January 17, 2023 Lilian Warpinski

The “Joy of Live” Revisited

Learnings in Live Events from the Last Three Years

Audience watches live event.

People made a lot of predictions about how Covid would alter the live events industry and how our lives would change. This year’s check in with Legend Productions’ Founder and CEO Jeff Goldstein, explores just that: What changed, what stayed the same, and what’s next.

Lily: So Jeff, let’s start with laying some groundwork–where were you at the beginning of the Pandemic? Did you have any predictions or thoughts about what was happening as it unfolded?

Jeff: So, if we time travel back to early April of 2020, focusing on the corporate events industry, corporations needed solutions, they needed workarounds. And we quickly got into this idea of virtual–now virtual wasn’t anything new at the time, it just became elevated in its importance, because there were no choices.

What struck me was the fact that during that time it became not just a tool to deal with the issue at hand. People started saying, “this is great and this is wonderful and this can replace live events and gosh, we’re saving a ton on travel and, you know, I can do this, that, and the other thing, all from my desk.”

And for me personally, it had me scratching my head…[in my mind] this was very much a tool for the moment, perhaps an additive tool.  But you know, it always felt to me that if you really understood human nature, you understood that virtual events–dealing with one another and communicating with one another in isolation was a non-starter.

Back then I posted something [on Linkedin] called the Joy of Live. I went out on a limb and refuted the popular speculation that virtual was this be-all-end-all for the future of corporate events. That was my stake in the ground in, in very early 2020.

Lily: What are some unexpected consequences of that pivot towards virtual?

Jeff: Well I think we leaned into this vernacular of virtual, and as live started to regain some footing, the trade term that was used next was hybrid–a sort of a melding of all of the gleanings from the early portion of Covid while starting to bring some audiences back into the physical space. We had to converge the two to allow for audiences that still were not comfortable with the travel or for corporations that were not, say authorizing travel for various reasons. 

Lily: We talked a lot last year about shifting everything over into the hybrid space. Do you think that that has happened? What have you noticed in the last year? What are the things that clients are asking for or have been asking for in the last year?

Jeff: I’ll preface the answer by saying that, you know, “hybrid” has existed long before COVID came along. If you look in the broadcast television realm, which is really my background, people from around the world were communicating with other people around the world using satellite technology before Zoom.  Just look at television news.

But I think what happened with COVID was, as we went back to live, we wanted to continue to be able to allow people to come  in remotely as a presenter or an audience member by Zoom or other means. And it means that we can now open the door to participants who either can’t travel or are still uncomfortable entering those spaces in-person.

I think in the corporate world, there’s this thirst to do something cool and different. You know? Artificial Intelligence, holograms, different sorts of techniques to make it feel like it’s something more than it is, ie, make it not look like a Zoom call. From where I sit, the content is king (or queen) Sometimes we just need to be thoughtful in the how and why of the devices for  them to be successful.

Lily: What do you think is the future of live events? Conferences in the Metaverse?

Jeff: And you know–the jury’s out on what I think, I think that the Metaverse has possibilities for conferences. But, if we believe in live events and that people want to have real in-person experiences, it’s hard for me to think about the Metaverse being a better alternative. It might provide some options in those situations where maybe it’s cost effective to gather people in that kind of space. And to me, the Metaverse right now doesn’t seem to make things easier because you need mass adoption of hardware. It’s a great expense to build it out. So for one-off or multi-day conferences, I’m not sure exactly how that’s gonna play out, but I wouldn’t say it’s dead in the water. I do think gamification has a future in this space.

Lily: What do you think your main learnings would be from the last few years?

Jeff: For me, the learnings are more about this sort of sense of togetherness, this idea of we’re all fighting the same battle. I think as an industry, the events industry is just a really extraordinary group of people. It seemed to me, everybody was very similarly oriented and that’s why I think live events came back so strongly. That was an extremely heartwarming experience.

Good people sticking together through tough times reaping the rewards of the sacrifices and concessions we all made.

Lily: That’s a good button to end on. Anything else you want to say before we close this thing out?

Jeff: I would just add that, at the end of the day, we need to think about people.  I never ever want to diminish people’s thirst for, you know, being able to engage all the senses. That’s what live events offer, that’s what travel offers, that’s what hospitality offers, and that’s what going to the theater offers, or any live event where people gather. 

There’s a place for virtual, you know, I think there’s certainly a model for that. But, I think that what 2022 proved in a big way with such a huge comeback is that humans want to get on flights, check into hotels, make their way to conference spaces and connect with other humans.