The Ongoing Challenge to Out-Differ the Different (for “kids” sake)

This month we’re excited to have the creative force, Kelly Jordan Nelson as our guest blogger! Over the years, Destination South has collaborated with Kelly and her company on award-winning entertainment concepts. Kelly began her career at one of the world’s largest marketing communications design and production agencies, Jack Morton Worldwide. That background has served her well as she’s now built  extensive professional credentials in event design, award-winning creative direction, writing and production spanning all media. Working with all types of industries, associations, non-profits and community organizations (e.g. Coca-Cola, Arby’s Inc., TechBridge, Cartoon Network, CNN, United Way, Girl Scouts of America) Kelly developed her own singular, artistic voice. In the early 1990s she asked herself, “Do you want to be safe and good, or do you want to take a chance and be great?” That question moved her forward and she creatively commanded her own course by starting her first company (which she ran for 19 years), The Maverick Group (TMG) – an experience design and marketing agency that provided innovative experience design solutions unmatched in the industry.

Kelly Nelson Head Shot

Today, Kelly continues to be a dynamic, passionate champion of alternative thinking and artistic envisioning. Her unique perspective and ability to use creative thinking as a pathway towards strategically motivating behaviors has made her a sought-after artistic creator and designer for a wide range mediums and platforms. Her work has brought her a bevy of awards garnered for creative direction, as well as countless accolades for her unique concepts and use of talent. Now at the top of her game, after more than 25 years of creative leadership, Kelly is now busy with her experience engineering company L.E.D. which provides her with a constructive outlet for her groundbreaking artistic visioning. She is also the founder and creator of Luminosity, a collaborative platform of contemporary multi-discipline artists. Enjoy her wise words on how to out-differ the different and win the hearts of your team, clients and event guests!

I have been in the events industry for longer than I care to say…I constantly amuse (i.e. bore) my younger staff with colorful stories about my early days in the industry that featured single copy copiers, pagers vs. cellphones, paying people to fly packages to clients in other cities (since there was no FedEx or UPS overnight yet) and the 7 colors of correction fluids it took to fix just one typo on the multi-carbon, typewriter typed contracts of the day. To say I have seen quite a lot of innovation in business…nay, in every aspect of life…is an understatement. Things have been progressive and amazing in the areas of technology specifically, but up until the last 5 years or so there still seemed to be some “rules” of event engagement that were just absolute…some tried and true techniques you just didn’t re-think. Well, some of us did think differently, but we were called “mavericks” or “rebels” or trouble makers who were viewed as deviant and disruptive to “professional” situations.

Enter the dawn of the millennial…and with this generation now coming into their own in the working world, comes the increasingly prevalent demand that everything be “an awesome experience.”  These kids don’t want to SEE a parade, they want to BE the parade…anything less and you have lost their attention. *As an aside, I confess anyone under 40 is a “kid” to me and I’m super psyched that the word “awesome” has kept it’s favored status so long! I confess, of all the changes in my lifetime so far, this monumental shift makes my artist / rebel / maverick / creative / behavioral psychologist heart smile the most.

Science is saying that this generation would rather be happy than rich if forced to choose.  They measure quality of life in the quality of experiences that fill it. Connect with them emotionally through an innovative experience and you have their passionate support…provide a business as usual, ho hum experience and you lose their attention immediately.

Now, here’s where it’s about to get REALLY interesting…these kids have just started to come into their own. We can see the early effects of their growing influence starting to take hold with the introduction of innovative new things such as TED Talks, TomorrowWorld, Snap Chat, and Airbnb. But what’s more compelling is that even the most traditional businesses are now being challenged to rise to their demand for “awesome.” Their influence is spilling into other generations too…apparently we all really like to enjoy a life full of rich experiences and fun…turns out you can be serious business AND be playful and retain your sense of youthful wonder all at the same time. Scientific studies have even started to show that being more creative and using your full brain (not just the analytical left side) leads to greater innovation and a higher success ratio in all aspects of business and life…who knew?! It’s just a matter of time before a “new normal” takes hold. If you thought casual Friday was great, just wait for Pirate Wednesdays or Zombie Mondays!

Now that you have been informed, or for some of you just reminded, about what’s going on out here it’s time to share a technique in the world of events and entertainment that engages not only the experience demanding millennials but that also delights audiences of all ages:
“The Sense Event” – A produced entertainment or educational affair that engages participants in an amplified multi-sensory experience and results in enhanced associated memory formations and behavioral outcomes…or a much fancier way to say  “awesome.”

“Sense Events” are the new frontier of event experiences. With a “sense event” you will want to consider the guest’s full set of senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell) as well as the elements of surprise and personal engagement.  Here are some ways that you can apply this to your events:

  • Reward curiosity:  Hide notes, or treats or trinkets around the environment and encourage guests to explore the set / scenic / decor or room for these hidden treasures.  For extra excitement, ask guests to turn in their found objects for a reward, drink, treat or take away.
  • Set up some foods as something they can “forage” for:  edible decor like chocolate mushrooms growing from a topiary centerpiece or candy coffee cups or edible art where guests pull artfully displayed appetizers off the wall.  Be sure to have a way to label or mark the items that are edible from those that are not and inform the guests as such.  Nobody wants to eat a real glass plate!
  • Breakdown the fourth wall of theater / entertainment: bring the performers up close and personal and surprise guests with where they are coming from, where they are positioned and / or how they interact with the audience. Performer on a stage with a comfortable distance from you = normal. A performer sliding upside down on a pole and looking you in the eye from a hiding spot over your head = awesome. A rock star on a stage performing a concert = normal. A rock star walking across the chairs of the theater and sitting next to you while performing one song or inviting you to the lobby to chat with them personally = awesome.
  • Do normal things in an abnormal place or way:  put the gala dinner in the middle of a roller derby rink; put horses in the middle of the ballroom without a railing during a black tie dinner; put a tank of sharks in a park; hang musicians from the ceiling…etc.
  • Use scent or atmospheric effects to underscore mood:  the smell of roses, the feel of wind in your hair, snow falling indoors, a floor of low lying fog that dances with them as they move through it.

Find the inspiration, use your childlike mind and let it free…don’t dismiss an idea because it isn’t “normal.” Out differ the different…the more innovative and unusual, the more you’ll break through and capture the attention of a new generation of event attendees. Go forth and be AWESOME! The kids will love you for it!


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