Have you ever thought about how we could make the world a better place? Since the events industry is all about bringing people together and nurturing communities, that’s kind of what event professionals indirectly try to do. At least that’s the case that the Brew Crew will try to make today. For this occasion, Will and Nick are joined by a very special guest: Brandt Krueger, Will’s co-host on the Event Tech Podcast. What is this, a crossover episode? Well, kind of, except the trio doesn’t talk that much about event tech.
Instead, they take a closer look at the world we live in and philosophize away. It’s not a conversation about the events industry per se; it’s a sociological and psychological assessment of our society at large. A society that’s being torn apart by divisive rhetoric, hate speech, and disrespect. Will, Nick, and Brandt (or should we say, Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato) explore ways of transcending these issues and the role of the events industry in this honorable endeavor. So we highly encourage you to press play. After all, this concerns everyone on this planet!
We Live In A World Of Extremes
“There seem to be forces that have pushed the world to extremes,” says Nick. “I’ve always found that when I had conversations with people at in-person events, we automatically tried to find common ground. But now, there are many avenues of communication where I feel like things aren’t getting done. Instead, people are trying to show off or have their biases confirmed.”
And that’s what Nick wants to talk about today. “As people who have spent our lives trying to bring people together, there’s something there that we can work at. And we’re going to try to deconstruct a few things based on experiences that we’ve had to see if there’s something that we can work on to make the world a better place,” he says.
Brandt’s Advice For Making The World A Better Place
“It’s so easy to criticize, especially online,” agrees Brandt. “And we’re just as guilty of it in the event industry as anybody like. When event people go to an event, they’re some of the most critical people that I know. It’s just so easy to criticize someone else’s event. That’s been around for a long time, but it started to get worse online. That’s why I’ve been proudly off Facebook for almost eight years.”
Brandt chose to log off because he was running into a lot of contempt. “It’s anger mixed with ‘I’m better than you – you’re nothing’. That contempt easily comes out online, but it’s so much harder to feel those same emotions to someone that’s in the room with you.”
And that’s why he thinks people are holding on to the magic of in-person events. “You’re able to have a more civil conversation when the person is right there in front of you. It’s so easy to slide down those routes in online communications because there’s that extra disconnect.”
Brandt thinks that making the world a better place starts with avoiding the contempt machine. The next step is to create advocates instead of adversaries. “When we feel strongly about a movement or social justice change, we shouldn’t be tearing down people because they’re not doing it the way that we want them. But instead helping them, working with them, and caring about them.”
Nick thinks that creating change agents would also make the world a better place.”The task of the event designer is to create intentionally designed experiences that cause change. “That takes meeting people where they’re at and listening to them enough so you can have a mutually designed community that is on the same page. All of that is a lot of work. It’s not talking at people. And I think that the internet in its dehumanization has really made talking at people its primary function.”
“There are just as many stories of the internet being used to coordinate good as it is bad,” he adds. “Now, it’s been almost two decades of this type of communication. We’re starting to see people saying ‘This is not designed well to bring people together’. That movement has just started to kick in over the last year.”
“Bringing people together has worked more or less as far as creating action. The action is the deficit right now. There’s a lot of noise in the online world, but is anyone listening? Is anyone changing? But meanwhile, if you put people together in a room, they would say something to the effect of: ‘I hear what you’re saying, but have you considered this?’. You instantly shift your tone to find that common ground. I think the world needs more of that right now,” Nick concludes.
Brandt’s Exemplary Anecdote
Brandt shares a personal story to show how making the world a better place might concern those working in the events industry. “I was working with a group and the executive was onstage, running through his presentation. He wanted to strike the podium mic that was there as backup. I told him we have it there in case the wireless mic stopped working. And he loudly said: ‘For what we’re paying you, everything should work’. He basically told the entire crew that they’re not allowed to make any mistakes because of the enormous amount of money that they’re paying for this show. And you could just feel a tense moment in the room,” he says.
Then, the MC stepped up for them. “He told the executive that we’re professionals. That we have a backup because we know better. That was not something that he needed to do. But he knew the importance of backing the people that are going to make you look good. And that goes back to that advocate versus adversaries point.”
“It’s all about looking for those opportunities to support each other in making our events better, as opposed to tearing down when we see something that’s not working,” he adds.
Will comments on Brandt’s anecdote. “It’s about coming from a place of empathy. Being able to see the other person’s position. Another thing we see all the time is when people keep quiet and don’t say stuff out loud, then something goes wrong.”
“And what if something went wrong? It’s not like this person sat there and decided to press the ‘everything-goes-wrong button’,” he adds. “Sometimes, it’s Murphy’s law in the events industry. As an industry, we just need way more empathy for everything that’s going on.”
“The world itself is going through a lot of issues that events can potentially alleviate,” agrees Nick. “If only we could take the lessons that we’ve learned in communication and bringing people together, and design experiences where there’s representation. A place where there are different thoughts and ideas. Where people can be out there without there necessarily being any kind of negativity associated with platforming people who don’t necessarily agree with what everyone believes. It’s about creating an atmosphere of respect; where a bunch of ideas can be thrown around and people can take what they want from that.”
Respect Has Entered The Chat
Talking about respect, Will recommends Radical Candor. “Care personally, but also challenge directly. Everyone loves it.”
“It’s actually a must-read book in the merit system,” adds Nick. “There is a lot of education around radical candor. I think it’s one of the coolest operating systems.”
“Radical honesty is also just so much easier,” says Brandt. “It seems like you don’t have to try and keep track of things. You don’t have to remember what you said to person 1 versus person 2. I’m fascinated by the psychology behind what we’re talking about today. What is the difference between being in-person versus being online? Is it just that one layer of abstraction that makes people mean to each other? How much abstraction has to come in before that disappears? Is being on a video call enough to make people simmer down?”
For the final part of the conversation, Will wants to “open a can of worms”. What better way to fuel discussion about opposing opinions? “We’ve talked about our responsibility to foster better communication in the events industry. But this also applies to our attendees too. I was in a client meeting very recently and they talked about how there was a small percentage of people who didn’t like the platform. Essentially, there was a small group of angry people who were changing their entire execution of the event. They were trying to completely change the platform. Then, you’re almost allowing them to become adversaries for you rather than to become advocates for you.”
“Obviously, they care personally, which is why they’re listening to people, but what about the challenge directly piece? I think you would need to challenge directly your attendees and almost manage downward and tell them you’re going to try and make the best event experience possible. Otherwise, we become their servants rather than their leaders,” he says.
“I think people become order-takers because many times because they don’t give the attendee the transparency into the decision-making process,” replies Nick.
Homework: Bring Different People Together
An hour later, Nick, Will, and Brandt haven’t saved humanity’s issues, but they’ve definitely made a small step towards making the world a better place. And if you’re interested in joining their cause, here’s what you can do.
“Your job this week is to figure out a way to bring people who would not normally come together,” says Nick. “Then, have them both become better for it. Many multi-billion dollar organizations are working against that. Know that the majority of humanity is suffering from that. And if you can alleviate that, you’re going to do not only something big and profound but also something that’s really needed.”
Off you go, fellow human, you know what to do. Together, we can all make the world a better place!