When I stand and close my eyes in an empty conference hallway or a meeting room,
I can see people — Tess people. Strange, I know.
In 2002 I was lucky enough to attend the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Each evening during those games, there was a medals ceremony followed by a rock concert in a temporary venue: the Olympic Medals Plaza.
On February 19, 2002, I was sitting in the very back row of the venue up in the “nosebleed” seats. Sitting next to me was the head of operations for a sports venue in Winnipeg. When the band Creed finished its last song, the lights came up, signifying the evening event was over. As we stood to leave, he put his arm out across my chest and said with utter excitement, “Watch this!”
I stood next to him, not quite sure what to do. I kept waiting for something to happen. But I didn’t see anything. He was looking straight ahead, almost like he was in a trance.
Olympic Medals Plaza in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photographer unknown
After five minutes, he smiled and looked at me and said, “Did you see that? This venue of 20,000 people emptied quickly and peacefully in just five minutes.” To him, as a venue operations professional, it was as if he had just seen a beautiful ballet or an Olympic record being broken.
And he was right to be amazed. When I realized that we were among a handful of people still in the venue, I had an “aha” moment: I realized the planners of the venue had orchestrated the layout of the seats, aisles, lights, signage, fences, and gates to maximize the flow our people out of the venue. It was masterful planning.
“Remove barriers” has become a mantra for me in event planning. It is so important to make sure people can efficiently do what they need (and want) to do — not only by removing physical impediments, but also by providing the information they need and easy, intuitive access to answers to any questions they may have.
I think about that “aha” moment all the time when I am planning or attending conferences, or when I am around large groups of people. I feel as though I can “see” or generally predict how people are going to move, what routes they will take, how long they will be standing in lines.
Don at McCormick Place, the venue for TLCC2019.
I once attended a TEDx event with a chaotic check-in process. There was no way they were going to be able to process everyone before the event was to start. I knew instinctively what needed to be done and could visualize the proper flow of people. I found an event organizer and shared my suggestion — which was quickly brushed aside due to the craziness of the moment.
During a break, the organizer found me and thanked me. They had implemented my suggestion, and the check-in process then flowed smoothly.
During the planning process for TLCC, when we are determining how much transition time we will need, or which rooms we will use for specific functions or sessions, I will often test our plans by closing my eyes and walking through the day in my mind. I visualize the movement of the people in and out of rooms, and down hallways. I can very clearly envision the sight line issues, where tables and chairs need to be, where the sunlight will shine, where the bottlenecks will be, as well as the natural gathering spots for attendees.
Don in the general session room for TLCC2017 in San Diego.
When I am onsite, this habit has been awkward at times. I will often stand in the center of a space, close my eyes and visualize the room start filling up with a stage, chairs, tables and people. If this is a venue for our Wednesday night party with the Tessiturians band, I might even put on headphones and listen to some of the songs the band will be playing, and visualize the crowd dancing. I will stand very still for fairly long periods of time as the images become more and more vivid and complete.
On more than one occasion, I have heard someone whisper to Heidi Pamplin, our Conference Director, “Is Don okay?” She assures them I am just imagining what it will look like during our event, and that everything is perfectly normal. “Don’s visualizing,” she’ll tell them.
It’s one of the first steps that will lead to my favorite #donisgiddy moments.
I admit I used to be a bit bothered by how real things became. But I have learned to accept and even cherish these magical moments when they come. My favorite moments are when I am standing in a hallway that connects the sleeping room section of the hotel with the meeting rooms. I close my eyes and “see” people walking towards the meeting rooms and I feel as though I am walking upstream, into the flow of lots of friendly, excited faces. And among these faces are the faces of real people — people I know. As they walk past me, they smile and wave; a few even say hi. They give me a sense of calm, assuring me that all is going to go well.
So, if you are attending TLCC2019 in Chicago and happen to see me for the first time in the hallway, and I’m not just giddy but I act as if I just recently saw you... you’ll know why. I very well may have seen you earlier in the day, in my mind, and perhaps even had a bit of a conversation. Because I see Tess people.
Andrew has been on sabbatical. This is the last post in a series featuring guest writers from the Tessitura team.