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What Will Get People Back Together at In-Person Events

March 1, 2021

Sixty years ago, in 1961, the three top television shows were Bonanza, Wagon Train, and Gunsmoke. It’s not that all three are Westerns that makes this so interesting but the fact that one in three Americans watched them. A recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed noted that in 2020 the top two non-sports TV series were both crime shows, with ratings of 5.0 for NCIS and 4.2 for FBI. Conversely, Gunsmoke had a rating of 37.3. That’s 5% watching the same show today vs 37% 60 years ago. And remember, average TV and screen viewing time is up several hundred percent.

So what? Well, back in 1961 there were three networks and one TV per household. Networks and advertisers had a captive audience of Americans. No more. We are splintered, fragmented, and carved up into micro segments of cohorts held captive by our own network of self-selected channels, communities, and media outlets.

Here’s the good news. You and your organization have your own media network comprised of your own community, your own followers, and your own like-minded audience who all care deeply about what your organization does, who you represent, and how you can help them accomplish their professional goals.

And one thing we know for sure is that a shared experience, a coming-together of like-minded people around a common purpose, has never been more in demand. The beauty of 37% of America watching the same TV show each week is that the water cooler talk and the same common experience creates a bond. Abraham Maslow told us that human beings seek belonging, connection, a common bond, and being part of something, even if it’s just a TV show. The Super Bowl is the closest thing we have to that national shared experience.

Ask yourself, what is the shared experience your members are seeking, what will unite them, who will unite them, and how will YOU unite them to attend and be part of a shared experience. THIS is the one thing, above all else, that will draw your audience back together, in-person, in one place. And, yes, that shared experience will be a magnet for many to watch as part of your digital broadcast to those who aren’t ready or can’t afford to travel.

In the past, event organizers have relied on famous speakers and great destinations to attract an audience, and for good reason: these two features will continue to be a draw, no question. But to overcome the inertia, the costs, the lingering fears, and the new ease of consuming information without leaving your home, we will have to do more. These three ideas are a good start to creating the promise of a shared experience that activates, engages, and unifies an audience:

  1. Address the elephant-in-the-room issues that your audience deeply cares about. Take on the politically sensitive topics, take on the real pressures your members are dealing with, and bring forth speakers, thought-leaders, provocateurs, outsiders, and people from every walk of life who can address the concerns, opportunities, and issues that will get your audience out of their home offices, onto a plane, and to your event. Ignite the fires that your members most care about.
  2. Use your digital events, social media platforms, discussion forums, and all of your member communications to create small groups who are deeply connected and agree to attend your event as a unit. Offer pricing incentives, gathering places, dining options, seating preferences, and inter-group meetings to build your audience, not one-by-one but in more of a mini-wholesale fashion. By doing this you will be providing a great service by helping make the connections that have been lost during this last year of isolation.
  3. Forget the traditional cocktail receptions, networking breaks, and other homogenous, vanilla, awkward social gatherings, and instead create new ways of getting people together in shared experiences that are more authentic and intimate, and that appeal to introverts and extroverts alike. One of my favorites was a medical event I attended that had a piano, and a stand with several guitars and other instruments in an open area by the registration area. Turns out a lot of physicians have hidden musical talents and several impromptu groups formed over the three-day event, all compromised of “strangers” who, after a few songs together, were all connected in new ways. And the crowds they drew also had a reason to connect, talk music, and form new relationships.

In-person events have all the potential to be better, more enjoyable, more engaging, deeply meaningful, and wildly successful if we see them through a new lens of human centric design. Mass-marketed, mass-designed, massive general sessions, and massive swarms of people all in one place but not unified in the shared experiences is not the future. Events that are curated by you, inspired by common needs and interests and organized for true human connection are going to be the game-changers we all need.

Design your first in-person event in 2021 or 2022 as a made for TV, designed by Broadway, and packaged and sold like a Hollywood experience. What a great time to be in the live, in-person, digital event business!


Don Neal
Founder & CEO

360 Live Media
703-915-8421