As 2022 really gets going, and the events and live production sectors start to gain some perspective on the last two years; we are turning to thoughts of what is in store for 2022 onwards… As Creative Director of Counterculture, I think it is a good moment to take stock and focus my thoughts on the future of this industry.
Very happily Omicron has proved to be milder than expected and it really feels like now is a pivotal point in the building back efforts of so many industries – and the creative ones in particular. Sadly we have of course lost people in the industry to Covid; but also some really key players in the production and audio visual industries have vanished, and some incredibly talented and knowledgeable people have of necessity moved to other industries. Nevertheless: Britain still has some of the most experienced and talented events professionals, justifying its long-held reputation as a go-to source for the very best events professionals and companies in the world.
We now know that Covid is always going to be hanging about in the background; and will be a consideration in live face-to-face events for the foreseeable; but I think we have great Covid-safe procedures set up from the ground up, and it’s really starting to feel like ‘we’ve got this’.
What’s happening with decision makers?
Right now we are seeing a lot of scurrying around and buzz from agencies, freelancers and suppliers. Clients are tangibly excited at the prospect of being able to physically reconnect with their colleagues in a live format. Over the last couple of weeks it has become noticeably more optimistic, and I have been part of more than a few conversations that just haven’t been possible for two years. It definitely feels like Spring is coming!
So it’s clear from many metrics that the events industry is now building back after Covid – and there is a real frisson. I am excited too that what is now arising is clearly distinctive from before; and I can’t wait to see how these new opportunities play out.
How are we building back the industry better?
Because we haven’t been ‘live’ for so long, the need is now for a lot of consideration to be given to how special a live event actually is. Live events no longer spark casual thoughts in any attendee. For all of us: clients, delegates, producers, performers and speakers; they matter so much more, must make so much more impact, and hold so many more valuable opportunities. I see this as a really positive benefit: and something that is going to have an energetic effect on the ideas and values of the industry.
It’s not just safety and Covid rebound that is effecting fundamental change though. There’s something else: sustainability. Along with ideas of space and movement of people, sustainability has really bedded down into the mix now. Looking back on the ‘before Covid’ times these changes are clearly very positive – and in five years’ time I think we will look back and think that these shifts of policy and planning of events were all to the good and quite clearly ‘not before time’. Just as its inconceivable now to have smoking indoors in public places, so will it be for personal safety and sustainability considerations.
What are the positive changes and opportunities going forward from Covid?
I see many advantages in having more spacious areas for audience and transitional areas, and more knowledge and live information on attendees and people flow through spaces. Big data has a lot to do with this; and Covid has allowed this to come to the fore and show itself as indispensable for making optimum exciting and immersive live experiences.
Now we are careful to ensure that opportunities for serendipitous meetings and interaction are built in – and need to be part of the foundation to make a live event count – those ‘water cooler’ moments we have lost need fostering. These things that we took for granted all of our lives have become special and crucial to plan for.
The Great Outdoors
For me, this is a really refreshing re-examination of venue and space, a renaissance of the whole idea of being outside, connecting the man-made indoors with the warm refreshing light of day; it’s something I’ve always found exciting and I’m looking forward to some great chances to use these ideas.
How so? The transitional space and the idea of traversing the threshold between inside and outside provides great chances for interaction and activation. Using outside spaces is clearly indispensible for health and ventilation reasons, but it’s also of great benefit to the environment if done well: less use of generators for lighting, more use of existing space – or upgrading of existing outside space is great because it has a good legacy effect – so an event that incorporates the outside is inherently more sustainable. As part of the trend toward reconnection with nature catalysed by lockdowns – we can contribute to the re-evaluation of the natural world as part of our world view with events. This is a refreshing opportunity.
Travel and technology
The necessity of travel has been re-evaluated, and it’s it is now imperative to make the absolute maximum use of travel and face to face events that do now happen. We can use technology and our newly embraced use of smartphone apps to attend and register for events to everyone’s advantage for this.
One unintended consequence of this is that it’s more sustainable – using an app is better use of resource. Virtual conferencing has added to the toolbox with live conferences – I can see that going forward it will be seen as just as valuable in a live setting to have a virtual speaker to a live audience, and this will add to the wider mix of an event; and also widen the pool of contributors to an event.
How will virtual and in-person events play out?
Will hybrid events be easy to run? The whole experience of being with people is so special now that it’s likely you’d feel very left out if not there in person – and the other benefits of attending for real will come into focus too. Shared experience, human interaction, community, and culture of company will clearly benefit from in-person events returning; but it will be necessary to find ways for remote attendance and contribution to an event for a time yet. Technology will provide this and may provide some really beneficial possibilities we will take on as part of any event of the future.
What are the positive changes to energy use and sustainable build and technology now?
Sustainability is here and it’s only going to grow as part of our offer. It will change the whole industry. Offsetting the carbon footprint of event will be part of every client’s requirement going forward, and every event supplier needs up their game and be able to demonstrate their efforts at sustainability to make their offer acceptable to large clients.
My belief is that what can be at first a hindrance can actually be a creative opportunity; and can add a huge amount to an event in terms of legacy, carbon offset, a re-examination of everything – from micro to macro. Right from catering waste norms in the past becoming shocking, ‘bring your own’ bottle for water for tea being an acceptable ask of attendants; and through to recycling of scenery and reuse of modular elements.
If we are clever with our brief, legacy considerations regarding infrastructure or waste after an event become centred in the design. It becomes part of the story of the show: how can you emotionally engage more sustainably? Building a piece of scenery or making parts of a build inherently useable again – or worth passing onto another entity who can still use it is becoming more the norm – all to the good.
My views on assuring that events have a ‘baked in’ legacy and community involvement and opportunity
Sustainability also comes into play when it comes to venue choice. If you’re in a conference centre you are one step removed from contact with local community. At a site-specific event that suits the narrative of the brief; the production is enabled to incorporate the local community via job and training opportunities, benefitting local business as well as to bring local culture and environment into an event: opportunity cuts both ways.
How does mine and Counterculture’s design sensibility bring out the best in a live event?
My design sensibility is centred on narrative. At the end of the day everything is about the story arc – what you are trying to say and how you present it – whether it’s a conference, presentation, live music event or opera. How does that narrative get communicated in the best possible way? That‘s what I always have in mind. I look at any event as I do a film or stage show – what are you trying to say?
This story arc imperative saturates the whole production… My thoughts are always framed by the journey of the delegate/audience. How does the narrative unfold over the duration of the event? For me that’s like listening to an album in the right order – its curated and has a definite timeline. That’s my speciality, and what I get the greatest pleasure in providing. I always make sure I consider this when it comes to venue choice, design, the way things are presented – informally or formally – on a stage, the emotional power of an environment – how does it make you feel? How do we want you to feel? What is the journey?
‘The medium is the message’