With Christmas less than 2 weeks away, Fred and I are in the midst of decorating our home for the holidays.  The tree arrived yesterday, frozen and looking scrawny, just perfect for our smallish sized living room.  When it thawed and fell out, it was a huge, chubby thing that took up more real estate then we could afford.  Setting it in front of the big picture window seemed ridiculous.  Its limbs spread throughout most of the center of the room, and looked logistically unworkable and a little silly. 

I suggested moving it to the corner of the room, by the fireplace.  Fred, the arbiter of all things tradition, responded quickly and with finality.  “No way.  We always put the tree in front of the window.  It’s tradition.” 

Crazy as it sounds, this made me think of events, both the ones we produce and those we’ve attended. 

So many events are built on tradition.  A grand old happening offers up the same, comfortable elements because “we’ve always done it this way”. 

While tradition is a good thing, when circumstances change, it might be good to rethink tradition and mix things up a bit.  Let me continue the metaphor: 

  • “If the tree is stuck in the corner, we won’t have any room for all the presents.”

    I reminded Fred that since the kids were now grown, the number of large, physical presents had decreased dramatically.  No more Ninendos, no more Barbie Dream Houses.  We stopped exchanging gifts with our siblings a few years ago.  And 3 of our 4 parents have passed.  So we just didn’t need the room for presents like we used to in the old days.

    In terms of events, if you started your event decades ago when your audience was younger, they may not be around certain times of the year (do you know the term “snow birds”?), may not want to stay out as late, might not dance until dawn.  Can you change some things, keep the tradition but insert new elements that make your event relevant within current reality?  And might you want to brainstorm ways to bring in new audiences that won’t totally upset the history and tradition of your event?  Might that even ensure the future sustainability of your organization? 

  • “With the tree stuck in the corner, we won’t have a focal point for our holiday gatherings.”

    Again, let’s look at reality.  We say the “why” of events is so much more important than the “what”.  If the focal point really is a decorated tree, we’ll probably be having a lot of boring parties.  Our objective for any holiday gathering is to create memories and foster human interaction (and in the case of family gatherings, minimize any gunplay…).  The Christmas tree merely adds ambience and that warm feeling that comes with the lights and the smell. 

    It’s the same way with events.  If you are more concerned with décor than with the guest experience and bringing people together to move them to some sort of action, whether it be to give money, buy something, become more engaged or simply connect, your event will not succeed or be memorable. 

  • “Okay, we’ll put the tree in the corner.  Just don’t push it.”  

    This comment came after I enthusiastically offered to help make the new arrangements for the room.  Keep in mind that when it comes to tinkering with tradition, you might get agreement, but not necessarily acceptance.  Just because someone agrees that change is needed doesn’t mean they like it.  Be patient, be kind, be understanding.  And don’t gloat when your event, with a nod to your traditions but incorporating strategic change, is a major success.

 Happy Holidays, everyone!

NOTE:  Since I started writing this post, Fred got the lights on the tree and placed it in the corner.  It looks great - even he says so.  The irony of this story is, of the two of us, when it comes to producing events for our clients, he is the one who promotes out-of-the-box thinking.

"You can't let your personal preferences influence decision-making when it comes to making an event better."  Well spoke, Mr. Shepherd.


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