Conference Design

Are You Ready to Modernize Your Event Mindset?

Don Neal, Founder & CEO, 360 Live Media, makes the case for modernization in relation to conferences and annual meetings and how you should be prepared to change your mindset for success.

If everything in your organization, your life, and your community is just the way you like it, want it, and hope it will be forever more, you can skip reading this article. 

If, however, you are like me and 99% of the rest of the world, and you are ready for something new—a change, a shift, or maybe even a major transformation—then read on. 

When it comes to change, I love the word “modernization” because it allows us to build upon what works, minimize the risk, and avoid some of the pain associated with letting go of what we know. It helps to unify others into a coalition of the willing to accelerate the changes required before someone else changes them for you.

For now, let’s talk about modernization in relation to annual meetings, conferences, and trade shows that you organize, host, and attend. Why? Your event is a canary in the coal mine for the changes and modernization that your organization must eventually adopt.

Here are the top five issues that are at the core of why you must modernize your event (and in turn, your organization): 

  1. There is no such thing as a hybrid event. Just as there is no such thing as a hybrid retailer. A brick-and-mortar store, a website, a social media channel and a pop-up store all do different jobs to meet different consumer needs. Which is why retailers have adopted an omnichannel strategy to meet their customers where they are, and so must you. You will need to integrate a digital element just as retailers have embraced e-commerce. Your digital strategy may resemble a dating app such as Tinder, Bumble or Match allowing you to build connections and communities in advance that then attend your live event, either in-person or on a screen. Both events doing a different job. Anyone who held a mash-up or “hybrid” event in 2021 learned the hard way that in-person and digital events do two different jobs; just as a T.V. program does a different job from a performing arts theatre company.
  2. Barriers to entry. Travel restrictions, budget reductions, concerns with close physical proximity, and a two-year hiatus from the events that your organization used to do has resulted in atrophied muscle memory about what to do next. The external threats and forces are real and only through a new mindset of modernization will you be able to change the game in an era where the headwinds are so strong. New for-profit events, an endless array of webinars, social media platforms and digital publications are filling the vacuum left by so many non-profit event cancellations or lukewarm virtual event that were less than well received.
  3. Brain drain. Not only is what you did in 2019 not going to work the same way it used to, but what you design for 2022 has never been done before. The best people who can reimagine the event business model of 2022 have been exiting the traditional event arena and moved to other environments with more risk tolerance, bigger budgets, and higher ambitions. The war for talent is on and attracting it is essential. 
  4. You need to revenue, now! Events must deliver more operating income and produce higher margins. Events are businesses not a non-profit endeavor that should be allowed to break-even or lose money. Being a non-profit is a tax status, not a business strategy. “Show me the money” should be the standard by which you measure how good an idea is and if it should be funded. Profit is the marketplaces way of saying you’re doing a good job.
  5. Audiences expect more. Everyone who attended an event in the past 24 months is craving something new, fresh, different, and better. And I don’t mean the better sameness of the past dusted off and packaged as a new experience but a truly better experience that touches the heart, activates the brain, and leads to a better delivery of the job they hire your event to perform.

Now, if you accept the premise that modernizing your event is critical to your success, what must happen to begin the process? Try these three next steps on for size:

Don Neal is the founder and CEO of 360 Live Media, a leading full-service experience design and marketing agency specializing in virtual and in-person business events, conferences, and trade shows. 

Don has served as the CMO at Marsh & McLennan, as an advertising executive on Madison Avenue, he was the co-founder of Hallmark Cards Loyalty Group, an adjunct graduate marketing professor at Georgetown University, as well as Chairman of the Board of the Catalogue for Philanthropy. 

360 Live Media is part of the SmithBucklin organization, a US-based leading professional services firm serving the association sector. 

Step 1: Change the way you look at things

You are not in the event business but the experiential live media business. Ask yourself, if Apple was designing your next event, what would it look like? Or Disney, or Richard Branson, or George Lucas. Think big, think bold, and think different. If you’re not the visionary to activate the new mindset, find someone who is. Hire an experiential design architect to help you imagine what’s possible and then create the blueprint that can be converted into the tactics and logistical elements that bring it to life. Change your mindset, change your outcome.

Step 2: Create a new event model

Big, bold, and brilliant ideas don’t have to break the budget. A new event model that does the job your audience hires it to do can be built on a budget if you know where to invest. The top 3 investments you should make are in the theme, personality, and purpose of the product. Get this right and you’re half the way there. Next, appoint an event CEO who, like a great Hollywood director, will align the best script, cast, and experience to deliver on the theme and purpose.

Step 3: Monetize like a media company

Your event is media platform. You aggregate an audience, and you deliver content, education, community, and meaning to that audience. So does Facebook, Google, TikTok, The London Times, and Netflix. Break the mold of only selling concrete to exhibitors or signage to sponsors and start offering access, intimacy, frequency, reach, and impressions like every media organization does today. Your event is worth multiple times more value when viewed through the lens of a media monetization model.

Now, where do you go from here?

From where I sit, I see an emerging renaissance for the events industry. And, like any new beginning, there will be uncertainty, disruption, innovation and opportunity. The question is, will you be leader with the mindset, the courage, and inspiration to be on the vanguard of this new future? Your team is counting on you just as mine is counting on me to lead through the fog. What an exciting time to be in the experiential live media business.

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