Future of Events: Collective Effervescence
"The greatest longing that human beings have is the longing to belong"
- Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group
It’s hard to imagine the future of experiential gatherings and events right now. We’re being trained (and drained) by too many Instagram Live sessions and Zoom webinars which lack depth and insight. Yet, we are craving connection. But connection is more than being talked at. It’s about feeling heard, too.
What do Soul Cycle, NFL football games and church services have in common? Two words: Collective Effervescence. This sociological term was coined by Emile Durkheim in 1912 in a volume of Elementary Forms of Religious Life. The three aforementioned activities may vary in purpose, but their impact is the same: they bring together a group of individuals who may have nothing else in common except for the communication of that one single belief. Such an event causes Collective Effervescence, which excites individuals and unifies the group.
That feeling you get when you’re screaming lyrics at your favorite band’s concert in sync with a total stranger? Yes, that’s the feeling. The spiritual connection and shared goal of wellness in a Soul Cycle class?
Collective Effervescence makes us feel less alone. It inspires and energizes us.
Events are turning to virtual. But that same feeling just isn’t there. You’re checking your phone during a webinar because you’re listening instead of participating.
Experiential gatherings are innate to us as humans. They’ve paused for now, sure. But I believe there will be a powerful new wave of programming which will prioritize intentional, meaningful impact.
SHORT TERM: Start Small, Think Big
Once restrictions loosen on public gatherings, people will still be hesitant to jump back into large crowds. After months of quarantine and isolation, enormous crowds will shock our senses. Integration will happen slowly. More importantly, it will happen carefully and intentionally. It starts with our family, close friends, colleagues.
Due to corporate budgets and the static or recovering state of the economy, the unbelievably large amounts of capital designated to large B2B, B2C and live entertainment events won’t be what they once were. Brands will look more carefully at where they put their money. What is the true value of this investment? Does the experience align with our own ethos?
Unique & Flexible Spaces
The idea of unique and flexible spaces has two meanings. The first is aesthetic. The latter pertains to flexibility in contracts and budget. In terms of aesthetic, traditional hotel ballroom’s and some stand-alone event venues will go from stiff to unbelievably stale. Rafat Ali of Skift notes that, when events return, it will be an event planner’s market. Spaces must recognize that. Your top space can’t work with that budget? There are a dozen others that will.
Once companies return to the office, they’ll need to re-invigorate (or re-imagine) their corporate culture. After months of Zoom calls, workflow has changed enormously. Some small businesses may even continue a work from home policy for weeks, months or even years after restrictions loosen. This is partly to appease a new normal employees have been living for months and will save money on rent. You realized your team can work from home. Why pay hundreds of dollars a month for large office space?
This opens up room for creative team building activities. I’m not talking about ax throwing. Think hyper-local retreats and meaningful strategy and holistic wellness workshops.
FUTURE: Impact Driven & The Limitations of Generational Culture
I recently wrote that the brands who will come out strongest are the ones who are mission and impact driven. This goes for events and experiences, as well. Traditional trade shows? Eh. Business conferences that value your money over challenging you through holistic learning? Nope.
Let me start with a disclaimer: I am in no way ageist. I gain just as much insight from a Baby Boomer as I do from an 18 year old. Just in different ways. One provides healthy wisdom on Emotion Intelligence. The latter challenges my own mental limitations when it comes to opportunity. We can all get stuck in our ways, no matter our age.
I think many traditional trade show conferences will be a thing of the past. Yes, there will always be a need for design oriented vendor trade shows. Things you can touch, feel, sell. I get it. Just not my thing. There is a generational shift happening and no matter how hard one tries to express this to those typically in power, ideological and Cultural limitations tend to cap progressive thinking. In the coming years, we’ll rightfully see more Women and People of Color in leadership positions. This isn’t just to brag about “inclusion.” It will happen organically as society increasingly prioritizes diverse perspectives.
Culture isn’t just attached to geography. It’s attached to age, socioeconomic status, race, gender, industry. Edward T. Hall points out how Culture can limit individuals in his book The Hidden Dimension. Hall notes:
“Most of culture lies hidden and is outside voluntary control, making up the warp and weft of human existence. Even when small fragments of culture are elevated to awareness, they are difficult to change, not only because they are so personally experienced but because people cannot act or interact at all in any meaningful way except through the medium of culture”
While we view Culture as a thing of esoteric importance, I also use the term to differentiate between norms. Just because a new idea can be accepted by someone, it does not mean it can be properly expressed or executed by that being. In turn, aspects of Culture can limit individual perspective.
Think of Millennial and Generation Z (which I call the Post 9/11 babies). Even those two groups were raised and developed in vastly different Generational Cultures. The post COVID19 Generation? They’ll be even more attracted to brands who are impact driven and mindfully communicate that. Learning is a two-way street.
So perhaps some part of the Culture you or I developed from limits our ability to predict the future of, well, anything. It's hard to imagine the new.
Experiential events will happen again. They have to. But the successful ones will have a targeted focus on intentional Collective Effervescence, cultivating meaningful relationships and emphasizing social impact. It’s time to humanize things.