Legendary journalist and novelist Tom Wolfe—of Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test fame—died on May 14 at 88, but his legacy lives on, especially for event planners. From his bespoke outfits to his break-the-mold writing for The New York Herald Tribune, Esquire and in his books, here are three lessons in standing out (in a good way) all planners can appreciate.
Dress to Impress Yourself
Almost as much as for his wordplay, Wolfe was recognized for his personal style. The Virginia-born writer was known for his immaculate white suits, which he wore with a silk shirt, bright handkerchief and white shoes. I know what you’re thinking: white?! While a bright three-piece might not be the best call for running around at an event all day, it’s okay to add personal flare. Wear a pin; sport a unique nail color; or opt for a different fit than what’s popular. What’s important is you keep it clean, keep it professional and be confident in your style.
“You could certainly cut a striking figure by wearing a royal blue caftan everywhere you go, but you would remove yourself from most transactions of life. If you want to have any fun with it, it really has to be rather marginal. But the interesting thing is that marginal things seem outrageous at first.” –Tom Wolfe, Rolling Stone, 1980
Crowdsource Your Content
No doubt Wolfe’s literary prowess skyrocketed him to stardom, but even his classics—including The Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff—are thoroughly grounded in reality. Even in his fiction, his characters were modeled after real people he observed during months, sometimes years, of research on the ground.
Follow in his footsteps by crowdsourcing your event content. Have attendees submit their favorite recipes for your menu or create a contest for the best event theme. No matter how you crowdsource, the benefits are clear: You gain ideas from a diverse group of people, actively engage participants before your event and ensure you’re covering what your attendees want to know.
“There’s more good material out there than in any writer’s brain. A writer always likes to think that a good piece of work he has done [is] ninety-eight percent genius and two percent material. I think that it’s probably seventy percent–thirty percent in favor of the material.” –Tom Wolfe, Rolling Stone, 1980
Free yourself from the constraints of industry standards. Wolfe was a pioneer of New Journalism—a style of feature writing that uses elements of fiction, such as character development and narrative, to report factual stories. This was not commonplace in the 1960s, but Wolfe and writing contemporaries Gay Talese, Truman Capote and Joan Didion broke from convention, and the generations of journalists were hooked.
Don’t be afraid to stray from the expected at your next event. Switch your foldable chairs to bean bags and plush leather couches; host a meeting doing a volunteer activity; or dare your attendees to do something out of their comfort zone, such as eating unfamiliar food or rock climbing.
And don’t fear learning from younger generations. For example, take a cue from the wildly popular Museum of Ice Cream and Color Factory and stage your event with colorful, selfie-approved stations, or incorporate VR headsets into your event space—the result will be fun for all.