The Future of Events | Steve Mapes

The Future of Events

with Steve Mapes


About today’s guest:

Stephen Mapes is the Senior Vice President of Strategy at Impact XM. Impact XM is a global experiential marketing agency that crafts strategic audience engagements by powering brand experiences. Stephen has worked at Impact XM for over 30 years. He holds a degree in Economics from Franklin & Marshall College, an MBA from Drexel University, and an MA in Design & Culture from the University of Pennsylvania.

As always, May I Have Your Attention is brought to you by, which turns your podcast into three months of social media content, you can find out more at

Time Stamps:

Steve’s background and Impact XM [0:42]

Human behavior is difficult to change [2:22]

Engaging in the virtual space [5:14]

Rethink Events [8:27]

Using VR for events [16:51]

Selected Resources:


Justin Nassiri  00:04

Welcome back to May I have your attention, a show about slicing through the noise online. I’m Justin Assyria. And each week I chat with industry leaders about how to get keep and monetize attention online. May I have your attention is brought to you by, which turns your webinar or podcast into three months of social media content? Find out [email protected] Let’s get started with today’s episode. Well joining me today in Dayton, New Jersey, my guest is Steve Mapes. Steve, welcome to May I have your attention.


Steve Mapes  00:40

Great to be here.


Justin Nassiri  00:42

I want to give our audience a very abbreviated bio for Steve he is the Senior Vice President of Strategy at impact XM impact XM is a global experiential marketing agency that craft strategic audience engagements by powering brand experiences, Steve has worked at impact XM for over 30 years. He holds a degree in economics from Franklin and Marshall College, an MBA from Drexel University, and an MA in design and culture from the University of Pennsylvania. So Steve, maybe to expound on that intro. What does x impact axiom do?


Steve Mapes  01:21

So you know, it depends you can operate it, you can describe it a couple different levels. On one level, it’s, we help really big brands, engage with their audiences at trade shows, private events, and activations, consumer activations. So it’s really anywhere that, you know, they want to engage in brands, typically, in the live environment, so where people are in person, as we know, the world is totally changed. And, you know, social distancing is kind of the kryptonite to events. So for the last 18 months, we’ve been, you know, coming up with new solutions that we think have been very successful. And now that we’re coming out of this, they definitely applicable to really how customers are engaging on both in person and virtual front. What what is


Justin Nassiri  02:22

that? What does that look like? I mean, you’ve had a front row to a very big disruption in the industry that now seems to be returning more to normal. How do you envision events going forward? Will it be back back to in person business’s usual? Will it be 5050? Virtual versus in person? Like, what’s your sense on how things are unfolding in this moment?


Steve Mapes  02:45

Yeah, it’s really good question. I mean, we’re all asking the question, right. And it’s, it’s happening before. events have been live probably since the summer. And there’s been a smattering of events, we’ve still had some of the ensign, several industries still be virtual. But there are some hybrid, and what we’re seeing is, I just got back from Las Vegas. And honestly, we see a lot of people snapping back to really how they were behaving, pre COVID. So I think human behavior is difficult to change. Yet, I feel like there’s also been, on the other hand, a lot of big change, that’s going to what we’re gonna see in the short term in the future that will affect our behaviors, you know, the we follow the retail industry, it’s a kind of a corollary, because retail is in person, with environments, and how does that environment, try to attract people to go into it. And that’s very much like events, McKenzie, and everybody knows McKenzie, the big consulting firm, made a prediction in 2019, on where retail was going to be in 10 years. And they, this year, they revised that estimate, saying that retail actually got to most of the KPIs already, not waiting for the tenure. So everything is changed. And we definitely see that in our space. As I mentioned, we spent the last 18 months in the virtual world and we’ve learned a lot and learned new ways to engage. What’s happened is the definition of time and space, and physicality is totally being redefined by events where events used to have a hard, open and closed date. Now it’s softer. And what’s happening is there’s a lot more on demand of parts of events. So whether you you know, attend in person with the attendance virtually, chances are that events can extend And that’s a real opportunity for people that have really sharpened their digital chops to be participant in that days.


Justin Nassiri  05:14

I’m curious what that looks like. And for listeners, we’ll have a link to impact XML website. It’s a very compelling, visual experience. And you can see these kind of interactive, engaging in person events. And so it’s easy for me to understand what you guys do in person. What do you seen as this extends to digital? And I understand that, you know, I’m guessing this is something that’s changing day to day, but how do you make things interactive and engaging when they move from a physical environment into the digital environment?


Steve Mapes  05:47

Yeah, it’s really the million dollar question. I mean, I think when the you know, the pivot happened, and everybody, you know, a lot of the Oregon organizers have put on conferences where, you know, scrambling to find companies to do their platforms for the events, and our clients, which are major brands, we’re figuring out how to show up there. I think a lot of people spend three to six months trying to figure out how to be there. And then once they were there, it’s like, well, is this really working? am I engaging with my customers. And what we’ve seen is serendipity is totally different. You know, when you go to the live events, it’s like, you run into a colleague in the hallway, you see a speaker after a session, I’ll see you at the booth, I’ll see you at Starbucks, that doesn’t happen, of course, in the virtual space. So we’ve had to be very creative, in sort of how we get people to engage digitally. And, and that’s about being, you know, being there live. Because although you’re not there, physically, by being there live, it creates that FOMO moment, moment where I get to be there at nine o’clock, if I want to see the speaker, I can also see it on demand, but I want to see them live more more, you know, probably, so I’m going to be there at that time. You know, how can I engage them to go exhibit if I have a virtual exhibit, and explore. So it’s, it’s really finding those opportunities, we found virtual to turn out to be very transactional, in some ways, were like in the pharmaceutical space, on the medical conventions. It was, it was some of that we saw some social posts where these physicians feel like they’re at an amusement park, because they’re like, I could see any content I want. At any time, I don’t have to make a Sophie’s Choice, on what session to see a Nazi. It’s all on demand. And they’re loving it. Yet, at the same time, I’m not maybe getting them to go to the virtual exhibit hall to spend time because it’s maybe less of a drawing a virtual space. So customers have to work harder to show where the value is, by using their thought leaders by using their executives to show the commitment to the event, and how they’re going to find you know, unique content. If they do take the time to go to that virtual exhibit.


Justin Nassiri  08:27

Yeah, it is. You know, the the appeal of the virtual event for me is I don’t have to travel and I can attend things. But you’re you’re making a good point that the serendipity of the the most meaningful things of events I’ve gone to were not planned, it’s the people you run into you meet organically. And a lot of my clients who have remote offices, they’re missing, that they’re missing the team meeting, and then afterwards hanging around and chit chatting and how relationships are built from that standpoint. So you know, but one thing that I’m just really cognizant of is that with three decades of experience in this space with this company, I’m just guessing that in the last 12 months, it you must have seen more change in the last 12 months than in the last three decades combined. I mean, it’s just unbelievable to see how much you’ve had to adapt to circumstances none of us have ever seen before.


Steve Mapes  09:24

Yeah, I think everybody has, you know, they could have a year experience or, you know, the three decades haven’t heard of put that way of experience. But, you know, like the the quote I gave you about McKinsey and retail, where retail is going, we know events were going there, too. It’s just been fast forwarded to today. And we just have to really be able to be agile and adapt to really quickly. We’re seeing that, you know, hybrid is a term that I’m sure everybody’s heard. Are you tired of but a lot of Congress organizers a lot of tradeshow organizers haven’t figured out what hybrid is, they’re trying to figure it out. So as they’re trying to figure out, figure it out many exhibitors supporters are trying to, you know, follow them and see where they’re going. So they can figure out how to best show up at that event. And so that’s on the trade shows side, on the private events side, really, private events have been pulling in higher attendance numbers than you would ever dream. And that’s actually the case, on the on the tradeshow side, we run our own set of events called rethink, and we probably got eight to 10 times more attendance than we did in our live events. So it’s really get started. Now, as we just discussed the engagements a little different. But yet, we’re still getting a brand experience with a much bigger number of people. So there is some benefit to that. We did some things at our event to drive engagement, where we instead, you know, you talked about, you know, the the hallway moments, the serendipity, we had events, like we had a comedy club come in, and we had the attendees interact with the it’s kind of like a What’s My Line, and they interacted with a comedy team. And they told stories, and it was really engaging, it was at the moment. But those are the kinds of creative things you have to do to to make it successful. In the hybrid space. You can’t do the same thing for virtual as you do for live or in person. Because the virtual attendee, you and I sitting here at computers, we interact totally different than the person in person. So we we need to develop a brand can’t go in thinking of them as the same audience, they have to be able to appeal to both. Yet the brand needs to show up with a cohesive presence so that there’s no disconnect between the audiences


Justin Nassiri  12:17

dive more deeper into the the rethink events, because I think this is this is I get really curious there to hear that these private events are having such better traction. What what do you think is driving that? Is it like a sense of elitism, that it’s not open to everyone? Is it? Is it just that there’s more intention put into this space? Because it’s a smaller number of people and more of a curated experience? Like why is why is this being more successful than a lot of the larger events?


Steve Mapes  12:49

I think it comes down to some things like cost and time, which is, you know, what you’d mentioned earlier, I think that these private events, which, you know, they, it sounds exclusive, but you know, essentially, a private event just means the brand is putting on the event, not a third person, or, you know, so all the big tech companies do the private events. A lot of brands will do private events to bring in their customers. And we do the same thing for impact. So I think the success has been based on the fact that it’s much easier to attend, it costs less typically than a live not only from the tenants, but flying there hotel, all those things. You know, we I think we all admit we all know, we all acknowledge it’s a different experience. But to get that basic content, to see a really we had a really great speaker, Adam Grant, who is, you know, you know, been, he’s in the press all the time, Professor UPenn. He was here. And, you know, people showed up to see Adam Grant live, and live was going on at a particular time. So I think that that’s the benefit. I think as soon as we’re back to live, I think, you know, you’re going to get the real brand enthusiasts still showing. But if you can offer the virtual component as part of a hybrid offering, you’re going to get incremental traffic. And we think going into 2022. That, you know, 2019 was a great year for events, we think 2022 is going to be even better because you’re going to have the percentage, and it probably won’t still be 100% Of what 2019 was, but then you’re going to add the virtual component on top and virtual plus live is going to be greater than 2019. So brands have a real opportunity. Moving forward where attendance is going to probably be better than they’ve experienced before.


Justin Nassiri  15:06

If that makes intuitive sense to me, because, you know, I sense the the longing and the hunger, so many of us have to be back in person. I don’t know if people have made the parallels, but the one that stands out to me is movie theaters and streaming, I happen to be that part of the demographic that I love the theaters, and I will go to the theater to show to watch the same movie that’s on HBO for free right now. And I imagine you see something similar, where there’s a big percentage of the population that’s going to continue to go to in person that gets the value of that. And then you’ve got this whole new population that was underserved before. And I hadn’t thought of it before. But it does seem like the sum of those two, even if the in person is diminished from where it was in 2019, it’s still a greater number of people than you than you had in 2019, which is great. And then as more and more returned to in person that I just, I’m excited for 2020 for your space, I think there’s a lot of opportunity there.


Steve Mapes  16:06

Right? Yeah, I know, some conventions that four or five times the attendance that they had in person. And again, experience is totally different. But you have that exposure in the healthcare space, where we do a lot of work. You know, there’s this democratization of healthcare, where, you know, there’s physicians from, you know, third world countries that can now attend, where in the past, they were, they never had that access to this cutting edge science that is being released at these conventions. So, you know, it is I think it’s social benefit in the end.


Justin Nassiri  16:51

That’s great. That’s great. Yeah, I love to think of that, too, that democratization and more ubiquitous access for people around the world is you think of in person and virtual, is there any innovation, I mean, I feel like your company is so much at the cutting edge of these experiences, anything that excites you, or anything that you’ve seen recently, that you just feel like is, is different or new, or that, especially through your lens and history that you just are excited to see occurring now?


Steve Mapes  17:21

Yeah, you know, VR has made a kind of had a bumpy start, right, you know, a couple years ago, VR, you know, was the rage, and then, you know, it wasn’t, you know, in, in the event space, they found that, you know, people didn’t necessarily want to come into a booth and put on VR lenses, you know, they know who had him on before them. And, and now now we get to where we are today. And you wonder, well, people put them on, I think, though, and it’s there already people that are exploring this, where you can put on the VR lens, you can be in the auditorium, and you can see the speaker, but you can look to your right, and you can look to your left, and you can see colleagues right next to you. And you can talk to them about what the speaker is saying that I think it’s going to be a game changer. Because you are getting that, you know, that connection with your peers that you might not have gotten in a traditional virtual experience.


Justin Nassiri  18:25

That’s incredible. Are you you know, that was the one of the ones that’s been niggling in the back of my mind, it wasn’t gonna ask about but is, is AR seen acceptance in in this industry? Or is that further behind the virtual reality?


Steve Mapes  18:40

No, AR is being used and QR code. You know, they’re, they’re one of the quotes out there, one of the memes is that COVID Save the QR code. And it’s true, I mean, maybe on menus, you look at, obviously, as I said, it’s just in Vegas for an event and it’s QR code city. And, and, you know, between everybody living, you know, the mobile phone is a remote control for life. And you have the QR code, people don’t have to touch anything. It really is a big value. And then then you add VR, or AR augments anything in the in the booth or in the event. And, yeah, I think that’s going to be really important. Going forward.


Justin Nassiri  19:31

That’s great. I know that we’re towards the end of our time, but I want to make sure you have room to talk about where can people learn more where can people follow you or kind of stay abreast of the work that you’re doing?


Steve Mapes  19:44

Yeah, well people you know, if they want to, we have an insights area, on our website, impact dash XM comm that, you know, we try to post a lot of thought leadership. You can also See when our next rethink events are, which, you know, are, some of them are open to the public, you know, to the business to business world. And anybody that wants to find me on LinkedIn, it’s Steven Mapes. At impact XM is my LinkedIn and be happy to engage with anybody.


Justin Nassiri  20:23

[email protected] and on our podcast page, we’ll have links to everything that Steve just discussed the insights area, the rethink events, his personal LinkedIn, as well. Steve, thank you so much for your time today. It’s exciting to see, you know, one, I admire the resilience and determination of your team going through a tumultuous time. But I’m excited to hear like I see that your team is continuing to innovate, they’re going to come out ahead, it’s going to be a great year ahead. And I’m excited for what’s in store for you and your team.


Steve Mapes  20:53

Yeah, I think the industry is going to reinvent itself or is in the process of reinventing itself and it’s really very exciting to see where we’re gonna go and, and how events are going to totally transform themselves.


Justin Nassiri  21:05

Awesome. Thank you so much, Steve. Thank you for listening to May I have your attention. Each episode, I meet with top marketers thought leaders and experts to find out how individuals and brands can get keep and make money with attention. You can subscribe to me I have your attention on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Show Notes are provided for each episode at May I have your attention is brought to you by which turns your webinar or podcast into three months of social media content, find out [email protected]

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