A Labor of Love

A salute to the people who get it done

For more than 100 years, Americans and Canadians have celebrated Labor Day on the first Monday in September. The national holiday was born out of the struggle by ordinary men and women to organize around workers’ rights. It’s a day to honor the dignity of a job well done, to acknowledge those whose work laid the foundation for our prosperity, and to enjoy a day of hard-earned leisure spent with those we love.

Labor Day seems especially poignant this pandemic year, which finds so many represented workers — especially in the business events industry — out of work or under-employed. It’s an uncomfortable place to be, especially when it’s not just a job, but your livelihood.

According to Union Plus, there are more than 60 national/international unions that represent millions of workers across America and Canada. Here’s a list I came up with of the union-represented professionals Freeman is proud to work with in our industry…you may be able to add to it:

  • Audio visual technicians
  • Carpenters
  • Electricians
  • Plumbers
  • Riggers
  • Material handlers
  • Millwrights
  • Decorators
  • Porters
  • Stage hands
  • Carpet layers
  • Teamsters

These are people who are experts in what they do, but until events are once again viable, their options are limited. We can help everyone stay safe until they can get back to work, and get back to work as soon as it’s safe, by urging our representatives to pass legislation that supports live business events. As part of the Go LIVE Together coalition, we’re working to secure relief funding that will benefit everyone working in our industry, through extension of unemployment, additional funding for vaccine and rapid testing development, access to long-term funding and loans to sustain our businesses, and liability protection.

You can learn more about how to help by learning about the #GoLIVETogether movement here.

Have a happy Labor Day. Here’s hoping next year’s holiday is one everyone can celebrate together.

Small Businesses, Big Dreams

These little success stories speak volumes.

Sudie Thorsen, an avid gardener, was trying to tackle some yardwork. Every time she’d dig in, she’d realize she needed one more tool from the shed. As with so many people who garden or simply enjoy yardwork, Sudie’s real challenge was keeping everything together. She told her husband, Robert, that she needed a pack burro; he invented one.

Robert’s organizer fits over the back of a standard wheelbarrow, between the handles. It even has a cupholder and a secure place for cell phones. The Thorsen’s adult children helped them form a company, and the Little Burro was born. Then, with high hopes, they took their new product to the huge National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. Out of 11,000 entries for new products, they won first prize. Little Burros was a hit. It became a best seller on Amazon and was recognized by multiple retailers as a favorite. It’s another American Dream made real because a family was able to put its idea in front of the right people.

That’s what trade shows do better than any other medium — they connect small, innovative companies with the vast marketplace. And this isn’t an isolated story.

OMI Gems has been a family-owned business for five generations, with a solid reputation for providing only the finest loose gemstones. They rely on face-to-face transactions at trade shows to market their finely curated stones to buyers who want the best.

Bernie Fay invented an apparatus he called the “MISIG” (Most Important Stretch in Golf); he designed it as an exercise device and swing trainer to up his golf game and prevent injury. He took it to the PGA Merchandise Show and met the “king makers” whose thumbs-up meant instant success.

The Resnick family took their idea for the UpCart, a stair-climbing, foldable hand truck, from concept to successful business by getting it in front of buyers at the National Hardware Show.

Of the 1.7 million exhibiting companies like these, 80 percent are small businesses — with fewer than 500 employees. Forty-six percent of small businesses attend at least one show annually and 41 percent consider event marketing to be their top channel for lead generation. As business people and as consumers, we tend to watch Wall Street and big corporations as early indicators of recovery. But we cannot afford to forget the small businesses who make it happen. Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Amazon, Google, The Walt Disney Company, and Tesla Motors all started in somebody’s garage. Phil Knight launched Nike from the trunk of his green Plymouth Valiant. Michael Dell’s computer empire came together in his Austin dorm room.

I wonder what big innovations are quarantined right now, waiting to emerge from the garage or basement into the white-hot spotlight of a trade show. I can’t wait to see. In the meantime, we can advocate on their behalf. Check out #GoLIVETogether and find out how to help bring small dreams to the big market.

Whether you are a trade show organizer or an exhibitor, we’d love to hear about your success. You can share your story by posting it to our Go LIVE Together Facebook page or emailing it to stories@golivetogether.com.

A Friend in Deed

Friendship takes the active voice

There’s an old adage that says, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” I’d like to amend this. If I’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that we are all a bit needy at times, including me. And even as we are seeking help, we are probably still in a position to help someone else, because their needs are different than ours.

Friendship is a two-way collaboration. Our actions — our reciprocal good deeds — are the measure. Whether we join together to promote a common cause or just give someone a chance to vent, it all helps. Whether we collaborate at work or on a bowling league, it’s achieving something together that feels so rewarding.

Ironically, during this time of quarantine, I have learned not only to value more deeply the friends I have, but to discover new friends I didn’t know I had. These are people who are rallying to champion the recovery of the business events industry. Many of them are colleagues and clients. Some of them are competitors with whom we are privileged to march under the #GoLIVETogether banner. Some of them lead small businesses that are struggling to understand and protect themselves from liability issues relating to the uncertainty of next-phase planning. Although the industry is huge, 99 percent of business event companies are small businesses with fewer than 500 employees. They could use a friend right now, and many of us are trying to be that friend.

Consider reaching out to your legislators to get the word out regarding a need to protect vulnerable companies. We all want to see the return of business events when the time is right, but without a financial incentive to participate, too many small businesses will be locked out of this critical sales and marketing channel, putting them behind their larger competitors. A temporary tax credit to defray the costs of exhibiting and attending will offer this needed assistance. This will once again allow businesses to participate at events, which will help all of us by promoting economic stimulus, employing thousands of people, and driving millions of dollars to local economies.

We’ve made it easy to connect with your elected officials and ask for their support by following three simple steps. Start by clicking here to join us. Be a friend in deed. #GoLIVETogether

Compassion, Compliance, and Continuous Improvement

Better design means better for everyone

Thirty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities act was signed into law, declaring that people with disabilities could no longer be denied access to jobs, school, transportation, or to public places. The need to design our conferences and trade shows to be ADA-compliant may have been met with resistance by some and compassion by others, but today we can see that by transforming events to be more accessible to those with limitations, we made those events better for everyone.

In the United States alone, it’s been estimated that one out of five Americans has some form of disability — 48.9 million people. Add to this the graying of America, the fact that the percent of the population over age 60 is dramatically increasing. When we consider how many total people are grappling with issues related to personal mobility and impairments that affect vision, hearing, and cognitive ability, we realize that being inclusive is just good business.

That’s a fact we cannot ignore. Harder to prove, but even more compelling to me, is the notion that inclusivity expands our intellectual capital. Consider, in the 30 years since ADA has gone into effect, how many people with disabilities have been empowered to contribute. Whenever we increase accessibility, we increase diversity, which is an indispensable aspect of innovation. Continuous improvement as a species demands that we leverage our combined brainpower.

Today, we are called to transform the nature of live events in response to a pandemic. Compliance is in everyone’s best interest, and because we are designing for a space that we control (a big, empty ballroom) it’s not that hard. The members of the Go LIVE Together coalition have voluntarily set, and will comply with, health and safety protocols developed in accordance with guidelines from the CDC, WHO, medical and scientific professionals, and local health officials.

Further, the Events Industry Council, through its global APEX COVID-19 Business Recovery Task Force, has established a platform for curating, cultivating, and communicating the accepted practices across the global events industry. The prime directive is to enhance safety at in-person gatherings and fuel recovery efforts. And we’ve already begun to imagine what future events could look like. It’s all pretty inviting; you can take a virtual tour here.

To be sure, as an industry, we are getting a great start on the post-pandemic reboot. But we can do more. Consider the lessons of the ADA-era. We must raise the bar and design for expanded accessibility. Even as we manage the size and scope of attendees at live events, we can reach broader audiences by streaming live content for people to consume wherever they happen to be.

And we can surround live events with meaningful, engaging, interactive virtual content that unfolds over time, before, during and after the live event, to contextualize the experience in a robust way. Hybrid events give us new avenues through which to personalize the experience for discreet audiences, wherever they are on their journey, whatever their ability, and whatever their level of commitment or interest.

When we cultivate experiences that enable individuals to learn more, achieve more, and contribute more, we gain more as a society. Compliance is where we begin. Designing the platform for constant design, and continuous improvement, must be the goal.

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

What to do when the scenery changes.

When Dorothy stepped out from her black-and-white Kansas farmhouse into the Technicolor world of Oz, she knew right away she was a long way from home. I know how she feels. Sometimes it seems that the world we called “normal” was left behind ages ago. For those of us in industries that rely on using conferences, trade shows, and expositions to conduct our business, it’s as if the coronavirus was our tornado. Except the truth is, we haven’t been in Kansas for a while. Not really.

Within the last decade, we’ve become adept at using technology to amplify the live experience. We learned to stream video of our live events, incorporate social media, and layer in new digital solutions, such as second screen technology, to be more interactive. We’ve gotten more strategic about applying data analysis, AR, and VR to create more personalized experiences. With these tools in place, there was nothing keeping us from developing the perfect live experience platform — designed to leverage the strengths of each medium within a true, “omnicom” approach. It requires a lot of orchestration. It demands a deep understanding of the unique audiences we’re trying to reach. It means committing to the alignment of message content with the medium, format, or technology that most effectively connects with our audiences. It means doing the hard work of designing a platform for live events that optimizes all of the tools at our disposal.

We simply didn’t make it a priority. In a pre-pandemic world, digital solutions were often characterized as “nice-to-haves” or “too expensive for our event.” I’d go so far as to suggest that the option to develop a practical hybrid event platform simply wasn’t pursued because everyone has had their collective noses so close to the grindstone that we didn’t notice the scenery had changed.

What’s new is that these technologies — and the nascent hybrid technologies now in development — are suddenly, urgently, vitally important to the continuation of our business practices. I see that as a good thing. We need to use this time to re-imagine all the possibilities. Back in March, I posted a blog suggesting that we must make our events more accessible and inclusive, as well as safe. And I called for the creation of Renaissance Teams to explore new solutions for the live events medium.

Bruce Mau tells us that new wicked problems require new wicked teams to solve them. In the Renaissance, it was possible for certain polymaths (Leonardo DaVinci, Akbar the Great, Galileo, etc.) to have expertise in all fields of knowledge — art, science, literature, philosophy, and so on. Today, the field of knowledge in any one specialty is so vast and changing so rapidly that it is nearly impossible to keep up. That’s why we need diverse teams of experts to act as a composite “Renaissance Person” who can examine the challenge from every perspective, through every lens, to recommend multiple solutions.

This is what we are seeing with the Go LIVE Together coalition. Teams of people representing diverse disciplines — from logistics to digital experiences to microbial-pathogenic threat analysis — are coming together to solve issues relating to safety, impact awareness, and legislation for our industry. It’s the start of something big.

Those of us who are charged with leading our companies, associations, and industries have an opportunity and an obligation to take this on. It’s why you need to support the Go LIVE Together movement. Unlike Dorothy, we can’t go back to Kansas. We can go someplace better.

The Size and Shape of “SAFE”

Setting a new gold standard

In the 19th century, international businesses urged their governments to establish a gold standard that would enable trade between countries using different currencies. The gold standard eased the risk and complexity of doing business across countries and continents by establishing a monetary system that all the trading partners agreed to. Each unit of exchange was equated to a fixed quantity of gold, so that buyers, sellers and investors understood exactly where they stood. It created a platform upon which multinational commerce could thrive.

Today, people are looking forward to the day they can once again congregate and connect without fear of spreading contagion. And to assure everyone involved that this social contract will move forward on a consistent, mutually equitable basis, we need to establish new safety protocols that take fear and risk out of the equation for live events. We need coherent guidelines to ensure the safety of labor, staff, exhibitors and participants. Further, we need them to be drawn up and accepted by the people who understand the big picture — who know the details of how events come together — so that all of the long tail connections involved are factored into the solution. With industry-wide agreement to follow basic safety protocols, families from Minneapolis and software engineers from Mumbai can all attend the event of their choice without having to consider, “Is this safe?” They already know it will be.

This is a primary goal of the Go LIVE Together (GLT) coalition. As stay-at-home sanctions are lifted, knowing that the timing and circumstances will vary from city to city, we need to be ready with guidelines and guardrails, based on proven health-science practices, to facilitate a safe return to live events. And the good news is that, because conventions and trade shows happen as controlled gatherings in ballrooms and convention centers (as opposed to mass gatherings in arenas with fixed seating and an obligation to season ticket holders) we have good options for ensuring safety. We can adjust distance between seats, widen aisles, and direct the flow of traffic. We can spread participation over three days, amping up content quality based on area of interest, and stage-gate audiences. We can rethink how and from how many locations we offer registration, refreshments, and social areas. We have total flexibility.

Our members are already working with industry leaders, venues and associations to identify and share the latest best practices. There is so much good work going on, led by so many committed organizations, that it is truly heartening. For example, the U.S. Travel Association has issued industry-wide guidelines in a document entitled “Travel in the New Normal.” A broad representation of the industry, inclusive of practically every segment of travel, tradeshow and events, worked with a panel of medical experts to develop these guidelines for reopening the travel ecosystem. This has been distributed to the White House and to each governor’s office. UFI, The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, has been involved since early days, monitoring the situation and sharing critical information. They also worked with the International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC) to publish such useful documents as the “Good Practices Guide to COVID-19.”

We are also following the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC). Comprised of world-renowned leaders and scientists in the area of microbial-pathogenic threat analysis and mitigation, they have created the GBAC STARTM certification program that addresses personal safety, enhanced cleaning, social density at events, entrance controls and on-site service and management. These standards are already being adopted by companies and organizations such as Hyatt and the Miami Dolphins. And of course, everyone is closely following the latest CDC guidelines. So the heavy lifting has begun.

But there is much more to do. And it’s easy to do your part. If you haven’t already, visit golivetogether.com and join the movement. Help spread the word on social media. Let people know that live events are critical to our economic recovery and that a safety plan for their return is in the works. You can read more about the safety initiative here and learn how to be part of the plan to move forward.

The future of live events hangs in the balance. Let’s seize this golden opportunity to set a higher standard.

The Sound of 2,000 Voices

Choir or cacophony? It helps to sing from the same sheet music.

As the events industry frames the plan about how and when we all start gathering again, will your voice be heard? There’s a better alternative to just whistling in the dark or having a shouting contest with people who disagree with you politically. Join a choir. Amplify the strength of your voice by singing with others who share your convictions.

Last month, Freeman united with business leaders from across the industry to launch Go LIVE Together. This movement, which began with 84 founding members, has grown to over 2,000 representing thousands of businesses. We add to our numbers every day. I am personally gratified and humbled by this response, and I know the other organizers of our coalition feel the same way. It means that our intentions and our course of action have been validated by the people who know best what must be done.

We are bound together by the belief that nothing in the world will ever replace the power and need for live events. To that end, we have joined forces to:

  • Enable events and trade shows to open safely, once stay-at-home orders are lifted, by following common guidelines. These standards will adhere to the best medically backed scientific practices for protecting workers and attendees at live events;
  • Raise awareness with government officials, so that they understand the true impact events have on economies and job creation. We will illustrate the benefits that a safe start-up will have on healing the U.S. economy;
  • Seek relief by supporting legislation to rebuild the industry in a way that serves to accelerate economic recovery.

There’s a beautiful holiday tradition in Japan in which people come together to form a massive choir, 10,000 people strong, for Daiku concerts in which they sing the choral section of Beethoven’s jubilant Ninth Symphony, the “Ode to Joy.” Of course, the choral arrangement is written for different vocal parts — soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone. There are soloists leading some sections. But 10,000 people come together and sing one song and it is amazing. Powerful. Joyful.

Let’s raise our voices in that spirit. Let’s share our message as if we are a vast choir, singing one song in unison.

It’s been estimated that 6.6 million jobs in the live events industry have been affected by the pandemic. If only a fraction of these people work together, we will be a mighty force. Imagine what we can accomplish. Imagine how far we can be heard.

You can add the strength of your voice to ours — bringing your ideas and convictions — by joining the movement at GoLIVETogether.com. Use the facts we’ve gathered and the tools we offer to spread the word through social media. When it’s time, reach out to your elected representatives.

By all means, join the chorus. Who knows what music we can create when we raise our voices as one.

When It’s Okay to Go Outside Again

Being safe and feeling safe may not be the same thing.

Is it safe to go outside yet? It’s a question we’ve all asked at some time or another. Whether the object of our fear was a tornado that drove us to the basement, a high school crush so intense we hid in the restroom, or an extended lunch spent avoiding a boss waiting to assign anyone some thankless task, we’ve all sought refuge from time to time. And there’s always a pivot point where we feel it’s okay to make our move back to the daily norm.

Unfortunately, we’ve been sheltering a long time from COVID-19, and the signals have been kind of vague about how long it will last. We are all eager for the “all clear” sign. But will we trust it? I suspect that the longer we’re in quarantine, the scarier it will be to come out.

This must be a consideration when those of us in the Live Events industry start planning for a rebound. We need to think about a global population reeling from the trauma of a pandemic caused by the kind of casual human contact that typifies participation in a conference, trade show, exhibition, or ticketed entertainment event.

There’s a precedent for this kind of lingering fear. After 9/11, many people were reluctant to fly. The global response was to add elaborate security measures that forever changed the boarding procedures — and a way of life — for all of us. In the wake of 9/11, the anthrax scare rekindled fears and additional security measures became part of the new normal. Mass shootings and other terrorist actions further heightened our sense of vulnerability and fear. Today, we don’t really blink twice when asked to step through a scanner at the airport, or through metal detectors at a sports arena or even our kids’ school. On some level, these new routines are reassuring, even if they’re annoying.

So what should we be doing now to anticipate the feelings of people whom we hope will rejoin us at our events when it’s officially safe to come out? How can we make it feel safe to mingle at live events where large crowds will be gathered? A recent TrendWatching report points toward “ambient wellness,” wherein those hosting live events “embed health-boosting measures into the very spaces that their customers pass through, making staying healthy effortless.”

We are working with our events partners to establish new, industry-wide safety standards. Convention centers and event planners are already considering measures to ease congestion, promote better air filtration, provide wellness booths, and even screen people for temperatures. Most likely we’ll be given hand sanitizer at the doors. And the wearing of face masks may become a sign of respect for fellow event participants that are as ubiquitous as a lanyard and credentials. It’s vital that we consider both what is required to keep people safe — and what it will take to help them feel safe.

A coalition of businesses representing various aspects of the Live Event industry is working to solve this and related challenges. Together, we are advocating for additional funding to support safety standards. And we are considering other programs that might encourage attendance at Live Events, once sanctions are lifted, because we believe this is needed to accelerate economic recovery. This has everything to do with learning to be smarter, more generous, more innovative citizens of the world. As we state in the Freeman manifesto, we “stand in support of the human commitment to create prosperity, economic impact, knowledge, learning, and social connection.” The live experiences we produce collectively, as an industry, create a space where innovation, change, and purpose come together.

Although people in the coalition represent diverse organizations, each is a champion for the power of live events and the need for live, large-scale human connection. It’s how good ideas spread and how innovation become contagious. If you’d like to be part of this movement, visit golivetogether.com. It will help you stay informed about opportunities for action and provide access to tool kits you can use to engage your employees, partners, the media, and legislators. You are also invited to join Go LIVE Together colleagues who are connecting via the usual social channels: Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn.

Until it’s safe to come out, don’t! But there’s so much we can do right now to get events back on track. We don’t have to be afraid. We just have to act responsibly, be proactive, and collaborate on solutions. Let’s help people come together in a way that is safe. Let’s do what we can to help them feel secure. Let’s go LIVE together.

Getting Back on the Bike

It’s what we do after we fall that matters.

The other day, attached to an email from an old family friend, was a video — an old home movie shot on a spring day, probably on Super 8, with no audio. It shows a little boy on a big new bike. His mom gives him a shove and he pedals a confident loop around the front yard. But, when he stops, his legs can’t reach the ground, and he falls hard, with the bike on top of him. He looks at his mom, shakes it off, and walks the bike back to try again. The banana seat comes up to his ribs, and he has to use the porch step to climb back on. The next fall isn’t as hard. Soon, he’s riding like an old pro.

I haven’t thought about that bicycle in years, but the video brought it all back. It was a beauty. When I pedaled really hard, the handlebar streamers fluttered out and I imagined I was flying. I don’t really remember falling down, but I do remember worrying that I would. I was afraid I couldn’t learn to ride that gorgeous bike. And I remember my mom assuring me that I could.

This object lesson in falling and getting back up came at a good time for me. It’s been many, many years since I’ve faced something where I actually worried about failing. But this pandemic and the economic fallout — defined largely by what we don’t know — is a confidence shaker. What if we don’t have what it takes? There is so much riding on each decision and each action that it can be paralyzing if we let it.

Here are a few lessons we can all take from a little boy, a big bike, his mom and a spring day. We only fail if we stop trying. We will learn the skills we need and someday we will master the bike because we will grow to fit it. It will take us to places we’ve never been. And that sense of freedom will be magical.

Today, around the world, we face a challenge that is bigger than any of us can face alone. It’s seriously intimidating. We also face an opportunity to explore new things and to liberate ourselves from outdated assumptions and business practices. Many of us in the Live Events industry share an audacious vision that requires us to get back on the bike and keep riding. We will most certainly fall a few times, but we can help each other back up. And we can keep pedaling until our fear becomes joy.

Our industry-wide movement is adding members every day. You can join us at www.golivetogether.com. You can learn about opportunities for action and toolkits you can use to engage your employees, partners, the media, and legislators.

Bring your worst fears and your brightest hopes. We’ve got this.