How Leaders Ensure the Show Goes On

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What if I told you a brand-new event, created less than two weeks ago, just hosted over 150,000 attendees? You might think I’m imagining things or living inside The Matrix, but I assure you I took the red pill and this is the real world, Neo.

Status Report

First, a quick recap of the current situation. The impact of coronavirus around the globe has rocked major live events, conferences, conventions (and the destinations where they are held) to our core, driving mass cancellations and postponements. It is wreaking havoc on the budgets and staff of the associations, nonprofits and other businesses who host them, and on the verticals we promote and serve like education, hospitality, travel, tourism, restaurants, retail, manufacturing, healthcare and real estate.

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The economic impact already surpassed $1.1B according to PredictHQ a few days ago, and it continues to rise. Often, anywhere from 30 percent to 70 percent of annual operating revenues is lost (with cancellation) or at risk (with postponement) for these organizations. Some do not have the reserves to close the gap.

According to the Events Industry Council 2018 study on the economic significance of the meetings industry in the U.S., we’re talking about 1.9 million meetings that serve more than 250 million attendees annually, contribute nearly half a trillion dollars to U.S. gross domestic product, and directly support 5.9 million jobs. Many of these events are produced by associations and nonprofits. In fact, nonprofits of which associations are a major segment, employ 12.3 million people─the third largest workforce in the U.S. with payrolls exceeding many other industries as well. The value of executing our live events (and other products and services) is crystal clear in a financial sense, but our control is limited here by recent events. Let’s focus on things we can control–what we’re going to do now.

The Real Value of Live Events

We set out to create memorable experiences, earn customer (member) loyalty, give guests the opportunity to engage with our brands, provide a means for one-on-one engagement around knowledge and ideas, help attendees discover and explore business solutions, support industry professionals who need to share their work and who need to learn, create environments that enhance personal-emotional connections, grow professional networks and nurture lifelong friendships. We aim to ensure our event-goers have a positive brand experience that will have a halo effect on our organizations and industry throughout the year and beyond.

The opportunity, then, is to step back with wonder and rigor (two sides of the same coin according to innovation strategist Natalie Nixon) and discover how we deliver on the purposes of our events and organizations–our why–in new ways.

Streamed Live

That brings me back to that new event. It turns out that some of the hottest events right now are on social media, and I’m talking about the very real, wildly popular new event ironically called Homeschool. Started just days ago with about 4,000 guests, #ClubQuarantine by Derrick Jones (aka D-Nice) has quickly become the hottest event in town. Well… the hottest event on Instagram live anyway. Since Wednesday last week (day one) these live streamed global jam sessions from D-Nice’s home in LA have grown exponentially by the day. Saturday’s 10-hour set had more than 100,000 and Sunday topped out at over 150,000 live viewers at its peak, including ya girl because it was fire!

At times, viewers looked like a who’s who of Hollywood (especially Black Hollywood, but that’s another topic). Dozens of big names like Will Smith, Ava DuVernay, Jimmy Fallon, John Legend, Janet Jackson, Mark Zuckerberg (who bought the bar, lol), Oprah and Michelle Obama showed up on the guest list and joined in the fun. Politicians like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were “in da club.” Technically speaking viewers could listen to the seemingly endless, amazing tunes (many sparking nostalgia among the heavily genX crowd), use ‘reactions’ style quick-response emojis, comment (many pretending to actually be at a party), people watch who comes in and out of the stream, and (thanks to some slick maneuvering with the Instagram Live split screen feature) we could watch as special guests occasionally appeared on the live feed from their homes.

FOMO? Forget about it. D-Nice went from around 200K to over 1.4M followers almost overnight, a community that will be rocking with him for weeks, months and perhaps years to come. The latest iteration? On Wednesday, March 25th at 6:30 ET D-Nice teams up with “forever FLOTUS” Michelle Obama and the nonpartisan nonprofit When We All Vote for a #CouchParty. While hundreds of thousands watch, listen and dance along, volunteers across the country are calling eligible citizens to help them register to vote.

Lessons for Association Planners

Seeing that so many in my network were grooving right along with me last weekend, I grew curious about what associations and nonprofits might learn from this overnight success story which seemed to be delivering on our superpower to convene and connect communities.

For starters, like most success, it wasn’t actually overnight. D-Nice (@dnice) has a professional history as a DJ, producer, rapper, and photographer. He is very well connected, and has curated music at events for the likes of Barack Obama, Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle. Still, aren’t we associations and nonprofits well connected to all the influencers in our communities too? D-Nice leveraged his existing assets: knowledge of music, grasstops network, talent on the-ones-and-twos, plus passion and compassion for people. He married all that with an existing technology solution (meaning little, or no, learning curve) and aimed his idea squarely at a substantial need: social connection, through music, fun, and play.

Then, the hardest part, he got started. He iterated, getting friends and partners in on the action, and then he tried it again, and again. It was a recipe for success, and reminder that in many ways we already have what we need to keep going and delivering for our communities. The show must go on.

During the last two weeks we’ve all seen great examples of this. A few of my favorites acts of innovation in sync with the needs of our community in this surreal moment are connected to performing arts, fashion, craft spirits, food, and healthcare (no big surprise for folks who know me). I find these stark examples of resiliency, innovation and community particularly inspiring (and I’d love to hear your stories as well). This look at inspiration and ingenious acts of community happening every day now could go on and on.

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They underscore my point: those much-needed ideas, opportunities, and innovations that will help us flip the script and ensure we remain a vital resource are likely already among us. We must allow ourselves to step back with calm, curious, fresh eyes to see them in this post-coronavirus light.

Rhonda Payne, CAE (@my19cents) is an award-winning association executive and learning leader who has led programs and strategy for more than 25+ years. She currently wears multiple hats providing support for association and nonprofit clients, as interim executive director at C4 Performing Arts, and as a board member at the New York Society of Association Executives (NYSAE). This article is excerpted from her LinkedIn Article “Club. Quarantine. The Show Must Go On.”

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