Welcome to Make it Kickass, where we help leaders of growing communities bring their people together with purpose and lasting impact. Join us as we explore how to make events engaging, exciting, energizing and profitable so that you can build a healthy, sustainable community. I'm Isaac Watson, founder and lead strategist at Kickass Conferences.::
And I'm Nessa Jimenez, Operations Manager, at Kickass Conferences.::
Now let's make it Kick Ass together. Hello everyone, welcome back to Make it Kick Ass. This is the first episode of season three and I am, of course, here with Nessa Jimenez. Hi, nessa,::
Hi Isaac happy season three.::
I'm so excited. The whole prep process for this season has just had me floored, chuffed even about how exciting this has all been. So News Flash if you haven't been following us on social media, this season we are featuring about a dozen interviews with guests, which is not something that we've done before on the podcast, and these conversations have been fire so good. Very, very excited for you to hear from the various people that we're bringing in, talking about everything from the strategy around why you would even host events, what community is, how to build community, thinking about the event planning process and even like all the way down to like what do we do at showtime and how do we make something that's really, really fantastic. So I cannot wait to introduce our guests to you, but first we just have to have a like hey, how are you? Episode? I think right, Because it's been a hot minute.
We've been busy doing our thing, of course, but this episode we wanted to talk a little bit about what's been going on in the industry, some of the things that we're noticing in the event world and, specifically, in the community building world. And before I turn it over to you, Nessa, I think one thing that I will say is that a common theme coming up throughout all these interviews we've been recording and the conversations that we've been having within and outside of our circles is that the events industry, especially the sustainable events industry, is really centered around community building, and that's going to be something that we were talking about a lot. This was the subject of a session that I just led at podcast movement about building, taking an audience and building a community out of it. Community is at the core of what we do, and so that's going to be kind of the underlying theme that you can expect throughout all of these episodes. But first we have some things to talk about. Nessa, why don't you give us the rundown of what we're going to cover today?::
Yeah. So we're going to talk about a lot of things, but I think they fall under four main categories and that's what we'll be addressing. So first, we're going to talk a little bit about the death of virtual and I put death in quotes because it's like is it really dead? We'll get into that. Number two, forgetting how to people post COVID. That's a big one learning how to come back together after we've been away from each other for so long. Third, we're going to address corporate budgets and their effects on the event world and what's going on there. And finally, and related obviously, it's inflation, which has been a hot topic for everybody and its role in how we put on good events.::
I love it, let's get into it.::
All right, yeah, so let's start with this. The death of virtual. I feel like a lot of people are really excited to bury virtual events right and announcing the death. That's over, it's dead, it's gone. And, interestingly enough, today, as we record this, there was some big news that came out, and I think we should start there, so why don't you start with that?::
Isaac. So, as we all know, the pandemic brought about a surge of tech startups in the event technology realm and one of the darlings maybe darling one of the big turned into one of the big behemoths was Hoppin. Yes, right, yes. This was deemed a unicorn because it started up offering virtual event platform. They quickly raised I think it was a billion dollars in investments. They scaled massively. They were gobbling up a lot of business in 2020, 2021. And then, I believe, if the history lesson serves me, serves my memory correctly, they went public and then they went on an acquisition spree. They bought a whole bunch of other event technology companies, started folding it all in under their umbrella and they just they ballooned into this massive thing.some new company is formed in: ::
And we're talking about not just the size but the speed at which these things happen, like the pandemic March and then with fast forward to now 2023, summer. Like what the hell happened? Like that's so quick, so violent, such a big, huge thing. And going back to 2020, like Jesus, hoppin really was like the darling. That was the name. That was like oh Maria, the big thing that everybody just like the best and the greatest.Personally, my job in:
You know what I mean. Yeah like there's a lot of other tools that are like really good at doing one thing and doing it really well. I feel like Hoppin could do a lot of things but none of them very well in my opinion.::
Hoppin, hoppin was fine, yeah Right.
And maybe that's why they were so successful is because from a like big corporate purchasing standpoint, fine is valuable or something I don't know, but I feel like in a lot of ways not to draw like Silicon Valley analogies here but I feel like Hoppin became the zoom equivalent in the in the virtual events. Now I know Zoom tried to do their own events platform too, but they were just. They kind of became the standard for online events, of that of a certain kind of scope and like this is not also not new. This is new for Hoppin They've gone through several rounds of layoffs and were downsizing.
They were clearly in trouble, right, but the industry they're rather not the industry but the the niche of virtual event platforms as tech companies has been struggling for the last 18 months to two years as they've, as the pendulum swung back out of everything's all virtual all the time to nobody wants to get on another video conference and so, like last year I think it was last year early last year Socio, which is another event platform that we had used for some events previously, was acquired by Cisco's WebEx, right, and so, like this, the fact that Ring Central is acquiring the Hoppin events platform and product, is it tracks like? I'm not surprised, right.::
Yeah, this is what happens in this world, right, it's like all the apps, the tech and all the thing, the acquisitions and whatnot, and you know, and it's just, it has to happen because so many apps came out from the pandemic and now, yeah, the people are either buying them up or they're closing down and bringing this back to the whole death of virtual.
I think people seeing this news come out today, that for them, will definitely confirm, like yeah, virtual is dead. Like look at Hoppin, hoppin was like the big one, of course it's dead, nobody wants to do it. And then seeing, looking at the numbers, there has been like just a sharp, sharp decline in virtual events. Like this year so far we were hearing stats of like their apps that are having a 90% decrease in the events that they're doing since January. Like it is a just a cliff, honestly right, what we're seeing. So I understand, from that sense, seeing these apps and all these things struggle and they're going away. However, I would make the case for venture. Virtual events are not dead, they're just returning to the baseline of what it was before the pandemic.::
And think about it like we are all isolated for a year and a half, like as we like. What we saw last year and I think this was indicative of the greater industry was like it was gangbusters for in person again. People were still trying to do hybrid, usually not well, but it was gangbusters for getting back together in person and I think that at the end of the day we are, we are human meat sacks who want to be near other human meat sacks, and virtual events just don't cut it. So we're seeing, like you said, this return to a baseline of virtual events. We had virtual events before 2020. Absolutely.
We will continue to have virtual events, but people are really reconciling what time they're willing to commit to staring at their screen for yet another hour or day or two days to be able to consume content and participate in an online chat Right.::
And I think that that that's a good ending point for this one. And let's move on to the next point where I want to talk about how we've all forgotten how to people because of covid and this coming back to in person, coming back to socializing in the ways that we couldn't because of the pandemic, looking at the trends and the patterns there, because what's going on right now is wild. It's wild. So I'll start with we're seeing just like the maximum awkwardness in every sense of the way of like people going to networking events, not knowing how to talk to people, not knowing how to network, not knowing how to reach out to anybody, right, people going to events and not knowing how to engage, needing like an extra push, almost like you know, middle school kids getting pushed by the teacher at the dance, right, like go dance, you know.::
Just so. Yeah, let's talk about that a little bit. What has been your personal experience with that?::
I mean I. So the first in-person event that I went to was it was a questionable time to do so, I will admit that was in August of 2021. I attended a conference in Nashville, tennessee, and this was just when the red states were starting to drop their COVID restrictions, their masking restrictions and whatnot. And it was awkward Like I'm being a physical person in a space with other people when we've been hammered into our heads to keep six feet apart and you know every person around us is potentially infectious Like that's a massive psychological toll to deal with and it was. It was really weird.w we all talked so quietly in:
But the the it's this kind of more careful and considered approach to what we're doing. I think from a social relationship standpoint you know so much of, whether we were like diving into Instagram or connecting with people on Twitter or in work chats or like, like you know, slack or teams or whatnot like the pandemic cemented this asynchronous way of communicating Right, and then suddenly I'm like in front of, we're in front of people and we're expected to hold a live, synchronous conversation with them. That isn't meeting oriented right, cause that was our only synchronous time was either on the phone with loved ones or in meetings where we didn't really want to be there. We all had Zoom fatigue.::
It was just work.::
Yeah, right, it was just work. And then we were like I think we're going to be learning how to like when, when is it okay for me to interrupt people when you know, like, how do I can I think on my feet still Right? Like these are all things that are still at play, and how quickly we forget.::
And I think that this, what we're talking about, that's. That's the nice side. Like, this is the nice problem to have, where it's like oh, we're awkward and this is so funny and you kind of have a laugh about it. But going to the more extreme side, the darker side of this, and then we were seeing an increase in outbursts and violence and like just just awful behavior from people that we were not seeing before the pandemic.
Like, yeah, let's talk about just people not knowing how to act on planes. The fact that there's like a huge increase in like these outbursts and people fighting and people getting hammered and, and you know, they got to call the cops, they got to divert the, the, the flight. Like, talk about an effect on the event industry.::
If I have to think about.::
Is it worth, right, Like the drama of like I'm going to get on a plane and somebody's just going to lose their mind Is it worth traveling to this point? Right, Like that's a huge factor there, I think.::
And I don't know if this is a uniquely American or North American cultural trait, but I see this manifesting in other areas too, and it it may have to do with the increased politicization of our society and this kind of combative nature. But, like you know, just in the past six months I'll be driving around town and the way people drive, oh yes, like I don't know if you've noticed this as well, but like I like it's like they're in the fast and franchise movies, right. Like you know, like I saw, we were driving down the freeway the other day and I saw a person in a car that was kind of swerving all over the place driving really slowly on the freeway in the right lane and we pass and they they've just got their phone right there in front of their face and like head directly in it and it's just like doing this. I'm like what's going on? When did when did this become? Okay, yeah yeah, yeah.::
And then concerts this whole thing with with people throwing phones and things like knocking people out on stage, that that never happened before. Like an all of a sudden like in these past couple months it's happened like every week, right?
That's another sign of like these social rules, the understood like unspoken rules all of a sudden everybody's forgotten them and we're struggling to get back to a place where people know how to behave and that that has an effect on events, because it is requiring us as event producers to have to put a lot of thought into that right Like number one code of conducts If it is more likely that we're going to have issues right, making sure that those codes of conduct are strong and we're we're prepared to address, like just this wildness that's happening, and then having a more active, intentional attention to helping people interact, helping people you know have a good time at our events and knowing what to do and how to how to people again.::
Yeah, it, it. It puts a lot more work on the organizers to create something, as that is beneficial for the most people, and I think that when you if I were to bring this back to community building when you've made the efforts to cultivate a good community of people that is looking out for each other's best interests, that is contributing, that is there supporting each other, the chances of you encountering this are going to be a hell of a lot lower than if you're just pulling some mass audience together for a sales event.
But I think that where it does still affect you is in people's decision to actually attend. If they're being like we all see this kind of stuff going on. Like you said, if they're thinking about the challenges of flying or getting to a place safely, they're going to think twice and that can damage our audiences, that can damage the experiences that the community is having and that needs to change.::
Right. So I think that one is pretty clear. Although, why are more people talking about this? Like, let's be honest, I feel like you and I are the only people that are thinking like, yeah, this affects us, like, oh, this wildness, so I'm glad we got to chat about it. But next on my list is corporate budgets, corporate life, the corporate like. You know, teams and budget cuts and all these layouts that we're seeing and all this economic things that are going around. You know the, the, the Bury, to be honest, of the corporate world and how they play games with people and how that ultimately also affects how, what we do and how people connect.::
And it changes like thinking of the calculus of people attending events. That changes the way that people evaluate buying a ticket. So, like, say, you have a independently organized conference on web development, for example, right. So this is supposed to attract people working across all kinds of different companies who are working in web development, who are trying to improve their skills, learn from the latest and greatest best practices, take that back to their teams and improve their their work as a result. But if they don't have a learning and development budget anymore, they then need to decide if it's worth a $500 ticket, for example, right Plus.
You know, if their work isn't approving the this travel because it's not technically work related or it's considered non essential, then you've got a plane ticket and hotel costs. And then is that on work, on the work clock or are you taking PTO for it? Can you be away from your family for that long? Do you need to make other arrangements if you have, you know, small kids, for example, like all of this goes into that formula of is this worth it to me or should I just take an online course that'll help me develop a specific skill? That's a lot cheaper and that can so, from an independent event standpoint that can dramatically affect your attendee base because the the funding to send people there and the time equation is just not working out in your favor, and we saw that last year with one client in particular where the in person attendee group was puny in comparison to precode.::
And it just comes back to if last year my company was going to pay my ticket and give me like a stipend to go and this year they're not giving me anything. Yeah, like that. Yes becomes much, much harder in that context and I think as a band of producers.
That puts us in a position of I think, generally speaking, it's not a good idea to depend on most of your revenue coming from the fact that companies are paying people to go. Right, like that's just not smart. As we see, at any moment in time, the company doesn't care about development anymore. Right, it doesn't care about these things. But we also need to then look at this event and and really make it worth it for people. Like what is it going to make this event worth it for someone to pay it out of pocket when they used to have their company pay for them?::
Yeah, and if you don't want to rely so heavily on tickets, ticket sales, or need to drop your ticket price to compensate for this decision making process, can you actually rebalance that through sponsorships or other ways of supporting the revenue for the event, especially when you don't know how many people are going to actually attend? It's a it is a dicey thing to to be working with from a budget standpoint, because if you want more sponsorships, then you need to deliver more than the sponsors, and so it makes it really challenging.::
Also, because of the whole thing that's going on with corporate budgets, sponsorship budgets have been slashed, if not eliminated. Yes you have companies that last year they were spending 1020 $30,000 at each event and this year they're only doing one and it might be 5k. What they're giving you know, like, like this year we're seeing a huge drop in what companies are willing to sponsor because they don't have the budgets for it, and that again that's a huge hit to our budgets as event producers because, like how it hurts.::
Yeah, it's. You know, typically, especially in the tech space, a sponsor will come in with one of three priorities One is recruitment, Another is sales, whether that's enterprise or or individual, and the third is thought leadership and and kind of status elevation, brand awareness, general stuff. Well, the brand awareness and the sales. So many companies, especially with how easy it has become to produce a virtual event, they're like oh well, we'll just do it, yes, yes.::
Well, we'll keep it internal.::
We would rather invest our marketing dollars into something that we can control rather than sponsor another event to get a little piece of that pie.
And on the recruiting front, you know, there's been so many layoffs, so many organizations, so much shrinking and reorganization of companies that they're not actively recruiting in the same way and they're not willing to invest as much money in the recruitment process, especially because you have so many people who have been laid off, who are actively looking for work, and so the pool of potential candidates is a lot hungrier and a lot more likely to seek out these roles than so reduces the imperative to actively recruit for that kind of stuff, so that it changes again, changes the calculus on how sponsors are are deciding to invest, if they are at all, in events sponsorships.::
And moving on to our final point for today's episode related to corporate budgets, sort of its inflation, which has a hits everybody, and I really wanted to talk about how inflation is affecting our ability as event producers to put on a good show, specifically to bring people the same, if not better, quality, when costs are so much higher than they were, even, I'd even say like last year.::
Yeah, it has been. I mean shocking to say the least, to see how costs have changed. I think this is the principle reason why you know we were talking about virtual being dead question mark. I could will pretty squarely tell you that hybrid is dead.
I think that as an, as an event format, people just cannot afford anymore. It is too damn expensive and takes too much work to put on a high quality hybrid event. Unless you have gobs of money you want to throw at the end resources from a team standpoint, to throw at the, at the solution or at the problem and the the we see this in food costs, labor costs. We see this through. I mean, you have to think about this way. I was talking about this with somebody recently. The entire hospitality industry was frozen for year and a half or so. Economic stimulus aside, there's a massive amount of money that they lost and business that they are trying to rebuild. One of the ways that they are rebuilding that business and regaining that revenue is by increasing their costs to produce these things, whether that's in room rates or a V-costs or even service charges on food and beverage. Administrative charges, like the costs, are just skyrocketing. I wouldn't say it's out of control, but it is teetering toward that, not just that things cost more.::
But I will talk about the hospitality industry. The quality that we're getting from them is abysmal. The decrease in the quality of the work, of the attention to detail, all of that stuff is also part of the cost. I'm paying more, and the quality of the service is much less. Our contracts had something and then we have people show up and it's a whole other thing. A couple months ago it was like a Comic-Con. They had the event planned and when they got there, what the hotel did was they put the artists alley in a completely separate building from where the convention was going, because the hotel had given that space. They double-booked it. They gave that space to somebody else. That's happening a lot as well, and that is such a crappy thing to do. They really destroyed the income for the artists that the artists alley because it was a whole separate building. Nobody went and it was a disaster.::
Yeah, we had a similar experience last year where we had booked the rooms for the general session for this conference Typically and by typically I mean, I guess, pre-covid that means you get it all day, right, they don't book anything else. We got to the point where we're like let's just flip the room and have the closing reception in the main ballroom space. Come to find out, nope, they had sold the evening to another event, a dinner which required a full room reset. They were giving us a total of I think it was 90 minutes to strike.::
Yeah, I was going to say I think it was maybe two hours.::
We sqoze two hours. We begged and pleaded for them to give us two hours. No, we ended early so that we would have two hours. That's what it was.::
We trimmed the program at 30 minutes, so that we could have two hours.::
And through a Herculean effort yeah, with all hands on deck we struck that set and that room and we managed to do it within that timeframe.::
But, like what yeah, not cool.::
Not cool Not. And also thanks for telling us Right no.::
And that's just a couple of examples of how the quality of what we're getting is just so much worse. We're paying way more for it, we're having to invest a lot more because for that particular event we were lucky, because we had wonderful volunteers that showed up and helped us, like throughout that whole mess, like I'm still impressed that we did it honestly. But what does that mean then? What does this mean for us? Going forward? Because inflation will it'll balance itself out eventually. But the way capitalism works, once people raise prices, it's really hard for them to come back down. That's just the reality. So what does this mean now going forward for people putting on events?::
I think that there are two things that come to mind.
One is that events will trend smaller and more intimate, because that's going to speak to the more personal connections that we want to make with people while we're there.
We don't want to be in a sea of, you know, a mass of people that we're just never going to meet.
And I think that the other pieces that I think we're going to see a trend, especially from an independently organized event standpoint, which is where we work a lot of the times toward using independent venues, not hotel properties, which breaks us out of the forced pricing and the food and beverage minimums.
And, you know, often at independent venues you have either your choice of characters or you choose from a list of potential of approved caterers, and so you can find something within your budget. You are not subject to, you know, the house AV company that's, that's, you know, price gouging on their services, and it gives you a lot more freedom to do things like bring in food trucks and, you know, pay a couple of grand in minimums for the food trucks to have them on site and give a better experience to the attendees because at the end of the day, they're going to get better food for it? Um, I think there's just. It opens the door for a lot more creativity and a lot more uh planning. That will lead to more interesting, more creative, more uh unique experiences around the events that we're creating.
I said like creative three times and three different ways.::
in that sense, Like food costs, man, that that hurts. I think we're also seeing a lot, a lot of people just rethinking like can we feed these people? It sucks, but.::
And and where? Where do you draw the line between here's a here's a Costco snack pack of smart pop, um, for, versus a tray of cookies or something from a local vendor? Um, and yeah, I, I think, coupled with that, with the smaller, more intimate events, I think we might start seeing uh kind of events on tour.::
Interesting what? What do you mean by that?::
Right. So instead of so, instead of like having a single conference in one location where several hundred people come, or a thousand people, or 1500 people come together, you start seeing smaller distributed events right.
So you know, the host organization kind of like pop-ups, so they go on tour and they do like, oh, we're going to do the Portland version of our Mita, of our like one day conference, right, for the people that are in this region, and then we're going to pop over here to Chicago and we're going to do one for the Midwest, and then we're going to go down here to the South and we're going to go to Atlanta, right. And so you, you start finding ways to make the travel and the expense of attending these things more palatable for the individual and, honestly, that that's going to give you better relationships with the people who you were attending, because you have more chance of meeting them on their own ground, of you know fewer people to try and make connections with in a short span of time and it allows you to kind of curate an experience specific to a location.::
I don't see smaller events as a bad thing. I think smaller events lend itself to higher quality connections and a higher quality experience. Right, I think we're going to see there's going to be a gap right the big, huge events that have existed for a while. I think they will continue because those are just mega corporations with huge budgets, like Amazon does these huge things, things like San Diego Comic Con.
That's not going anywhere, right Like that. We're still going to see those huge events, but we're also going to see a lot more smaller events. I think it's that that awkward middle ground of like a thousand to 10,000 people. I think that is what's disappearing.::
I think I think the core takeaway for me is that the economy of scale has changed. There's a there's a different, there's kind of a limit to where we can actually create something that is unique and meets people's goals, based on the budget that we have available to us, and so that that changes. How many days we program, where we hold things, how we're structuring the events, where we're sourcing revenue all of that all of that changes. I think before it used to be like oh well, the bigger the event, the greater the economy of scale.::
Yeah, all right. Well, we've said a lot of things this episode. We had a great conversation, but I think now we kind of have to bring it all together. The final thoughts I'd like to focus on what? Now? Right, we've talked about all this stuff. Now what?::
Well, we have the benefit of having already recorded maybe a third or close to a half of our of our interviews.
One of the standouts for me and we'll get into this with the first interview with Tara McMullen and then with subsequent interviews is thinking about how events can be more human.
I think that is the biggest thing for me, is the biggest focus for us and our work.
I mean, it always has been, but I think being able to articulate it as such is a new thing for us, and I think it when, when we seek to gather people together, we have to remember that, first and foremost, they're human beings.
They have needs and goals and wishes and hopes and dreams and fears and anxieties, and it is our job as producers and the client's job as an organizer, as a host, to be sensitive to those and to craft something that is intentional, that is meeting needs and goals, that is meeting them where they are, that is helping them come together and create better connections and to learn new things from the people around them. If we can focus on that, if we can make that our priority, whatever inflation be damned, corporate budgets be damned we'll be able to create something that's useful. It doesn't have to be flashy, it doesn't have to be high budget or you know this massive production. You can create these great experiences with very little, and as long as you keep those human beings in mind and create something for them, then you're off to a great start.::
Thanks for listening to this episode of Make it Kickass. We hope you found it entertaining and helpful. If hosting a community event is on your radar, visit GetEventLabcom to take our free 30-minute training called Community Event Mastery. That's GetEventLabcom, or use the link in the show notes. Make it Kickass is hosted by Isaac Watson and Nessa Jimenez. Post-production audio by Chris Nelson at Mittens Media. Our theme song is Feel it by Dojo for Crooks. Make it Kickass is a production of Kickass Conferences, an event strategy and design agency serving leaders of growing communities.