Which Way To The After-Party?

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Following the last show of a performance, everyone involved in the production gets together and celebrates. The “cast party” has long been an entertainment tradition – from high school musicals to Saturday Night Live. It’s an opportunity for all to release the tension and anxiety that comes with acting in front of a live audience.

Other events have a similar tradition. It’s called an “after-party.” As the name implies, it’s the party after the event. Even big parties can have their own after-parties.

If you search “after-party” on the internet, you’ll get definitions galore, references to a video game, and a couple of claims that the first after-party occurred in either 1961 or 1945.

But don’t believe everything you read on the internet, especially if it’s something that pops up on your favorite search engine. When it comes to algorithms, it’s “garbage in, garbage out.”

A human search engine (a.k.a., a historian) would immediately look for the earliest recorded mention in the proper context.

A quick review of old newspapers indicates the term was in use by 1903. The Cosy Restaurant, courtesy of E.M. Hegglund, Proprietor, advertised his establishment was “Just the Place for a Sunday Dinner, An After-Party Lunch.” (Pierre Weekly Free Press, Pierre, South Dakota, December 17, 1903, page 7)

Not only that, but a description of the turn of the century happening sounds strikingly familiar.

“After-theater parties and suppers are affairs of long standing, but after-party suppers are rather a recent fad… The scene of the after-party festivities is in some one of the dairy lunchrooms down town, and as the hour chosen is well along in the wee sma’ ones, the young people have the places very much to themselves.” (The Indianapolis Journal, Indianapolis, Indiana, February 7, 1904, page 29).

You know after-parties were a serious problem when, in 1904, the President of De Pauw University issued an edict that said, in part, “On nights when functions or college exercises are in progress girls or boys shall not remain away from their rooms later than 10 p.m. No after-party, after-church, after-service calls will be allowed.” (“No Dances, No Cards, Chaperones Everywhere,” The South Bend Tribune, January 19, 1904, page 9).

Today, the after-party represents a rite of decompression. Following a period of densely packed heightened tension, an after-party gives you a chance to unwind, take it easy, and, yes, bask in the glory of what you’ve just accomplished.

Fate blessed me with the opportunity to have played a major role in organizing national and regional trade conventions. They were fun, they were hard work, and they were quite satisfying. At the end, we all gathered together at some agreed upon spot, sat down, and enjoyed not so much what we had just done (that took time to settle in), but simply that we were done.

To say we were exhausted would be an understatement. Oh, what a relief to know you no longer had to stick to a tight, highly scripted, schedule.

There was one other thing about these conferences. They were all in-person. They were just like every other conference you’ve attended. This made the overall job of the organizers and the attendees easy. Everyone knew what to expect.

In the Age of Covid, there are no in-person conferences. All conferences are virtual.

Virtual conferences are not new. Over the past few years, I’ve attended several. And they have their advantages.

First, you don’t have to travel. That saves you time and money.

Second, you don’t have to stay in a hotel. That also saves you money (and time if you’ve ever had to wait forever for an elevator).

Finally, it’s much easier to multi-task, which includes implementing what you just learned in a session.

Of course, there are counterpoints. Some people like to travel. Some like the disruption of staying in a hotel (as well as experiencing the amenities that come along with many of our finer lodging establishments). Of course, some just like meeting people face-to-face.

Attending virtual conferences, therefore, represents a trade-off between lower costs/higher efficiencies and getting out of a rut/socializing. You may have preferences that differ from your neighbor. Such is the nature of the freedom to choose.

Yet right now you do not have the option to choose. You and all of us must conduct our conference business on a virtual basis.

This is where the excitement starts.

You see, I just hosted my first virtual trade conference. It was national in scope and lasted two and a half days. Here is an amazing thing I learned that I can share with you.

The most important lesson is that a virtual conference is not an in-person conference. The failure I’ve seen in other attempts enlightened my own efforts.

Here’s what I mean.

Many are too tempted to merely duplicate “brick by brick” all things an in-person conference has. But not everything translates precisely. For example, you can’t give a lively in-person presentation, complete with props and pyrotechnics, in a remote situation. The impact is not the same. In fact, it probably comes off as distracting, pretentious, or, worse, boring.

This is the problem with most webinars. They’re conducted like in-person seminars. Folks, we’re talking two different forms of media here. Why would you think what works in one works in the other? Imagine doing a radio show that expects the audience to see two nearly identical pictures and guess what’s missing in one. That works for TV, but not radio.

Virtual conferences have the power of the electronic engagement. You can interact with your wired audience in ways that you can never achieve with your in-person audience. These are the presentation tools you should explore, emphasize, and exhibit. Leave the fireworks for the Fourth of July.

By this way, the “translation” mistake occurs in arenas beyond trade conventions.

You’ve probably noticed the difference between the recent party conventions as they each tried their hand with remote meetings. One tried to duplicate what had always been done in the past and lost viewership with each succeeding night. The other took advantage of the new media and saw its audience grow each night.

Here’s a place where this matters and it hits much closer to home: education.

On-line learning is not new. It has been around for a while. In the early years, it was nothing more than a professor giving a hour-long lecture – just like in the real classroom. Today, it isn’t anything like that.

As our secondary schools venture forth into the new media of remote learning, teachers and administrators, along with parents and students, will discover you can’t simply overlay the old way of teaching onto the new technology.

I’ve been advising every teacher I know to teach to the computer camera and place your back to the in-room students. Your audience is no longer the physical classroom, but the virtual classroom. The tricks that worked so well within the walls of the schoolroom won’t necessary be as effective in the on-line world.

Learn new tools. Learn new tricks. Be amazed at what it feels like to rediscover your profession.

Do this and you’ll find each day’s lesson is not just a page in the syllabus, but an amazing event.

Now, which way to the after-party?

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