Last month, the Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival brought together revolutionary minds for 3+ days of unscripted interviews, interactive workshops and an in-person experience (which Team SEQ was proud to be a part of!). Fresh off a complex, hybrid event that brought together over 120 presenters and attendees tuning in from more than 100 countries, we were fortunate to catch up with the indefatigable Lindsay Meck, Director of Production & Digital Strategy at Dow Jones and former Director of Production at Sequence Events (that’s us!). Lindsay oversees the development and delivery of flagship events for The Wall Street Journal Live Journalism Team, and was kind enough to share her thoughts on the Future of Everything Festival, the future of events, and lots more!
- With the Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival 2021 officially in the books, what were some of your immediate takeaways? Did your perspective on any event elements change drastically from ideation to reality?
When I consider the complexity of the 2021 hybrid WSJ Future of Everything Festival, it’s mind-boggling that this was achieved in just over a year of virtual learnings. From a production perspective, our team had studios in Dubai, Mountainview, California, London, New York City, and Atlanta powering this massive cloud-based show (three days of multi-stage programming with more than 120 presenters beaming in and audiences in more than 100 countries tuning in). We also produced our first in-person event in 15 months (a car-only drive-in screening on the second evening of the Festival at Brooklyn’s Skyline Drive-In with Sequence Events). And from a user experience POV, we were able to offer new custom development technologies aimed at amplified engagement and improved networking, as well as debut our first-ever virtual reality immersive environment (The Field).
My immediate takeaway was, upon watching the show credits roll, thinking gosh, this really does take an army to innovate and implement on this level. It was no small feat, attributable to a global village of programmers, engineers, marketers, producers, designers, journalists, sponsors, editors, and technicians, who brought this all together remotely from all corners of the world. Many folks I’ve never met in person, most were powering through from their homes, and all were managing life during a global pandemic.
As far as perspective shifts, I’m such a fan of that adage from improv comedy, the rule of “Yes, And?” The rule explains that to be successful in acting a scene with a partner, you must not only accept the realities your partner presents you with, but add on to that line of thinking. For example: If your improv partner hands you an imaginary fish, you accept it as a fish, and start to pantomime frying a fish. As live events people in this unprecedented year, we’ve been asked to fry a lot of fish! There have been so many pivots to our processes, and we’ve had to be nimble and creative. I can’t really think of a single element of the Festival that didn’t morph and take new shape throughout the journey.
- Thankfully it appears we are finally on the road back to in-person events! What do you foresee being the biggest challenge as organizations transition back to in-person experiences? What are you most excited about?
As a theater person at heart, I truly love live audiences and the energy their presence brings — when they are entertained and captivated, what they bring into the venue. When you are putting on a show, you know what is working and what isn’t because you can see it from the audience. I’m beyond excited to welcome them back, and overjoyed for in-person social gatherings. However, I think we have a new challenge going back in-person, because the technology isn’t disappearing and now we need to find new ways of integrating our devices with the environments we are returning to, and inviting additional remote streaming audiences into the experience who are also contributing. I also find that part exciting as well. It’s a far cry from the one movie theater in my hometown in Ohio growing up — that everyone went to, screening a handful of movies at the same set showtimes. We are now witnessing a disruptive and democratizing time where not only are tvs, movies, and gaming immediately accessible from your personal devices anywhere with internet access, we now have the ability to add the live event experience to the mix and invite so many others all over the world to the party. Maybe not even just invite them to the party, but ask them to dance, too. What will that look like and how will it inform and improve our events forever?
- The past year+ has made it very clear that virtual events are here to stay, but what are your thoughts on how they evolve as we head into this new era? Do you envision new areas of focus in terms of technology, design or engagement?
Beyond addressing a dual audience who desire to interact more than voyeurs, I’d really like to see virtual events improve accessibility, inclusivity, and sustainability in their design practice. How can we continue to better serve and reflect our audiences? Be more thoughtful with respect to our carbon footprint? Partner with vendors who champion these values and explore solutions? I’m thrilled to see smart minds start to tackle these challenges proactively rather than reactively, because there is so much to do.
- What comes next for hybrid events? Does the benefit of native experiences for in-person and virtual outweigh the additional cost and time implications, or will we see organizations fall back on the more traditional hybrid concept of ‘in-person event + virtual stream’?
It’s a mighty question for sure, and I suspect our audiences will dictate the direction ultimately, with their eyeballs driving the spending decisions. In some ways, I see two paths in this hybrid future, neither mutually exclusive. One, essentially the Oscars 2021 model, where the in-person component becomes an even more exclusive, intimate, and possibly ultra extravagant gathering, with a virtual community as a massive online Greek chorus providing reactions and commentary separately. In this bifurcated offering, Glenn Close, seated at a posh banquet near Daniel Kaluuya, is having a very different experience than let’s say my friends on our group text thread from our respective couches. We are watching the same show, but the presence and sentiment of the virtual audience isn’t felt inside Union Station in LA (Oscar stage).
The second is the Peloton model, which I am fascinated by, where within a single live stream cycling class, you have the riders in a studio with the instructor, the riders on their respective bikes at home or at the gym watching and/or listening, following along to the same music and coaching, with gamified milestone callouts (e.g. “Congrats Minari Grandma for 100 rides!”) and group tags for all participants (e.g. “NomadlandFansofNYC”), agnostic of their location or region. In this example, because the content is less perishable than an awards show where winners are broadcast, the class packages well for video on demand, offering flexibility to a wider audience to participate on their schedule. I’m very interested to see how this tiered and scaled approach could translate for hybrid events. I’m also curious about how the in-person component might serve as a more “behind the scenes” experience, sort of akin to this year’s Grammy’s presentation.
- With in-person, hybrid and virtual events all seemingly on the table, how do you see brands and organizations navigating the road ahead? How different does our industry look in 2022 vs. 2019?
Dare I say I’m tremendously optimistic about the future for our industry. It has been a harrowing year for hospitality, venues, and events, but audiences are returning. And what a comeback — with now the demonstrated value of the virtual experience in tandem with the in-person event. Now to finesse and strategize how to allocate resources and budgets for the greatest impact. I see brands and organizations taking a comprehensive approach to their event slates — what returns to in-person, what becomes hybrid, and what is optimized for virtual delivery? And while no one is resting on their laurels, and will continue to wow our audiences, who in turn have become more sophisticated virtual consumers in this past year, I hope we can catch a brief summer break. The hustle of the pivot is very felt, alongside all the other feelings of the past year. Hopefully we are entering 2022 refreshed with renewed purpose and creativity for our clients, customers, and collaborators. With fewer Zoom weddings. Those I'd be fine to leave in 2020 — ha!
- Bonus Question: We know you’re an avid TV watcher, and we love it! Give us a few shows that you’ve recently watched and would recommend!
My TV viewing has definitely skyrocketed in the pandemic without the ability to go to movies, museums, or theatre. Lately I’ve been really digging Hacks (HBO Max), Mare of Easttown (HBO Max), Ted Lasso (AppleTV+), and Call My Agent (Netflix). I May Destroy You (HBO Max) was the best thing I watched all of last year, and In the Heights (the movie) is probably the thing I’m most looking forward to singing loudly in a NYC movie theater.
Lindsay Meck is the Director of Production and Digital Events Strategy at Dow Jones, overseeing the development and delivery of flagship events for The Wall Street Journal Live Journalism Team. Prior to joining Dow Jones, she worked in the event agency world (shoutout Team SEQ!) and wore an assortment of hats as a co-founder at a start-up, an Associate Producer for Broadway shows, and a Director of Ticketing for the Tony Awards — each role focused on creating and scaling memorable, shared events and experiences.
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