Event Professionals ‘Are in the Business of Soul’

The work of events organizers is more important than ever, says innovation expert Shawn Kanungo, but he asks: Are you willing to disrupt yourself to stay competitive?

Author: Curt Wagner       

man speaking on stage

Leaders must ask bold, provocative questions to spark imagination and drive innovation, said innovation strategist Shawn Kanungo at PCMA Convening Leaders 2024. (Whatever Media Group)

In his PCMA Convening Leaders 2024 keynote session, “The Great Reimagination: Think Bolder,” innovation strategist Shawn Kanungo told the audience of events professionals that they must be willing to innovate their own models and practices to stay relevant in a landscape being disrupted by generative AI and rising client expectations.

At the same time, Kanungo said, face-to-face events have taken on greater significance in this digital-first world. Events serve as a crucial platform for connection, branding, and community building.

Kanungo, author of The Bold Ones: Innovate and Disrupt to Become Truly Indispensable, opened his keynote talking about the hot topic on everyone’s minds at CL24 and elsewhere — generative AI. “More people have access to generative AI through their smartphones than [to] decent toilets,” he said. Generative AI is becoming so accessible that traditional knowledge jobs are no longer the most valuable, he argued, because anyone with “an AI copilot” can harness knowledge. In this new “narrator economy,” as he calls it, the most crucial skill is the ability to narrate AI prompts in order to generate ideas, content, and solutions.

He urged the audience to experiment with generative AI tools to remain competitive because roles centered on innovation and value creation will be the most important in this new reality.

Another current business reality, Kanungo argued, is that “it’s becoming more difficult to please our clients and stakeholders.” Radical changes in technology — Kanungo gave the ability to watch in-flight movies on personal devices as an example — have programmed humans to expect a frictionless experience. It also has caused the baseline expectations of clients, stakeholders, and event goers to keep rising, he said.

Only 10 percent of innovation comes from technology, he said. The other 90 percent is psychological, hinging on “radical unchanges” — the constant human desire for storytelling, relationships, delight, and surprise. By focusing on these “radical unchanges,” events can excel, he said, if event organizers embrace friction and reimagine experiences to be more delightful, meaningful, magical, surprising, and memorable.

“Big tech has taught us [the] frictionless experience. But at the same time, what they have done is they sucked out the soul,” Kanungo told the audience. “You are in the business of soul.”

Curt Wagner is digital editor of Convene. Spark Takeaways were consulted for this story.

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