Can You Add Freshness to an Event Steeped in Tradition?

Events like the Oscars are often criticized for feeling stale and old-fashioned, but is there a way to balance tradition with new elements? Some ideas on how to get started.

The Oscars are on Sunday. And based on conversations I’ve had, people tend to fall in one of two categories when it comes to the Academy Awards: They love them, or they hate them.

When you ask people what they enjoy about watching the annual Oscars broadcast, they often mention the fashion on the red carpet, the excitement of seeing if their favorite film or actor will take home the award, and the anticipation over whether a winner will give a totally zany acceptance speech or if the host will bomb the opening monologue.

For those who choose not to watch, they offer up some of these reasons: They’re way too long or too political, more mainstream movies and box-office hits don’t get nominated enough, and Oscar voters and nominees lack diversity.

Some of that criticism, particularly the last point, is valid. For example, in 2016, the Academy faced controversy when, for the second year in a row, only white actors were nominated in the major movie categories. In the years since, the organization has made a commitment to long-term membership diversity on a number of fronts.

But no matter where you side on the Oscars, you’d likely agree the ceremony is a film-industry institution.

Unfortunately, when people describe an event as “an institution,” it’s often a nice way of saying it lacks freshness and innovation. And I’m sure your association has an event or two of its own that would be labeled as such.

So, what can you do about it?

Well, as much as you may want to, you probably can’t throw everything out the window and start from scratch. Many association events are steeped in tradition and feature elements that many attendees have come to expect and, as a result, would be hard to eliminate.

But that’s not to say you can’t mix things up.

For example, this Daily Beast story offers a theory to explain Oscars fatigue. “Interest in the ceremony has waned over the years due to its numerous poor hosting stints and lack of innovation as well,” said Senior Entertainment Editor Marlow Stern. “I’m not sure why the Academy keeps hiring ancient producers to stage it … and refuses to play with the format.”

So, if you have an event that feels stale or has declining attendance, perhaps it’s time to experiment with format and give attendees something unexpected. Even consider switching up the staff who plan the event to bring in new perspectives and ideas.

And if you’re still in doubt about what to do, perhaps reach out to your members and ask them which elements of the event are still exciting and which are making them yawn. Those insights could spur ideas you would have never thought of otherwise.

It may not be easy, but switching things up—even a little—could be a good way to get new audiences to your event or even bring back former attendees.

Has your association succeeded in freshening up or reinventing one of its meetings or events? Tell us how you did it in the comments.

(baona/iStock Unreleased/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!