We've been interviewing expert event professionals in our industry, and sharing their insights, advice, and unique experiences. This week we sat down with Jeff Hurt, the EVP of Education and Engagement at the powerhouse resource Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.
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1) We recently had a fascinating conversation with Dave Lutz, your colleague at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. How did your career path lead you from K-12 education to an executive leadership position at one of the premier consulting firms for event professionals? And what does a typical day look like for you now?
Let’s just say that I was an early millennial before they actually arrived on the scene. Meaning that I get bored easily and quickly with jobs that are not challenging or are a lot of rote work. I typically stayed in a job about three years before going on to my next venture.
My career actually started in faith institutions with young people, teaching school and working at Chuck E. Cheese’s to make ends meet. From there, I went back to school to work on my Masters and ended up teaching K-12, high school dropouts seeking their GED, plus writing and developing curriculum for a national nonprofit, which lead to me working for a state association and doing subcontract work for several Texas state agencies and USEPA.
I also did a short stint in live TV through a Texas-wide satellite network that was the precursor of today’s digital and hybrid events and livestreaming. From there I had a short venture as a political aide for a statewide elected official. Then I went back to the nonprofit sector and worked on international events and education.
Dave Lutz, the Velvet Chainsaw himself, found me and offered me a job—which I sometimes think he regrets today. Why would I say that—I surprise him all the time with new thinking, out-of-the-box concepts or ideas and new directions. One of my many faults is that I have the tendency to do that when we are with a client, so everyone gets surprised.
So the common thread in my work has been my education, meetings, strategic thinking, creativity and innovation. Those skills serve me well regardless of where I work.
A typical day for me is atypical—it may involve flying to another city to meet with a client, speaking at a conference, running a webinar from my home, or helping a client develop participatory-learner-centered educational programming with their annual meeting.
It feels fresh each day and we find that our clients bring us really challenging situations that keep us on our toes. We spend a lot of time thinking, assessing, evaluating, asking tough questions and collaboratively co-creating prescriptive steps for new opportunities and growth.
2) What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
I have a couple. First is the unpredictability of your next client. We don’t always know six months out what’s next in our consulting business.
A second challenge is sharing my inner thoughts and current thinking on our blog. I’ve written in a journal since eight grade, so writing is like breathing to me. What’s new is pouring my heart and thoughts out for the world in general and then feeling spent or empty. I hit dry seasons too where I don’t want to write for others, although I still write for myself because it’s how I deal with life.
A third challenge is my own direct, blunt personality. I’m so passionate about specific topics that I can easily step on toes. Ironically, the fact that I have a tendency to be a caregiver competes with my passion and makes it double-sided fault. I waffle between being too kind or too short. Those that know me really well know that my energy and directness is from my curiosity and passion, and not someone trying to bully their way through a china shop.
3) What types of event-related technology do you use or interact with?
Mostly social media, content-marketing and digital, hybrid and livestreaming tech tools for meetings and events. I really like the 3-D mapping technology that can be used in large keynotes and networking experiences to create an immersive-themed, evolving environment.
I constantly remind our clients that technology is a tool to serve a purpose and help us connect with others. When we get on the bandwagon of having the latest greatest tech tools for our highly produced, slick events, we create an audience looking for the next dopamine rush from a temporary tech wow.
We can’t stay on that shiny tech tool merry-go-round search for too long without it reaching a peak and then a steep fall. When technology is at its best in our events is when it appears seamlessly to help us get a job done. It’s backstage behind the event experience, not center-stage upstaging our event.
4) What do you see as the biggest trend(s) in events this year, particularly in relation to event technology?
Livestreaming, digital and hybrid events are getting a second wind as they gain steam in organization's event offerings. Several years ago, they were the top of the trends list and then almost disappeared. Now we are seeing their resurgence as more organizations understand that digital is here to stay and can be optimized for their customers.
I also see a focus on real-time collaborative technology tools, especially in the event cycle using them as on-ramp to the actual event and an off-ramp from the experience.
5) If you could give event planners / marketers one piece of advice, what would that be?
Don’t be a copycat conference producer. Stop looking for the newest and greatest formats, shiny tech tools, or ideas from other conferences. Instead, get outside of the conference and meetings world and look at unique experiences.
How does Starbucks attract a devoted following and why do we want to go to their stores? How does Apple woo us into their stores and why do we enjoy that environment? How do today's successful art museums create unique experiences around exhibits? What to festivals have to teach us about the customer experience? How do amusement parks and traveling interactive immersive experiences like the Marvel Experience keep us engaged for three to eight hours and leave us wanting more?