It’s San Francisco, 1903. A lean, well-dressed man with a moustache occupies an easy chair in the St. Francis Hotel. A bellman strides over and hands the man a telegram on a silver salver. He reads the telegram, rises from his seat, folds his copy of the Examiner, and strides away to take on another challenge as Paladin.
When I started learning the event production business, we weren’t exactly using telegrams any more, but there were still Telex numbers on business cards. At the time, I worked with an accomplished group of professionals in a department that produced a big range of media, events and photography.
The big show each year was the company’s sales recognition meeting, which could have anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 attendees at a great location almost anywhere in the world: Rio, Hong Kong, Rome, Acapulco and so forth.
What brings this to mind is the planning my current team is doing for my company’s events next year. The event planning business of today involves preparing an infrastructure for meeting attendees to stay connected to their regular jobs while they’re away from the office. Even modest-sized meetings require significant infrastructure for computer connectivity, wireless service, printing, etc. etc. It’s nothing surprising, because that’s the way all business is conducted now. The technology, the media, the impact of these meetings are impressive. And yet, it’s easy to forget that there have always been effective, impactful presentations. The technology improves, the requirements to deliver get more demanding, but, in a sense, we’re not doing any better than that simple telegraphic message to Paladin.
It’s interesting to consider how different the business was 25 years ago, when none of this mattered. My boss would leave the office on a 2-week site inspection tour to select the venue for the next year’s meeting. Because the location of the future site was always revealed as a surprise at the previous year’s meeting, we did not know where he and the team were going: only his assistant (and his family, of course) knew where he would be. In a day before cell phones, faxes or e-mails, they were beyond our reach for the entire time.
Once these meetings started, we didn’t have attendees or event staff using laptops or blackberries or cell phones — they didn’t exist. Instead, we staffed an office with administrative help who would take phone messages on memo pads and post them on a bulletin board. Once faxes started being more common in the late ’80s, we’d do the same with faxes we received — LOTS of faxes once that technology hit. This office staff also did a lot of typing/word processing for our event management staff. Now, of course, everyone is their own administrator for email and phone. But the work for the event planners is no less: we have to provide wired or wireless connectivity, printers and, yes, still faxes, too. Whether you’re Paladin waiting for the next telegram, or a CEO retrieving an email from a laptop at some distant venue, the expectation is the same: some team of people is working behind the scenes to get it to you.
© 2012 Brad Nixon