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When the organizers of Mobile World Congress — one of the tech industry’s premier annual events — announced in February that they had cancelled this year’s gathering amid the burgeoning outbreak of the novel coronavirus, it was unclear just how long the outbreak would reshape life and business as we know it. Eight months later, with the pandemic still raging, a new normal of virtual events has taken hold — a shift that offers vital lessons for business leaders navigating the many disruptions ushered in by the crisis.
New formats, platforms, and modes of operation can unleash new possibilities and experiences — but in thinking about how they can meet the challenges of this unprecedented moment, entrepreneurs can learn a great deal from some of the world’s biggest physical events. Here’s a look at three very different gatherings that offer illuminating insights into how businesses can boost their own longevity, foster loyalty, and deliver experiences that people will find truly engaging.
TED Talks and the infinite event
Known for their “ideas worth spreading” slogan, TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talks have taken place each year for more than three decades. If you think that’s impressive, check out the organization’s YouTube view count or the list of more than 1,500 localized TEDx events.
There are a few unique characteristics to pay attention to — including the short lectures that take up to 18 minutes each — but what’s especially fascinating is how TED events have managed to break outside the confines of defined time and place. TED Talks became an ongoing content experience that people watch, discuss, and share all year round. Event organizers were able to create an “infinite event” by choosing great speakers, walking them through the process, and harnessing online media channels to their benefit. Most importantly, they embraced a new line of thought that considers the event a permanent pool of knowledge for people to tap into anytime.
What can businesses learn from TED’s experience? Creating content that’s timeless, global, and easily accessible is not only a highly effective way of getting your name out there, but is also a potent formula for brand longevity. Whether you’re planning a virtual event or contemplating your company’s larger content marketing strategy, think of your engagements as part of something bigger than just a fading moment.
The Oscars and the exciting race
And the Oscar goes to… whoever made this event the cinematic stamp of approval. Once again, many elements come together to form the glamorous magic of the Academy Awards, but the build-up toward the event is just as noteworthy as the awards night itself. Oscar-related rumors and announcements begin months before the red carpet is rolled out, including heated debates regarding potential hosts and serious buzz around possible nominees and performers.
It’s far from being the only major event to achieve this level of build-up. Sports finals like the Super Bowl create lots of anticipation leading up to the big day, as fans watch their favorite teams compete over the season. The Oscars teach us that you can reach this level of excitement by sharing the process publicly in order to add to the buzz around it and contribute to its overall credibility.
The takeaway: Generating excitement around your company is critical to building engagement and customer loyalty beyond business milestones. Hosting an online event? Use your event platform to publish polls and encourage comments to boost audience engagement and the event’s gravitas. By the time your event actually starts, attendees and viewers will be emotionally invested and feel like an integral part of the show.
Burning Man and the spontaneous community
Billing itself as a community, not a festival, Burning Man is a prime example of how participatory communities and powerful experiences can sustain an enterprise. Burning Man itself has been around since 1986, and the secret to its success lies in its ability to inspire participants to get involved by volunteering, creating artwork, and exploring new creative pursuits.
The desert event’s spontaneity is also uniquely powerful. Instead of following a rigid lineup, there’s a certain chaos that adds to Burning Man’s aura of freedom and endless possibilities. For business leaders, this drives home the importance of delivering experiences, building products, and developing solutions that people will genuinely connect with. Virtual events allow you to plan some of the agenda but still leave enough room for live creativity and unplanned audience participation. This mix is the secret sauce that creates the coveted engagement all businesses seek.
Internally, meanwhile, businesses should instill a culture of creativity, spontaneity, and experimentation. Spontaneity and unstructured time may strike some as inimical to productivity, but some of the world’s most successful companies beg to differ. Google, for instance, follows a “20 percent time rule,” according to which employees can work on whatever they choose for 20 percent of their time — a system that has led to the creation of some of the company’s most valuable products.
From virtual events to larger strategic decisions, these unusual times require creative thinking and outside-the-box approaches. But as these uniquely compelling events attest, such ingenuity is essential at all times if you want to leave a lasting impression. Entrepreneurs, take note.