain”.
“People are always trying to take what they did in person and turn it virtual. But I think the thing is that people haven’t had a chance because there’s such a rush mode. The people who are putting on these giant conferences, there’s so much pressure to hit the budgets, get the numbers in, that they don’t have time to go and explore”, says Will. “There’s a lot of same old, same old. It feels like it. And it’s ironic because we’re only a couple of months into this. But yes, I think there’s definitely a lot of work to be done”.
COVID-19 Lessons: Supporting Each Other
One of the most important COVID-19 lessons we all learned has to do with the power of community. Throughout it all, event profs have come together to have their voices heard and to offer support to each other.
“One thing I love is hearing everyone’s stories with that professional mask off”, says Thuy. “I love learning about you guys, each and every single one of you. I love seeing where we’re putting our creativity. And I love eating the dinner that I cooked versus or d’oeuvres in a free open bar at our networking events. And I love seeing how people are taking a shot pivoting and not just within their professional lives but within their personal ones”.
Nick doesn’t believe that events industry is…well, and industry. It’s more of an amalgamation of several forces coming together to create something bigger. Which means we’ve never really been together. However, as he puts it, “once this passes, will we have the opportunity to be more together? I think so. There is an opportunity for that to happen, but it’s still not going to be this mega mass scale thing”.
“And for all the good of it too, right? We can carve out our own path, do things the way we want to do it. So we can do whatever we want to do, we have the flexibility to carve out our own path”, he adds.
Rising From The Ashes
Looking back at the pandemic and the COVID-19 lessons learned, Dustin has an interesting point of view. “I do think that it needed to be broken, completely shattered, and put back together properly. And I think there is an opportunity here for us. We are going to be wiser. We are going to know that we needed to get through this. It’s nobody’s fault that we’re going through this it’s. And I think that there are important lessons that we’ve learned along the way. I have to believe that some of these organizations that are popping up and that have made a commitment are not leaving after”.
“They are going to make a commitment to stick around and see this industry through recovery and beyond. And I think that people like that are what we need right now. And I think there can be a bright future for us. But maybe it’s time for us to split up a little bit and allow other industry categories to be born out of this. We’re all trying to be a part of the live experience or the event industry. And that might be what our problem is. That’s why we can’t get focused on a single issue”, he adds.
The Loss of Talent
The Brew Crew moved into a very important discussion: all the talent that our industry has lost as a result of the pandemic. “Business will recover. But getting back that talent, the hundreds of years worth of talent, that have just exited out the door…the realization that we’re not just going to flip a switch and be back to work. There’s not going to be a day that comes where we’re like, okay, you know, all 1.3 million of you come back to work, your jobs are here. It’s going to be the slow, slow recovery that we’re not going to be able to offer full-time jobs. We’re going to be able to offer jobs, to do a gig here and there until the business builds back up, and who the hell wants to come back and do that”, says Dustin.
“I also look at it like, it’s oftentimes just a job at the beginning, and then something happens and it becomes your passion”, says Nick. “And I think a lot of our industry’s most passionate people started because it was a job and found their community within it. Which is something that is at risk through all of this”.
“As we have hit harder times, we’re putting, we’re putting all this pressure on these associations to have the answer for us when really the association has done a tremendous amount to bring us great talent in this industry. And allow those people to find a home in this industry. And it’s served us for so long, that sometimes I think that criticism is a bit unfair. Sometimes I think it’s so easy to forget about the last 30 years of great work and connections. The camaraderie and the community into this one single focus that is the challenge that we’re facing today”, he adds.
COVID-19 Lessons: Encouragement
Like the amazing hosts they are, the members of the Brew Crew leave us with some words of encouragement in face of the COVID-19 lessons learned. “Remember what got you in this industry. And right now it’s tough because a lot of us are doing things that we aren’t comfortable with or unsure what to do. Or having to make really hard decisions, but always do it in the mode of realizing what’s gonna create happiness for you personally, too. Because like, if you’re not happy, no matter how hard you work or whatever it’s going to be, it’s just not going to create more happiness. And when it comes to it, just do what makes you happy and stay focused on that”, says Will.
Thuy reminds us of “the power of vulnerability. Share your story, everyone, because we do want to hear it. And we’re not alone, even though we’re very isolated. Social connection is in our human DNA. And so when you share your story, when you’re holding the pen to your own story, make sure you’re the one writing it. Make sure it’s a new chapter”.
And Nick also adds something extra special. “There are no rules. So embrace no rules. Make up your own new title, your new job, your new collaborative partners – create something totally new. If you’re doing the same thing you were doing at the beginning of the year that you’re going to be doing at the beginning of 2021, something’s wrong. Embrace the chaos and create your own way. Because everyone else will be more ready than they’ve ever been before to take on something that is not part of the establishment. And I think that people are welcoming new ideas because those are the only ideas that are going to get us through”.