Seeing Chris Nikic become the first person with Down Syndrome to complete an IRONMAN this week made me wonder how much of an influence his efforts will have on other people. It is a remarkable achievement in itself for Chris as a 21-year-old man, and for anyone who swims 3.8km, cycles 180km, and then runs a marathon - not to mention everything it takes to get to the start line. This is also a great reminder of the potential influence of the events and experiences that you and I provide. The potential both as a platform for individuals to achieve amazing things - and also - for those experiences to have a ripple effect on so many others.
So much will have been behind Chris achieving this, but it was the event that will have provided the galvanising goal, a journey, and the platform to express his capabilities. Chris's story has been shared globally, and his ‘1 per cent better every day’ mantra is an example of how a message can spread on the back of an event, and the experiences that they produce can capture our hearts, and then influence our minds.
I’m sure Chris’s experience will inspire many other people with Down Syndrome to achieve many more things, that may or may not be to complete an Ironman, but I would bet it will inspire them in many other ways, the people around them, and in fact, all of us, to take on new and challenging experiences.
Chris also reminded me of the powerful platform we have in our hands as event organisers, and how rewarding it is to see the influence our events can have on people.
I remember Kurt Fernley, the great Paralympian and all-round champion person, speak on Australia Day a few years ago about how he had been influenced as a young man growing up in a wheelchair in a small country town. Kurt recalled seeing the 'Australia Day 10 K' road race on TV, from around the streets of Sydney, and how that event had opened up his eyes to what he could achieve in his life. This event showcased to him, that these people were like 'superhumans' and that people like him, were doing things like that.
As our team had been delivering those events, it was a nice reminder of some of the outcomes that do come from our work.
Of course, it’s not to say that one event has contributed to all the amazing things that Kurt Fearnley has achieved, there is so much more to it than that, but just knowing that events that we organised had played this type of role, in a person who has gone on to achieve so much, is very rewarding. And what he has achieved since that event, without doubt, has caused an immense ongoing ripple effect on people around the world.
The Influence of Your Experiences
So, it’s just nice to know that what we are producing and selling in the event business, is a little bit more than just about a product or a service.
The experiences we provide influence people’s lives in many ways, before during and after the events, at a meaningful level, and at scale.
Can you think of any influence your events have had on people? In small ways or bigger ways? On just 1 person? Or maybe even more? All of us, no matter what your background, are influenced by the events that we experience. If you think back in your own life I’m sure there will have been events whether you were there or watching have had an influence in the path that you’ve taken, and maybe even some of the interests and choices that you are still making.
Dylan Alcott is also a guy who we have seen achieve great things on the field of play, but has also used events, and offer experiences such as the 'Ability Fest' to be an influential platform from which he can have a broader influence on society.
All sorts of events have influenced us all, and they have played a significant role in shaping societies throughout history.
A current example is in the opportunities for women in sport, which is undergoing a dramatic transformation, and some of the critical drivers of this have emerged from influential events.
I love a good doco and have always been a big fan of the ESPN '30 for 30' series (ESPN are a former client), and the recent episode told a great story about how a couple of significant events influenced society in a significant way.
The 'Six who Sat' tells the story of how before the 1970s, women were not welcome at the world’s great marathons (remarkably, given how recent it was), and in fact they weren't really encouraged at many running events at all!
However, it took a few brave pioneers, and a couple of events, to really challenge that system. And a lot of it came in a protest at the New York City Marathon, that has forever changed women’s ability to participate in sport.
In the fall of 1972, the New York City Marathon organizer Fred Lebow contacted The New York Times and told reporters to come to the start line of the race, promising a sight they would not want to miss.
This was the first New York City Marathon in which women’s results would count, as remarkably women had been barred from road races since 1961 (experts claimed distance running was damaging to their health! Some officials infamously warned that a woman’s uterus might fall out should she attempt to run such distances!!!).
In the race were six women, and as they approached the start line they sat instead of ran, creating a moment, which had an influence well beyond that moment. And it produced more than just a great photo moment, the event has been cited as a major catalyst to change the way that women were considered in sport, and for opening up wider participation in events.
Fast forward to 2020, and just under half all marathon finishers in the US are women.
Events have continued to play this role, at an individual and community level, and even at a national and international level - as game-changing events.
In a fascinating example which may now repeat itself in the coming years, author Daniel Coyle looked at the ‘ignition event’ of people who go on to achieve great things, in what he calls the 'Talent Code’. From this research, Danny found many examples of events being the catalyst to changing lives, not just of individual cases, but also across a nation.
In one case he explored was in a whole generation of female golfers emerging from South Korea, where over a 10 year period, Korean women went from having very little involvement in golf, to massive participation, and dominance at elite levels (winning 1/3rd of all global tournaments). The 'influential event' causing this was on May 18, 1998, when Se Ri Pak won the LPGA Championship. What happened next was that Se Ri Pak became a national icon, and caused many young women to believe “if she can do it, why can’t I” - creating a chain reaction in young Koreans, to believe they too could be world-class golfers.
Which is a great example, but also more proof of how the influence of events can be significant and immense. At an individual level, on a global and intergenerational scale.
One by One makes many. Influencing Generations and Nations
Influencing from 2020 to beyond - event platforms into new pathways
One event that is still fresh in our minds, largely due to its success, but also due to the fact it was one of our last events held, was the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup. I was lucky to play a small role in the Experience Design, but the event was brilliantly delivered (winning Australian Event of the Year, and being the most watched women's global sports event), and so, I am sure is having an immense ripple effect on the choices that young woman are currently making - and also - on the attitudes and beliefs of young men. And in fact, an influence of many of us in this side of the world, and those around the world who witnessed 86 thousand fans attend the Final, and the surrounding spirit it generated.
So to me, and I hope for you , this is all a reminder that as event providers we are all able to have a significant influence with our events, in many ways, on many people, for a long time.
So as our events start to re-emerge it is a great reminder of the influence that you can have, in big ways or even in small subtle ways the experience you provide will matter the most. And along with the pathways you put around these experiences, it will decide whether people will sign up and show up again, what they will remember, what they will say about your event, and how much influence it can have.
And so, if I can help you design or redesign your experiences, please just let me know.