Real-Time Evolution of the Events Industry

Photo by Heshan Perera on Unsplash

This is the number one question asked in event industry forums and groups across all social media platforms. Someone asks it almost every day. I know because I check.

“This is it,” I said to my director.
She looked up. “This is what?”

It was March 6, 2020. I know the specific date because it is the day Emerald City Comic Con pulled the plug on their 2020 event. I know this because a) I’m a big geek/fan girl and b) I was obsessively following Seattle-based events because it was, at the time, the only known COVID-19 hotspot in the country.

We had yet to cancel anything locally. There were no known cases of COVID-19 in our state. Rumors were just beginning to swirl about a petition to cancel South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, TX.

The storm was coming. I just didn’t know when; however, I wasn’t referencing the oncoming storm that day. I was looking beyond it.

“This is the shift. This is the moment when conferences go digital — where a conference of 1,200 attendees last year morphs into 900 attendees this year. The other 300 will stay home and get their conference fix through streamed general sessions and recorded breakouts.”

She blinked. “You think?”

“Yes.”

Large-scale international experiences, like SXSW, will eventually resume. There will be some modification along the way, but the crowds will return. It is the small- to mid-size meeting, convention, and trade show events that are evolving at a blindingly rapid pace. Lucky for them, the technology has been available for years. They just weren’t using it.

For the amount of effort convention planners put into coming up with new and better themes or general session interactivity, they have been remarkably resistant to utilize live streaming as a core conference element. Getting “butts in the seats” has always been the prevailing model.

Big tech has been utilizing streaming technology for years. Apple began livestreaming events (not just press conferences) with WWDC in 2012, albeit for a cost. How many Apple users attend a product launch in person? Not me, but I watched the September 2019 Apple Special Event when it went live on YouTube for the first time — along with 6+ million other people.

I am also one of the millions who obsessively follows any and all Comic Con content as it begins streaming, not always in real-time, out of San Diego. I did mention my overt geekiness. Due to my own event schedule, I will likely never attend Comic Con unless they hire me (OH! That’s an idea!) — once we all go back to work, of course.

Cue pandemic.

There are now multiple webinars on how to take your event virtual. None of them existed four months ago. Platforms are being tweaked or built to accommodate this evolution as it is happening. For small organizations with no budget, it’s Facebook live to the rescue! Everyone wants to know what is working and what is not, but the short answer is this: It is working.

Over the last eight weeks, every organization has realized at least one regularly scheduled meeting could, indeed, be an email. This is the same concept. Do you really need to meet in person?

There will always be a networking element to conventions. It is, without doubt, the single most valuable portion of the on-site convention experience. Professional development and course content are needed and important, but peer networking is the lifeline. We learn so much more from those who are doing the same we work we do. Virtual attendance, however, will provide the same opportunity for professional development — at a lower cost and from wherever people want to attend. Pants optional.

Parents won’t have to skip a convention in order to attend a child’s graduation.

Organizations who just lost their non-essential travel budgets for the foreseeable future will consider “sending” employees virtually.

Teachers can attend leadership or hobby-focused conferences that take place in the middle of the school year.

I was at a university event one time where a student had tucked himself as far away from the masses as possible — absolutely terrified. The event was mandatory and this student with agoraphobia put himself in great mental anguish in order to attend. Crowds are not for everyone.

For meeting planners, this is a good trend. You better jump onboard. Virtual attendance is a secondary income stream. It can grow the overall size of your event without the need for a larger, more expensive venue. You may also find you can downsize the venue and begin exploring smaller cities that would love to host your attendees.

For venues and host cities, this is an uncomfortable shift simply because we don’t know how it will affect revenue. Will a conference of 1,200 attendees downsize to 900? Or will it swing the opposite direction — bringing the same anticipated 1,200 attendees into the city and adding 300 virtually? What venues can and should do, if we haven’t already, is develop the infrastructure and equipment to support live virtual seminars, trade show walkthroughs, and the recording of multiple breakout sessions simultaneously.

Our clients are going to need it.

Like Comic Con or SXSW, convention attendance will, one day, ease back to normal — but virtual is here to stay.


This article was originally published April 25, 2020 on Medium. In 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage. 

My Great unRenaissance

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

No, you don’t have to learn a new skill in isolation.

Renaissance [ ren-uh-sahns]
noun: the activity, spirit, or time of the great revival of art, literature, and learning in Europe beginning in the 14th century and extending to the 17th century, marking the transition from the medieval to the modern world.

My last commute from office to home was on Wednesday, April 25. For the next ten days, I continued to work from home before receiving the dreaded but inevitable furlough phone call. I work in the events industry. I love my career. I pour everything I have into my work.

Now what?

Consciously…

I gave myself a week to feel the feelings I needed to feel — anger, mostly. Then I shook off my wrath funk and started to come up with a plan of personal self-development. My isolation resolutions included deep-diving into leadership studies, home improvement projects, reading (So much reading!), podcasts, yoga, webinars, TED Talks, and everything else I never have time to fit into my workaholic schedule.

Unconsciously…

As hours and days disappeared into the blackhole of a time void, so did my resolve. It only took a few days to abandon my grand resolution plans. Oh, I did a few things, but mostly I was numb and immensely successful at finding low effort activities which aided in keeping me numb.

Eventually, the guilt of not-doing overwhelmed me. I had a few very dark and dangerous days.

All of us are COVID-19 coping differently. Being lulled into numbness was easy, but with it came zero focus. I was trying so hard to shut out the uncertainty and inability to plan for the next week or month that I also shut out the ability to pay attention to anything for more than five minutes at a time.

I had to consciously face four personal realities in order to quiet my raging mind. Then my Great unRenaissance began.

The Great Ego Check

In the two-week time span preceding pandemic isolation, I was passed over for a promotion and then deemed non-essential. Ouch. While I am confident in the workplace and know my value, I also know there is always more to learn. Still, this was a one-two knockout punch in an already unsure and ever-changing environment… and I had not yet dealt with it on a personal level.

The Great Grieving

Grief is one of the most studied yet still misunderstood of human emotions — and I believe most of us are in some form of grief management right now. Loss of lifestyle or employment is throwing millions into the grief process. Many must also add the literal loss of life into the equation. I was trying my best to skip this step. I don’t recommend it.

The Great Loneliness

Being an extrovert in isolation is torture. My children are grown and I live alone. My car also broke down as all this started (because, of course), so I haven’t left my apartment — even to go to the grocery store (Thank you, delivery drivers!). While I am accustomed to being alone when I am at home, I am not used to feeling lonely. My career in events means I’m usually surrounded by humanity. I am people-powered and my batteries have been drained. Don’t get me wrong, I rapid-cycle between lamenting being alone and grateful I’m not forced to share my space with anyone else — even if I love them. But, I am more than alone; I am lonely.

The Great Silence

In order to begin working through the temporary loss of my career, grief, and loneliness, I had to stop numbing every thought in my head with television or music. I don’t even sleep in silence. I rely on music or white noise to get through the night. I turned off the television. I stepped back from around-the-clock social media. I silenced the music and allowed myself to meditate or journal in order to reconcile everything happening right now.

Because I live with bipolar disorder, I also had a video-conference with my doctor. I work diligently at being self-aware and keeping my illness managed. I needed help.

Dealing with these emotions has made it possible for me to start living this “new normal.” Some of my well-intentioned resolutions have come to fruition. I aspired to relocate my personal library — so I did. I also began listening to some podcasts and reading some books on my list. Most notably, I began writing again.

Gone are the personal deadlines and pressures to do better — to BE BETTER. In their place is a naturally evolving process of healing, coping, and listening to what my mind and body need rather than forcing them into places they are not ready to go.

If you are in full pursuit of greatness during isolation and reaping the rewards of extra study, exercise, or creativity, I applaud you with all sincerity. I might also be a smidge jealous. The creators of music, theatre, art, and dance are dominating this transition as they did in the Renaissance — discovering new and innovative ways to feed our souls. I am as grateful for them as I am those on the front lines of this epidemic.

If, however, you are like me and you need a little nothing in your life — for a time — do not let the guilt of that nothingness burden you. Take pride in knowing you are doing the right thing by staying home. If you are longing for productivity and can’t seem to find it, look inward and explore unresolved emotions that may be nudging (or throwing you off the ledge) into depression. If you need it, ask for help.

Celebrate the small accomplishments of your own unRenaissance.
No one will judge you for not mastering Malbolge (Google it.).


This article was originally published April 24, 2020 on Medium. In 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage. 

The Myth of High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder

Photo by Marco Secchi on Unsplash

Tips for increased productivity despite mental illness.

I am successful in my career. To the casual observer, there is no hint of mental illness even though I make no effort at keeping it a secret. I once had a supervisor who scoffed, “No, you’re not!” when I revealed I have bipolar disorder in casual conversation. Three years later, she would hug me hard as I walked out the door to go home and heal for a few weeks. Then she believed.

Mastery of pretending to be okay combined with general competency masquerades as high-functioning — at least in the workplace. This is because we never tell mental health success stories and it is time to change the narrative.

High-functioning is not a subset of bipolar disorder. If you put ten people with this disorder in a room, you cannot separate them equally by those who are naturally high-functioning and those who are doomed to suffer from the ravages of mental illness. Being high-functioning takes effort. It is a choice — not natural selection.

First, a little history:

My diagnosis came six months after the birth of my oldest son — a pregnancy which stemmed from sexual encounters of which I had little to no memory with a man I barely knew. I married him anyway. Both from differing but no less deep religious upbringings, it was simply understood this is what you did.

I thought postpartum depression was the cause of my moody and erratic behaviors. I was wrong. At the time, there were no television commercials for bipolar medications listing, or implanting, all the symptoms I should share with a doctor. No one discussed mental health.

From the first day of my marriage to the first day of my divorce and beyond it was clear that, despite my diagnosis, I would have to thrive in order for us to survive. I had to be the responsible adult. I could never afford to be fired or unemployed. I had to be indispensable for the sake of my children.

It has been 25 years since my diagnosis. Not one year has been easy. A lot of mistakes were made along the way, but I also learned a lot. One of those things is that, when well-managed, friends, coworkers, and even family members tend to forget my illness exists because it cannot be seen — and when it cannot be seen, the myth of high-functioning bipolar disorder is born.

Here are ten tips to succeeding in the workplace despite a mental illness.

Take your medication every day.

Antipsychotics are similar to antibiotics in that we want to stop taking them as soon as we feel better. Unlike most antibiotics, they also come with a barrage of side effects that make them generally unappealing: rapid and often irreversible weight gain, suppression of sex drive, numbing creative impulses, and many other things which threaten aspects of our lives we would rather not give up. Combined with the roller-coaster of finding the right “cocktail” every few years and sticking with a regimen is difficult. I chose to stop treating my medications like a ball and chain and accepted them as routine.

Be open and honest about your mental illness.

I never wanted the burden of accountability for my mental health to fall on my boys. They were too young to fully understand. Every few years, my body begins to metabolize medications differently. They “wear off.” With no family nearby, I rely on friends and coworkers to notice when something is amiss. They have to know how to help me and that requires honesty. Talking about my illnesses also aids in easing public stigma. I choose to be a part of the solution. This can be a delicate dance in the workplace. In my experience, the risk is usually worth it.

Use the eMoods app.

Even the closest of friends or coworkers can miss the warning signs. After that day my boss hugged me and I walked away from work to heal, I found the eMoods app. Like my medication, use of this app is as routine to me as brushing my teeth and washing my face every evening. With sliding scales and trackers for anger, depression, anxiety, weight, psychotic symptoms, and so much more, the eMoods tracker is one of my most valuable resources. I have a great physician who is willing to receive monthly reports by email which allows her to spot warning signs before it is too late.

Become the software super-user.

It helps that my father loved technology and we had a computer in the house by the mid-1980s, but programs are easy for me to learn — especially customer relation management (CRM) software. When I first began working in an office environment, I taught myself all the Microsoft Office applications beyond Word (Excel, Powerpoint, Access) simply because they were there to be learned. I cannot express how this decision has benefited me in a professional environment. Being the “go to” guru for quick software questions is both rewarding and a big step toward job security.

Fill the “other duties as assigned” gap.

In early 2000, I went to work for a small company that did not yet have a website. Though the owner had purchased a domain name, she didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t want to work somewhere without an online presence, so I bought the first edition of HTML for DummiesI built the inaugural website and maintained it for two years adding “webmaster” on my resume. I have also filled the role of social media manager, graphic designer, and function design document author simply because no one else would step up to the plate and learn the skills necessary to do those things and do them well. Each one of these “out of the box” skills for someone in my industry gets noticed on my resume and opens up some amazing job interview dialogue.

Take mental health days.

I work hard. I show up. I don’t make excuses. But when I need to do so, I take time off. Today, I can refer to this phenomenon as a “mental health day.” Fifteen years ago, I had to fake a stomach bug or claim a child was sick in order to use a sick day for this purpose. There is still a stigma and debate around taking mental health days, but I believe they are vital for all employees, not just those of us with a diagnosed mental illness. Some school districts are beginning to allow mental health days for students and that is progress in the right direction.

Keep learning.

My current company does not provide as much professional development as I would like. I make my own. From webinars to LinkedIn groups to copious industry articles and magazines, I keep myself well-informed — mostly with no financial burden. It also keeps my mind busy. This is important. An idle bipolar brain will invent things to obsess over, so I keep mine occupied as much as possible. In fact, after dropping out of college at age 20 due to my bipolar disorder, I finally earned my degree at age 39 while working full-time, parenting, and managing my illness. It is possible. Continuous learning is the foundation for workplace success.

Accept the consequences of your actions even if you don’t remember making them.

This is the hardest one. Bipolar disorder has sent me to bankruptcy court and it has caused me to make rash decisions that affect my entire family. I refer to bipolar breaks, especially mania, as out-of-body experiences. Sometimes I have vague memories of my actions and sometimes I do not remember them at all. Coming back into reality and facing the consequences and implications of decisions made when I am not in my right mind is agony, but I do it. I try to manage it with my head held high. This has taught me to take responsibility in the workplace as well. I always step up and admit when I am in the wrong or if I should have handled a situation differently. This should be normal human behavior, but it is not. Employers are accustomed to finger pointing and blame. My honesty is noticed and appreciated.

Question the status quo.

There is room for improvement in every organization. Once I have been in a position for a minimum of six to nine months, I become vocal about what can be done better or ways the business can change. Most of my ideas are role specific and hinge on working smarter not harder. Sometimes I just start doing things differently and coworkers follow my lead. In doing this, I learned my employers are willing to make the right changes and always appreciate a fresh perspective. Not all of my ideas are accepted, but the conversation often leads to other solutions.

Attempt better health through diet and exercise.

Once upon a time, I was a great athlete. I am no longer (see aforementioned comment about antipsychotic weight gain). A quarter century of medications has taken its toll on my body. I do get a fair amount of body movement throughout the day due to my work. I spend a lot of time walking the length and breadth of a convention center complex. I also acknowledge that some foods simply don’t make me feel great and I try to avoid them. I use the word “attempt” because this is my great failing. I would feel better, look better, and be even more confident if I would apply the same vigilance to this category as I do continuous learning or taking my medications. We all need something to work on.

There is one mental health method noticeably missing from this list and that is the subject of talk therapy. For better or worse, therapy has factored very little into my bipolar disorder management. To be frank, as a single parent, therapy was far too expensive. I found a way to cope without it. If you can afford it, I highly suggest talk therapy as well.

One time in the last 25 years, I was forced to utilize FMLA benefits for two weeks in order leave work and manage my disorder. I show up. I am reliable and I am good at what I do. I am not a unicorn. All of us with mental illness are capable of shattering the high-functioning myth. With the right combination of care, compassion, and conscious determination, anyone with a mental illness can maximize their own marketability while simultaneously minimizing workplace stigma and risk.

Like medications, you just have to find the right cocktail.


This post was originally published April 23, 2020 on Medium. In 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage. 

Letter (3) — Every One Needs a Cheerleader

Image by Jill Wellington on Pixabay

To the Awkward Teenager Who Wanted to be a Cheerleader:

You made it!

I have no memory of trying out for the doomed cheerleading squad at our ultra-conservative, Christian boarding school with you. I don’t doubt we did, but I wager I was there for you. It was something you wanted. It was a sports-related activity for which you felt qualified and, as you pointed out in recent years, that was important in our community.

You are correct, of course.

Accomplishment in our academic bubble rarely had anything to do with academics and everything to do with athletics.

You were the academic.
I was the athlete.

More often than not, you were there on the sidelines cheering me on, even though the distinctly American, untranslatable to third-world ideals, squad of school cheerleaders had long since been disbanded. I saw you at basketball games, field hockey games, and even my track meets.

What you may not realize is, at the time and for many years after, my entire identity — the singular status to which my personal pride was attached — was the super athlete. I was THAT athlete from first grade all the way through high school. Faster than any boy. Stronger than most. Somewhere in there, I morphed from muddy tomboy to the hot chick — though I still felt like the muddy tomboy. It was just my thing.

It was my only thing. And then it was gone.

You know that picture Hollywood always paints of the fat, former football quarterback standing in the corner of the class reunion cracking stupid jokes and being mocked because he never became the great CEO and works as a garbage man instead? Or some such version of said story? Yeah. That’s how I feel.

It’s dumb. I’ve known for years I need to shake it. Deep down, I know I have more fascinating qualities than my former athleticism. But I’m stuck anyway.

And you are exquisite.

Somewhere along our adult journey, we switched places. You discovered academia and athletics are not mutually exclusive and you began to take your brain with you on run after run after run — all over the world. You have excelled in life to a level for which I am honored to know you, trust in you, and still call you friend.

Excuse the sports metaphor, but you have lapped me over and over again.

But you didn’t leave me behind when it would have been easy to do so.

With each lap, you have circled back around and lifted me up with words of encouragement which, in truth, have kept me putting one fat foot in front of the other for the last twenty-five years in this marathon of my life:

“Dreams are wonderful things. Go get it!”

“You are so amazing and the hero of your own life. I know your challenges are great.”

“To me, you are still that indomitable kid that showed me the ropes and tackled all the boys and ran like the wind. You always will be.

I called you my cheerleader once before. “What’s not to cheer?” you responded without hesitation. So casual. So confident. So all-encompassing and with zero judgment.

You once told me I am one of the strongest women you know, but every one of us needs a cheerleader and you are mine.

I know you were disappointed that day, so many years ago, when the hope of becoming a school cheerleader was dashed. I also know you are too strong a woman today to dwell on it, but the sting of teenage discouragement has a way of following us around in one form or another.

But, you did make it! You are a life cheerleader on par with the crazy, daring, competitive athletes who elevate cheerleading far beyond the pseudo-choreographed homecoming performances of the squad you idolized in junior high. You are incomparable.

Thank you for being the base of the pyramid when I am doing well.
Thank you for picking me back up when others around me let me fall.
Thank you for showing me that learning a new routine is not the end.

Most of all, thank you for being a life teammate and friend.

“Everywhere we go (echo)
People always ask us (echo)
Who we are (echo)
And where do we come from (echo)
We always tell them (echo)
We are the buffaloes (echo)
WE COME FROM THE FOREST (echo)
And if they can’t hear us (echo)
We shout a little louder!”

I love you.


Note: This letter was originally published on April 9, 2020 on Medium. In 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage. 

Letter (2) — Wait For Me

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

To the Woman Who Gave Me Breath and then Gave Me Life by Giving Me Away:

I am sorry.

Ten years ago you wrote to me. Ten years — and I feel as though I fucked it all up.

“I’ll let you decide how far you want this to go,” you wrote. “I truly do not want to intrude on your life. If this ever becomes too much for you, just let me know.”

Despite my silence, I have not reached this place.

When we first connected, you had lost the love of your life. Five years ago, I lost mine.

You see, he was the only man in my life to love and accept me for being me — no matter how difficult I made it — and he was my dad. My father was an extraordinary man who gave me an extraordinary childhood and then guided me through the extraordinarily difficult consequences of the many poor choices I made in adulthood.

His death broke me.

Interpersonal relationships have never been my greatest strength. I rarely let people get close — and it has only gotten worse since losing my father. I didn’t realize it at the time or even two, three, or four years later, but I shattered that day. For five numbing years my ability to care — for anyone — has been limited to my two sons and my mother and my brother. In truth, I haven’t done much of a bang up job there either.

At one point, I began to think of you as family — not my parent, but maybe an older sister. How could I not? We are so much alike. I want to explore those similarities. Allowing myself to do that means letting you in. It means letting my half-brothers in. It is a commitment that, someday, I want to make. But, not today. Not now. Admitting this is acutely difficult because I realize I might miss out on something. It is a risk I must take because I need to be a little less psychologically splintered when I take that last step.

I wish there was a timeline I could give you, but grief has a firm grip.

Bradley Cooper, the actor, recently described the moment his father died and his words resonate through me.

“It’s a new reality,” he said. “Everything, everything. It’s not even one thing, it’s a whole new world. And it was instantaneous. It wasn’t like, months later. It was like, his last exhale, and I was holding him, and… everything changed.”

I did not hold my father as he died. Miles away, getting ready to go visit him in hospital, I was showering and nearly collapsed in agony at what I now know was the very moment he left this Earth.

I did not take time to grieve.

Oh, I cried and refused to leave his beside once I reached the hospital. I sobbed through funeral preparations and visitation and the service we had to celebrate his life, but I did not face my grief… or, as important, my anger.

There was so much to get done. After all, the last thing my dad asked me was if I was going to graduate.

Nineteen years after I first dropped out of university to have my oldest son, I was set to earn my degree — and, in my sorrow, I had no choice but to lock myself away from the rest of the family and finish writing my senior thesis. It was less than a week after losing him. My bachelor’s degree was conferred one month later. I did it as I promised him I would.

The emotional cage I built around myself in order to get it done never opened.

I came out of the bedroom that doubled as my writing room and carried on with day-to-day life, but I stayed emotionally locked away with my grief and anger. They are still here. Slowly, painfully, they are seeping out of my soul and I am most unpleasant during this time.

You do not want to know this me. Like I said — not now.

But, don’t give up. Not yet.
This is me asking you to stay.
Wait for me.
Unless, of course, you already left.

I will understand.


Note: This letter was originally published on December 18, 2018 on Medium. In 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage.

Letter (1) — Message in a Bottle

Photo by Ali Kais on Unsplash

To the Globe at Large and Anyone Who May Stumble Into this Place:

Only half my life ago, we would not have met.

I could have reached one of you, I suppose, by a telephone call made on a device with a cord coming from the wall that was designed strictly for the purpose of verbal communication. Perhaps some scribblings on paper rolled up inside a glass bottle and abandoned to the ravishes of the sea would have found its way to a curious reader. Maybe a mad publisher would have found a collection of unwritten letters mildly fascinating — but that was another place in my life and certainly a different time.

Today, with just a few clicks, I can throw the entirety of my past into the sea of cyberspace for the whole future to find — and here you have found me. Welcome.

What you have happened upon is essentially a memoir comprised of letters I should have written — or it will become one.

There was a time when I wrote a damn fine letter, but the internet and my adulthood aged together. Handwriting gave way to email. Chat rooms morphed into social media. Blogging rose and fell and rose and fell as the world breathed in the same digital space. Instead of sharing our stories with ink and stationery stored in a hat box for generations to find yellowed with memories, we hide behind an easily editable digital glare.

I have been here with you since the beginning — renewing friendships and finding common passions. For all our connections, however, we seem to be drifting further apart. I, for one, stopped writing letters. I cannot entirely blame the internet. My life became quite trying and I allowed myself to be distracted. Still, there are words I must write and letters I need to send. It is far too late for stamps and envelopes and absolutions, but write I will.

I don’t know when or from where you are joining my journey, but know that it is a finite one. This is a project with purpose. Forty-nine letters will be written and that will be the end.

If you arrived at the beginning then much waiting is ahead of you. Come back. That is why we have bookmarks.

Did you land here somewhere in the middle? Feel free to bounce around at your will.

You stragglers at the end may have it better than the rest. The unwritten will be written and you can linger or leave at your leisure.

From whenever and wherever you are reading my letters, my hope is that you find meaning in at least one. Imaginably, you are harboring your words as I once did or you are yearning to absorb them from someone who is not me. Borrow them if you must — especially if healing is what you seek. For in writing these words, I am healed.

Now I toss this message into the vast void of the information superhighway, a place as strange, beautiful, and unyielding as the undiscovered depths of the sea. If it survives — if it winds up on your shoreline — please toss it back in after reading.


Note: The letter above was originally published on September 15, 2018 via Medium. I have since moved all content here.