What Business Events Can Learn from the Olympic and Paralympic Games

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.  Higher. Faster. Stronger.”

Pierre de Coubertin, Founder International Olympic Committee, 1924

You, as a meeting planner, just like Olympic athletes, have found your passion. You have passion for your work and your sport, respectively. Today, we are experiencing pain in our community. You want to make that pain go away and win again. But, unfortunately, you have to play through it.

You know we will come back because that is what we do. We come back, time and again. Events are the most resilient and powerful media on the planet. Period. We will not be denied. Just as Olympians cannot be denied.

Work Together

At this critical time in our industry, we need to work as a team. Individual game plans pursued on an industry association, media, company, and/or personal level adversely impact our ability to come back to full strength and win again. It is well past time to be one global industry—one team—one voice—in lock step with each other.

We need to line up together on one powerful, singular and shared purpose. All in one. The rest of the world will then finally see we are together as a force for good in the global business community.

What Will be Different?

The game has forever changed so we need to define and deliver business events differently in our field of play.

Consider this: Olympic games are not called a series of hybrid events even though technically they are streamed videos of in-person activities. But we don’t call them that.

The Games are celebrated as a series of events across sports, enjoyed by billions of people online and through broadcast channels, and hundreds of thousands who attend in person. Delivery channels in the Olympic Games grow decade after decade. The physical/digital revenue split has gone from 95/5, respectively, in 1984 to 25/75 today. In spite of the split reversal, on a U.S. dollar basis, physical event revenue has grown substantially right alongside digital revenue. The Olympic Games pie is now much larger with robust digital channels and staggering margins.

That said, the business events industry is actually a larger industry than sports today. We can become even larger tomorrow.

Performance Measurement

We will grow our industry pie by defining and measuring physical events and the amplification of physical events through digital channels.

As an industry, we engaged in material digital delivery of events about a decade late. In that time, we enjoyed the financial fruit that physical events produced. We didn’t think we needed digital in our game. Now the game is forever changed, and we are scrambling to catch up. We are a smart, creative and hard-working community. We are going to get even in the competitive field for investments in events sooner than we may realize at this time.

Historically, virtually every material industry measure we see in business events has been limited to in-person event metrics—attendance, economic impact, square footage, room nights, etc. Conversely, we have a mountain of data about digital events and still relatively few analytics. Our digital events deliver more rich data to measure our performance. We just need to focus on the right ones.

Make no mistake. We will not be given our historical pass on strategic event measurement going forward. We are now unexpectedly immersed in digital channels for delivery of content, commerce and community. We are starting to see the related analytics and in many cases they are compelling.

We will measure our event performance across channels. All in One.

Our Strategy for Training for a New Game

A typical 2019-era, 1,000-person event in a ballroom is unfortunately not going to look or feel the same, or in many instances be possible for some time.

We can, however, deliver 1,000 person events right now—through 10 simultaneous events for 100 people each within/across cities, countries and/or continents, with common programming driven by technology for unified messaging and unique physical experiences from location to location. This model will take a new level of collaboration across venues and partners as a team.

Our industry will deliver together. All in One.

We can learn a lot from the sports model. Coverage of the Olympic Games moves from sport to sport. Content is live and on demand and highly produced—think competition coverage, color commentary, human interest stories.

From a design standpoint, business events are theatrical, live, three-dimensional experiences that do not translate well when copied into a digital format. We need to think in live TV or even cinematic terms going forward. Live studio audiences, episodes, product placement, audience engagement, and story arcs that entertain. We need to embrace the fact that our largest event audiences, which are going to be digital in the near to mid-term, are just one click away from leaving and never coming back. Stakes are high.

Your Tour

We are all born with the intellectual ability to be lifelong learners. We then choose to either activate those muscles, or not. I went back to graduate school at 43. I have moved through different facets of our industry every 4-5 years for the last 30 years, and I can’t imagine stopping now. If you are earlier in your career, treat your current career chapter as a tour of duty. It will not go on forever. Your tours will serve your career purpose if you choose.

If you are on the sidelines, take this opportunity to train new muscles. Learn about areas of expertise in our industry tomorrow, rather than hoping yesterday comes back. The industry we knew in the beginning of 2020 is not coming back in many ways, and that is more than OK. We have accelerated positive change, moving into a new growth opportunity for our industry which would otherwise not be possible without this pandemic. That said, opportunities are either seized or missed.

Meeting planning is expanding to media planning and project management. AV services is expanding to webcast engineering. Audience engagement specialists are rising in prominence.

If you are working, then seek areas where your business is weaker than it should be and train to make your business stronger. Go there academically and through experiences on this tour, the next tour, and the next tour after that.

Higher. Faster. Stronger.

You will not regret it. To the contrary, you will thrive in it.

Prior to founding HeadSail as a platform for value creation, Tony Lorenz’s most recent four year journey, as CEO of PRA, based in Chicago, IL, transformed the business and drove significant change in the overall sector.


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