While delivering a keynote recently, I was asked whether I felt that event technology took away from the inherent social aspect of events. There was an obvious underlying assumption by the person asking the question that it did, and I completely understand why they felt that way.
We live in a world where we are almost constantly bombarded by messages and our lives consistently invaded by technology. Everywhere you look, there’s some new technological device designed to make your life easier, or your world more organized and efficient.
The devices in our hand purport to make us thinner, funnier, sexier, happier or better at our lives because, you know, there’s an app for that. All the while, however, they serve as an almost impenetrable wall between us and the person sitting across from us--at the dinner table, on the train, and, yes, at our events.
At the same time, we regularly hear calls to de-clutter our lives and to unplug from the matrix of interconnected technology surrounding us. We live in a connected world and that, at times, can leave us feeling very disconnected from each other.
So, suffice it to say I completely understand the question, but I push back slightly on its premise. Obviously there’s a little bit of bias because of my love of event technology (and the fact that I’ve made it my career), but that’s not why I am pushing back.
IT'S OUR CHOICE I’m pushing back on the idea that event tech separates us because it doesn’t have to. In fact, my response to the guy that asked the question? I replied, “Poorly executed event technology takes away from the sociality [which may or may not be a word] of events.” It’s not that technology in and of itself is the disconnect; it’s what we have chosen to do with it that creates the chasm.
I got my start in the event industry as a production guy. I’m a recovering audio engineer who had grand dreams of living the glamorous life of a road engineer, traveling around the world mixing for bands and live events. (Side note: A year or two actually doing that disavowed me of the notion that it was at all glamorous, and forever earned my respect for every production guy I will ever come into contact with.)
BIT BY THE PRODUCTION BUG As a result, I’ve been eternally bitten by the production bug, and it’s the first thing I notice whenever I walk into almost any live event. When my wife and I go to concerts, we sit as close to the sound booth as possible, because from there you can see and hear everything. Leave the standing room in front of the stage for the casual fans--I want to sit and enjoy my music with a glass of wine and impressive sonic fidelity. I want to see and hear the show the way the artist and production designers intended it. This, however, is where it sometimes starts to break down.
Many times I’ve found myself frustrated at the show, not because of the quality of the artist, but because of the unnecessary complexity of the production.
Now, I’m all for a big show with lots of theatrical elements, but not when it draws away from the reason people are there--to see and hear the person or people on stage.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve found myself distracted by the lighting designer doing too much, or the scenic elements overshadowing the dancers/singers/band/whatever, or the audio mix relying too much on effects and not enough on skill. It’s like they’re saying, “This is my moment to shine on the big stage; I'd better do all the things!”
But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Their one goal in executing successful production should be to enhance what’s going on, not make the production the central focus of the show. The same is true of event technology--it should frame the event, not become the event itself.
One of the things I tell my clients is, “Technology is the tool used to tell the tale, not the tale itself.”
You don’t incorporate the latest, greatest, newest thing into your event simply because you can. You incorporate the best tool because it helps to tell the story of your event in another and more unique way, and provides yet another point of connection for your guests to the brand or purpose behind your event.
TELL ME WHY! Whether it’s a nonprofit fundraiser, corporate meeting, life celebration or social event, technology is one of the mediums we can use to create experiences for our guests. When our clients tell us they have to have that latest thing they saw at that awards show, our first response shouldn’t be, “Let me look into that.” It should instead be, “Why do you want it? What’s your end goal in using it?” Only by asking those questions can we begin to help our clients understand how technology is about more than impressing people, it’s about making those people a part of the story that they want to tell.
Here’s an analogy that helps me when working with tech and events. My wife loves salt--a lot. I asked her once why she always salted her food and she explained to me that it was because salt brought out the natural flavors of whatever she was eating.
Think of event technology like that--it’s the salt of your event. Technology should make the event feel more natural and enhance its “flavor” to the point that people notice it, not because it overpowers everything else that is going on, but because it helps them really experience what the event was intended to be.
It should help them get connected to the goals that you and your client set out for the event before it ever began and make your event more connected because people are finding ways to lower their barriers instead of raising them.
J. Damany Daniel is head of The Event Nerd, based in Dallas. An experienced, award-winning event producer, Damany (AKA “The Event Nerd”) has planned scores of events for clients across the U.S. and always brings unique flair to everything he touches. He is a member of ISES Dallas, a Texas Star Award Recipient, a board member of Digital Dallas and the SEARCH Foundation, and actively involved in mentoring within his community. He was named of the "30 Under 40" in 2012 by Special Events magazine.