Nick Gold, MD of Speakers Corner, an international speaker bureau discusses why business leaders, governments, and event organisers need to find a solution and get the world meeting again:
My feelings last Spring went in waves, I would start the day despairing that the events industry would never come back, how I might as well pack up, go home, and think about how I should get into PPE as that was the only game in town. Yet, on other days, I was excited by the opportunity that the virtual world would bring. I loved the fact that a virtual event meant every delegate had a front row seat and the event was focused 100% on the content that the speaker could deliver.
Those feelings were very much focused in the moment and the rollercoaster that the conference and events industry have been on as the pandemic lifecycle revealed itself. The lack of clarity and vision from the politicians have played roulette with the lives and careers of many people but in those moments, we were focused on the here and now.
The population has followed the rules and guidance to work together in the fight against Covid-19 yet have driven society to attempt to find the balance so that families, friends, colleagues can start feeling safe and comfortable with each other because they need and want it. We understand, maybe now more than ever, that while our physical health needs protecting from the dangers and high risk of Covid-19, our mental wellbeing needs society to function and allow for interaction.
We are still experiencing bumps in the road but there is positive momentum in the return to hybrid work environments, that events, both personal and professional are returning, and the new post pandemic society is starting to emerge and mould itself into our everyday being.
But there is still one major hurdle which is starkly before us, the quest for a summer holiday. We’ve scoured of the traffic lighting of the countries we yearn to visit, re-read the testing requirements for travel, talked of vaccination passports and other potential ‘solutions’. International travel seems to be one of the final barriers as we navigate our way beyond the pandemic.
When I was asking myself whether the fear will overcome our instinct, I always felt that if and when we moved forward, it was an all or nothing type position. But how naïve this was, it was clear from quite early on that different countries, even different regions within countries were navigating their way through in their own ways. Whether that be the ringfencing seen in Australia and New Zealand, the libertarian lockdown conflict of the UK or the stark contrasts by States in the US, the path through the pandemic was never going to be a co-ordinated effort by the world.
The issue for international travel is that a co-ordinated effort is needed in order to give reassurance and leadership that society needs. Without this, we are, as individuals, in turmoil as we navigate our way through the guidance and rules for every country, the restrictions and testing, for travel and the fear, scaremongering and sensationalism that the press might be reporting on.
We know business leaders, and Government officials, acknowledge live in-person events, meetings, and conferences are immensely valuable to us both on an individual growth level, and a wider economic impact level, then the return of international events is one of the last great hurdles for us to surmount.
If we have demonstrated within our communities and our countries that while the virtual event delivers an experience which has real and sizeable value, the in-person experience delivers an altogether different and equally (if not more) valuable results for all who attend, then surely this needs to be demonstrated not just within a country level but on an international basis.
Since Thomas Freidman’s book ‘The World is Flat’, we came to realise that the world was small and international business was no longer a big stepping-stone, but rather a natural evolution in the growth of businesses. We understood that international conferences and expos were critical for us to develop, to understand, to innovate and collaborate and if this is stripped away, does this mean we return to smaller horizons, to marketplaces which have finite borders.
The big unknown question is whether we do want localisation for our future or a ‘flat world’ but this should not be determined by society’s fear stemming from the pandemic but rather the evolution of society for what we want the world to look like our ourselves and future generations.