Reflections While #StayingHome: Live Experiences Will Live Again
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I remember the day well. It was the start of the first week in March, and we were navigating what would essentially become a perfect storm of challenges that would be problematic to any business.
Rewind a few months, and the last quarter of 2019 and the beginnings of 2020 had not been as busy as we would have usually anticipated in the events industry. Clients were taking longer to pay. Tensions with Iran meant clients were nervous to host events in the Middle East region where we are based, and then there were issues brewing in China with a little-known virus that had started to take hold. Hearing that it had already shut down parts of their economy, it became clear that people would have to spend some time apart, which is a difficult proposition when your entire business model and industry is built upon bringing people together.
As the first emails and calls to cancel events started filling our inbox and voicemails in that first week of March, it became very clear that the world was arguably having a defining historical event, which would stand alongside those memorable “where were you” moments, such as 9/11, the first man on the moon, and the financial crisis of 2008. This time, it would be: “Where were you when the coronavirus pandemic hit?”
On that fateful day in March, we went from a successful business with a pipeline of more than six months of interesting and exciting projects, to literally absolutely nothing in the space of 12 hours. To say that this is something we were completely underprepared for would be an understatement; we simply never thought that we would be in a position to experience this. To watch helplessly as the world around you begins to crumble, and to have a complete overwhelming feeling of helplessness is something that, like many business owners, I was completely unfamiliar with.
Throughout the years I have been in the industry that I love, no matter what the challenge, I always believed that there was something to be learned from the experience that you were going through. I believed opportunities can be created to adapt and deal with the challenge at hand, and that with this, a solution can be found. This time, however, the solutions were not ours to find. This was a problem much bigger than anything we could manage. This event was global and life-changing. The world we lived in had literally changed in the blink of an eye, and there is absolutely nothing that we can do about it.
As the domino effect of the pandemic took hold across the globe, one by one, the shutters came down, and we were forced indoors. When we could go out, we were told to keep at least two meters apart, to not embrace those we love, and social distancing quickly became the new buzz word. Eventually, the dust began to settle, and collectively, we realized the ramifications of this new norm we collectively found ourselves in. The emphasis began to switch to finding solutions to help evolve an industry that relies on people not socially distancing. “Pivot” became the new tag line, as businesses that depend upon the now socially unacceptable gatherings of people explored alternatives to help them survive in a new, unknown world.
This “pivot” towards global digital gatherings has accelerated in recent years. There is certainly something to be said about the ability to connect with industry peers, delegates, fans and a wider audience across the world through online and digital mediums. As brands, businesses, and event attendees look to evaluate and minimize overheads where possible, the wider population has also started to ask legitimate questions about what they can personally do to stem the challenges that climate change and unsustainable travel and business practices pose the planet.
In the weeks following the complete overnight collapse of the live events industry in which we do business, the scramble began to examine ways that we too could evolve into a fully digital and online service provider. Exacerbated by the relentless news feeds and reports that the live industry will be in shut down for a significant amount of time, that concerts festivals and other large public gatherings might be out of action until at least the end of the year, and that mega projects such as the Olympics and Expo 2020 will in fact take place in 2021, this evolution continued at pace.
Was digital the savior to our stalled business that has been forced into a hiatus with the global shutdown? This question has been lingering since that fateful day back at the beginning in when our world imploded, and it has continued to keep myself and many others awake at night as we endure a period of self-isolation and lack of interaction with fellow human beings. And therein lies the answer to that very question that has paralyzed us with bouts of anxiety induced insomnia. It is the essence of humanity: our yearning and ability for social interaction.
To be able to feel the bass of your favorite band as it travels within your body, to laugh and joke with your socially close companions at a gig from your favorite comedian, to personally engage with your audience, to be wowed by acrobatic feats of human brilliance, to touch, to taste, to smell, to love, to laugh, to cry, to experience - to live. Everything that we are going through right now goes against the natural DNA of who we are. We are social beings. We are not meant for a digital world, and whilst events can take place within this realm, they cannot replace the live experience. Live will reign again.
Once the world heals, we shall mourn our collective losses, and then emerge from within a period of imposed self-isolation, having had the time to reflect upon the world in which we wish to live in. Live event experiences will be back, more relevant, and stronger than ever- just different from what we might be used to.