I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and just now posting after recovering from sickness and moving.
I am flying back from an amazing two days in San Jose, CA. On Thursday, April 19th, 2018, I participated in the AV/IT Summit. This was my first time attending any professional event with such an AV and IT focus and I did not know what to expect. My friend Bradford Benn had recommended me as a speaker for the AV/IT Summit SCN ThinkTank. When the organization contacted me to come on a panel, I felt like I needed to expose my lack of technological knowledge. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology, and through my years as an Event Manager and Designer I have a fairly strong working knowledge of the AV/IT needed to do my job. But the other speakers for this event included Disney Imagineers, Theme Park Designers, Museum Exhibition Designers and people who physically make the new technology I need to exist to do cool events. Bradford reminded me I was not invited to be the tech expert and I accepted my fate, worried that a mocking crowd of AV/IT elitist were in my future.
What I discovered was an amazing geeky community that I could truly relate to. The first speaker was Greg Kadorian, Walt Disney Imagineer and very cool retired guy (complete with Hawaiian shirt). His experience is extensive and spoke on the designs and innovations made at Disney. While discussing one particular theme park ride design and installation, he made comments about technology and cable connectors that I did not understand, but from context understood the joke. Something to the effect of ‘and these guys used THESE connectors, for flexibility but didn’t think about the connectors. So everything is installed and wired and now they have 1000 of these WRONG connectors. Can you believe it? Well, we all know what happens next, hours of replacing one THOUSAND of these connectors that could have been saved had they asked the right question.’ The crowd laughed as they nodded their heads in agreement with almost too keen an understanding, some having been there themselves it seems.
Despite not truly understanding the reference, I loved this moment. I could feel the energy in the room and it was familiar. It’s that feeling I have when I talk to industry colleagues and we tell stories of the client randomly deciding to do an event in China without understanding the true implications of doing an event in a foreign country, ESPECIALLY China. We all laugh and nod and smile as we think of the stories we have from the first time we did an event in Asia and other countries, where so many things we did not expect went wrong. We laugh about the confusion of level 1 or level 0 conversations discussing American versus European standards as we discuss floorplans on so many conference calls with our European counterparts. It is that feeling when my friends and I express the annoyance that due to the X-Men license mutants can’t really exist in Marvel movies (Inhumans are NOT the same) and that there are TWO Pietro Maximoffs in the cinema world (UNACCEPTABLE!). It’s the special comradery that comes with those ‘inside baseball’ references that only the few get. These references did not make me feel separate from the group, in fact it made me feel more included. We were all geeks and I got to ask my new friends after the event about the connectors and learn a lot from very cool, patient, people who did not mock me from an elitist high horse.
The Integrated Experiences panel was after lunch. This was the panel I came to speak as an expert in my field. I was joined by my friend Bradford Benn (an expert in Themed Attractions) as well as Tim Boot (Director of Digital Products at Meyer Sound), Joseph Conover (AV Technical Solutions with Panasonic Media Entertainment), and the wonderful Sasha Harris-Cronin (Lead Creative Programmer at BBI Engineering). Our excellent moderator Margot Douaihy (Editor-at-Large of AV Technology) helped to guide our conversation and created an easy space for a natural discourse on topics we are passionate about.
Per my usual nervous technique, I opened with humor, stating that now, as I was the least technical person in the room I finally understood how my parents feel (Sorry Mom). With a little laughter I was able to relax and remember how much I love talking about events. I love event design, event culture, technology, crowd control and throughput. I’m a nerd for this kind of thing. Especially when there is a fan base associated with it. My true passion is designing experiences for a community of fans…and doing so with an emphasis on the authentic and organic. But that’s a blog for another time.
The panel was such a blast, we talked about crazy designs we love. We discussed how to be creative. We could have been up there for another hour just the six of us, without even an audience. They are very smart insightful people. Though the audience was of course, very important. As we took questions someone asked for our input as they are looking for ideas for their particular activation and despite all the technology offered to them, nothing seemed to fit. For great experiences there needs to be more than just technology, there needs to be a reason, otherwise it’s just a neat trick.
Which led us to my favorite quote of the panel from Sasha, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a successful AV project that started by talking about technology.”
For me and my style, we start with story. What’s the narrative? Who is this for and what do they want? And what do they REALLY want, not what they say they think they want. Looking at this room of highly innovative people I realized my favorite designs came from story and creative vision…and then I’d go to them and say ‘hey I think we want to do something like this…is there a way to do that or can you please invent this technology and make it cooler? OK thanks.’ (I’d like to think I come across more collaborative than how it sounds in my head.)
It was very affirming to see even some of those who integrate and invent new technology to build exciting experiences, even they believe story comes first. Until we know the why, how can we know the what and how? (Does that sound like a fortune cookie? It’s probably a fortune cookie.)
It’s been a while since I’ve been to a professional conference like this. I did not realize how much I missed exchanging stories, hearing the lessons learned from big misses and celebrating successes. At this event I was surrounded by the people who make everything I do better. They are creators and collaborators and inventors. They help me when I need to innovate innovation. The leaders in this industry are inspiring and humble and I hope they call me to visit again.