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LOS ANGELES BizBash Live: The Expo took over Los Angeles’ California Market Center on July 13, and included a packed lineup of smart speakers at the Event Innovation Forum downstairs from the buzzing exhibit floor. With speakers representing such thought-leading organizations as Google, Salesforce, and even the White House the program offered a range of provoking takeaways including these big ideas.
1. “Focus on the user and all else will follow.”
Google executive producer Amanda Matuk described how her team reinvented the brand’s massive annual developer conference, known as I/O. The approach included a larger keynote, more technical content, and more and larger breakouts. “But we didn’t just scale for scale’s sake,” she explained. “It was all based on feedback from past years.” In other words, the attendees led the conversation about what they wanted and needed—and the brand listened. Google focused on guest comfort, offering places for attendees to power up and cool down and handing out survival kits; they also “added pops of fun and magic everywhere,” Matuk said.
2. “In order to be good at producing events, you have to enjoy taking care of people.”
Yifat Oren, founder and creative director of Oren Cove Productions, explained her belief that you don't need to actively enjoy the company or respect the opinions of every person you interact with in the course of strategizing and executing an event. “You don’t have to like them all—just be programmed to care,” she said. Oren said that the members of her team all come from a place she calls “competitive nurturing,” which helps them succeed.
3. “Sometimes you get wrapped up in bureaucracy or drama, and you need [to take a] step back and realize that this is really fun. Make the most of it.”
As former social secretary in the Obama administration, Jeremy Bernard oversaw all events that took place on the White House grounds, including an array of responsibilities from state dinners to presidential announcements to the country. Aware of the honor of his position, he said he always saved a menu, invitation, or other keepsake from events, along with photos. “Once you leave, it’s easy to forget details,” he said. During his tenure, he also observed how First Lady Michelle Obama “always thought of the guest experience.” He explained that she focused on minimizing wait times, reducing car retrieval backups—and giving folks ample time to dance.
4. “Being authentic helps cut through the clutter.”
Authenticity is a major buzzword ricochetting around the industry, and Catherine Simmons, the vice president of strategic events for Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference (the world’s largest software conference), also invoked it. “True brand impact is experiential and immersive,” she said. “Be authentic.” But how to execute on that promise? “Be true to who you are,” she offered. “Figure out what’s special to you and what differentiates you in the marketplace.” She also added a simple but bold philosophy to consider: “It’s always worth trying new things.”
5. “Anticipate how somebody’s going to experience your event from start to finish.”
Audrea Hooper is the head of so-called “Fungineering” at the online retailer Zappos, and as such she heads a team whose responsibilities include employee events. Like the brand’s reputation for over-the-top customer service, these events are intended to wow guests by anticipating their needs above and beyond their expectations.
For instance, Zappos provides taxi vouchers or Uber or Lyft codes for events where alcohol will be served. “We want to make sure employees are getting home safely,” she said. The brand also consider details such as convenient parking and venue location in order to keep people comfortable and happy. And then the whole team plans and executes the event from the perspective of a guest in a process she calls “journey mapping.”
Consider this example of anticipating guest needs and individual circumstances: Before Zappos’ annual summer picnic, an R.S.V.P. survey collected data on how many employees were coming, and how many were bringing kids—and dogs. Invitations then included berry baskets with T-shirts for employees and kids, onesies for babies, and even dog bandanas.“The shirt creates unity like a family reunion—creating that wow,” she said. The event also included such individualized, comfort-minded details as a room for nursing moms.
6. “We feel more than 'surprise and delight.'”
Mosaic creative director Khaleed Juma took time to ponder why event professionals typically only consider “surprise and delight,” when there are many more experiences across the spectrum of human emotion. “We as humans experience life on a spectrum, including fear and terror as well as surprise and delight—the reality is there’s an emotional spectrum,” he said. Of course, “Surprise and delight is easy to do: It’s positive, it’s universal, and it’s safe.” That said, he urged event pros to consider other kinds of emotional experiences that can be productive—citing an anti-drunk-driving P.S.A. that terrifies its viewer into compliance, or retailer REI’s announcement that it would close its stores on Black Friday to urge people to go outside instead, an approach that confused shoppers—and triggered their loyalty. “It’s not negative if it works,” he said.