by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
I’ve had a subscription to Monocle magazine for some years now. It arrives every month falling through my letterbox with a significant thud for Monocle is not your average magazine. It’s what might be called a weighty tome, usually more than a centimetre in thickness and so crammed with meaty content that I rarely, if ever, read it in its entirety.
It’s difficult to describe what type of magazine it is the way you might say The Economist covers geo-political and economic matters or Cosmopolitan covers women’s fashion. Monocle, officially, is all about “international affairs, business, culture and design” but I find it’s a great source of relevant content for the work that I do as a consultant in the Business Events industry.
Quality of Life
Monocle tends to highlight and feature what might be called best practice in contemporary living. It finds wonderful examples from all over the world of how quality of life is achieved in cities and towns by smart policies on the part of civic authorities or by new ways of doing old things on the part of local citizens. It highlights how destinations become great places to live, work, study and visit from the sum of all the weird, unusual, original, innovative, creative things that happen there.
For a relatively new publication – its first edition dates back to 2007 – Monocle is surprisingly low on tech although that doesn’t apply to how it distributes its own content: there are videos, podcasts, radio shows, apps etc. It’s tech deficit, if that’s what you should call it, is more to do with how Monocle views tech as a back office enabler as opposed to something that deserves intrinsic attention, something to be highlighted and reported upon as a category in its own right.
In an editorial piece earlier this year while speculating on the likely growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR), the Monocle writer coined a phrase that I like very much – Tactile Reassurance (TR). His point was the more technology insinuates itself into our lives, the more we’ll crave the human touch – hence Tactile Reassurance.
And, of course, Tactile Reassurance is at the very heart of Business Events . As an industry we talk about tech all the time and speculate how it will shape the future of our industry but, our MO is all about real people, real places, real time. If, for Monocle, tech is a behind-the-scenes, back-office enabler for our lives today then it’s pretty much the same for Business Events too.
Two recent experiences reinforced this for me. The Event of the Future brought 330 event professionals to Croke Park, Dublin to hear 10 quite diverse speakers discuss the evolution of events. Given the “future” theme of the conference, it’d have been reasonable to expect a lot of talk about technology, telepresence, hologram technology, hybrid meetings and events, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and so on and, of course, there was such talk.
The Event of the Future
However, none of the technological innovations was presented as anything more than an additional means to connect people to each other and to the content that they came to consume. In fact both #events guru Kevin Jackson and Cogs & Marvel CEO, Dave Smyth reminded us that, ultimately, events are all about building connections and relationships with an real live audience.
We used technology platform Sli.do at The Event of the Future to facilitate audience participation and foster audience engagement. Sli.do is a simple-to-use platform accessible through a browser on smart phone, tablet and laptop and more than 70% of the audience voted in polls or asked questions / offered comments through the platform during the event. What struck me at a certain stage during the event – I was the on-stage moderator – was how seamlessly integrated into the live event Sli.do had become.
Two years ago, when I first used Sli.do as an events facilitator, I introduced it to the audience the way you might do a “reveal” at a launch event. It was a big deal, there was fuss and fanfare and much of the chatter during the networking break was about Sli.do – the way kids excitedly discussing a brand new toy during recess in the school yard.
Two years later, #eventprof audiences have become accustomed to Sli.do (and other similar audience engagement platforms and apps), there’s no big deal anymore about its use and it operates in the background giving a voice to the silent majority that wouldn’t normally ever ask a question in a public forum. This is technology as an enabler, technology that fosters connections, technology that knows its place and gets out of the way, technology that leads to tactile reassurance.
Fam Trip Educational Immersion in Bratislava
The other experience of the primacy of “Tactile Reassurance” concerns a recent “fam trip” to Bratislava (I know, “fam trip” is not the politically correct term anymore but, hey, at least everyone knows precisely what I’m talking about!). The Bratislava Convention Bureau (BCB) and partners hosted almost 20 #eventprofs from different EU source markets to a destination immersion experience over 3 days in mid August.
Being professional #eventprofs, many of the participants had researched the destination prior to the event. They’d gone on-line, consulted the website, checked out the hotel web page, read some blog posts etc. BCB provided excellent pre-event information – there was even an on-line survey to determine pre-arrival attitudes etc.
The striking thing, however, was despite all the preparations and pre-event briefing the “educational immersion” could only achieve its objectives by convening real people (the fam participants) in real places (Bratislava and environs) in real time (Aug 2017). Anything less that this would always be no more than a tantalising silhouette, a passing shadow, another modern day expression of Plato’s allegory of the cave (if you haven’t read it, you can read it here. It’s more valid today than ever).
Yes, destinations should invest in great on-line content, in 360 degree venue tours, in all manner of virtual reality and augmented reality. It can all help seal the deal, nail the sale. However, if you want #eventprofs to book your destination then make sure they visit in person so that they can stand mesmerized beside the robots in the VW factory or test-drive the fancy VW Touregs on the super-narrow ramps or walk around the vast volumes of Stará Tržnica, the old market hall or experience the thrill of the ride as you speed down the Danube … it’s all about tactile reassurance.
Patrick Delaney, Pádrai Gilligan and Aoife McCrum are SoolNua and work with destinations, venues, hotels and agencies on strategy, marketing and training for Business Events