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DEFINITION

Nostalgia or a sentimental craving for the past is an essential part of events. We weave nostalgia into events through space, culinary experiences, gamification or as authentic experiences. We connect participants on a symbolic level and evoke pleasant feelings from the past. As event organisers, we are responsible for creating authentic and memorable experiences. We try to achieve this by using different techniques and tools, some of which are presented in detail below.

THE STARTING POINT

The nostalgic search for authenticity can also be interesting for meeting participants. When we are in a foreign country, we are intrigued by their cultural habits, tradition and heritage. On the other hand, when we are in our own realm, we look for symbolic points that connect us. We all love to find and create unique experiences representing authentic and slightly nostalgic stories. Original cuisine, authentic music, special historical venues and cultural history are the core of any good event from incentives to large congresses.

THE CONCEPT

If we are building events on authenticity, there is a big chance that we will trigger positive emotional reactions. Event organisers are responsible for giving participants a clear message, whether the venues have a true historical background and story, or their stories are idealised. When talking about authenticity, deceiving people with copies simply does not work. What value would a Brazilian Carnival have at Ljubljana Castle?

The most common way of creating authenticity to use a space/venue that can create positive emotions. Special venues add great value to meeting destinations. Such spaces are sometimes overlooked and have to be recognised as unique and original venues, giving them a new purpose. A great example of this are often abandoned industrial buildings, castles, terraces, museums and galleries.

When attempting to magically create authentic experiences at events, a whole array of positive stimulators is at the disposal of event organisers. Some are indispensable. First place is reserved for culinary stories, where the flavours transport us back to the past. A great example is the Taste Slovenia project, which is based on traditional recipes. The project enables us to familiarise ourselves with traditional dishes and the gastronomic diversity of Slovenia. During coffee breaks, we can see and touch different retro objects. For example, the Cockta drink is a typical retro product in South-East Europe, evoking nostalgic feelings among the participants from this region. When the participants are multinational, the approach has to be different.

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Photo Credit: Cockta.eu

Many event organisers use objects from the past or artefacts as part of the scenography. These objects connect the audience with the past. A great example of this are photos from an important event of a specific group, celebrities or pictures that spike the collective memory. In many cases, the dress code is what connects the participants with a certain memory or period.

In any case, music is a fundamental connecting factor. It can build a unique atmosphere, but it is important to understand what music can connect with the audience and stimulate nostalgia.

The participants can also be thrilled by authentic personas. They might not necessarily be historically important but are part of the space and ambience of the event and venue itself (e.g. meeting with an urban beekeeper on top of a hotel roof in the middle of the city centre).

authenticity
Photo Credit: Canva Pro/Pixabay

TIPS AND TOOLS

Overcoming space and time

The right selection of our interpretation of the past will be judged based on the participants’ perception of the past. The reality and tangibility of the presentation, therefore, presents the foundation of success. The estrangement of the modern digital world from the traditional culture and the sense of being present is conflicting. Tourism is a classic industry that sells the concept of authenticity, and event organising is its younger brother.

I understand authenticity as a way of life and motivation. This is why I constantly incorporate it into my events. For a long time, Slovenia was full of folklore and rural culture, while the urban culture was overlooked. The feminist tours or the punk tours, which wowed numerous event participants, came as a big surprise.

USING AUTHENTICITY

Achieving authenticity at events can also be attained by using different approaches simultaneously. We can divide them into the following categories:

A. OBJECTIVE AUTHENTICITY

Everything authentic, real and original belongs to this category. Among these are special venues, cuisine or anything that can be confirmed by experts. Some typical examples are:

Authentic special venues: The most searched and used word on our search engine at www.kongres-magazine.eu in 2019 was SPECIAL VENUES. These comprise venues that have an exceptional cultural, historical, technical or architectural value. Using and choosing such venues is the fastest way to achieve authenticity at events. In the same breath, the venue must be comprehensively introduced to participants.

Authentic cuisine: Most cuisines have been coloured by various influences (from different cultures and nationalities far and wide), telling stories of tradition, migrations and a destination’s history. Participants will consequently find the uniqueness of a certain environment and culture in its authentic culinary experience. On the other hand, they might also draw parallels with their cuisine. When talking about authenticity in cuisine now, sustainability and self-sufficiency are far more important to participants than cultural heritage.

CONSTRUCTIVE AUTHENTICITY

Constructive Authenticity is created and recreated for the needs of an event and could also be named symbolical authenticity. In the meetings industry, this can also be an aesthetic simulation. The most typical examples are:

Authentic stories: Events can be a metaphor for theatre, where the participants are the audience, and the organisers the actors. Through performances, music and spectacles we tell the participants authentic stories. It is important to note that the stories should be told by an expert or perhaps even an influencer. When choosing stories, it is wise to consider that authenticity is not found only in the past but also in the present. Great examples are tours that delve into the history of music, art and culture in general.

Authentic tradition:
Events have the power to revive values and tradition. They have the power to become a means of self-presentation and are specifically designed for the needs of an event. Such authenticity is symbolic and filled with emotions. The original merges with the copy, which we interpret at the event. An example of this is rituals, oftentimes incorporated into events by professional associations, later becoming a traditional feature of a certain event over time.

Gamification: By implementing the concept of gamification we let the attendee personally decide on the authenticity. The attendee takes control over their own perception of authenticity. The participant goes from being a passive to an active creator of an authentic experience.

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Photo Credit: Canva Pro/Pixabay

We are often on the hunt for new authentic stories for events. Occasionally, the event becomes a hyperreal expedition through the world of fabrications, fantasies, replies and simulations that end up more tangible than reality. It is our responsibility to make the illusion and reality come together as much as possible. From this viewpoint, our reconstruction also becomes a socially responsible one.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The search for authenticity of events is a process through which an event becomes an authentic one and, therefore, genuine, creative and trustworthy. The fast development of digital technologies, hyperreality and the generally present chaos have created new events adapted to society and its estranged participants. In my opinion, during the current global environmental catastrophes and pandemics, event authenticity will gain in its significance. The global crisis caused by Covid-19 has brought a global halt to everything fake, and the modern event participant will once again become a hedonistic searcher of authentic experiences. Instead of the ever-present simulation of authenticity, we will have to strive to find lost authenticity in the future.

INSPIRATION

Ljubljana’s Plečnik Market is where you can collectively and ceremonially feel Ljubljana’s authenticity. In the analogue age, the market was the place where (besides all the groceries) you could get all the important information in one place. On a symbolic level, its mission is to connect the elements from Slovenia’s different regions. Alongside the market’s diversity, charm and variety of products, the market is also the product of Plečnik’s architecture. I have found the inspiration for events and several authentic stories right precisely at this market.

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Photo Credit: Blaž Pogačnik

LARP (Role-Playing Game) is a type of role-playing game in which the participants physically act out scenarios, typically using costumes and props. The game takes place in a real environment, representing the imaginary venue of the selected world and helps to bring the game alive. When the game starts, it starts to live its own life. Usually, the game adapts itself to the pre-arranged scenario prepared by the moderator (Game Master). The course of the game is regulated by rules, while the players themselves mould the game through decision making. This form of gamification can also be the source of incredible inspiration.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: PROUST’S MADELEINE

A bite of a madeleine dipped into lime blossom tea, is one of the most recognisable metaphors in world literature. It describes the smell and taste, which transports us into another dimension and time. Everyone has their own “Proust’s Madeleine”, soaked in blossom tea, transporting us for a moment back to the past and leading us into the search for lost time. What takes you there?

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Photo Credit: Literary Hub

GLOSSARY:

authenticitythe quality of being genuine or original; being actually what is claimed rather than imitativewww.unesco.org
cultural significancecultural significance means aesthetic, historic, scientific, social or spiritual value for past, present or future generationswww.icomos.org
empathythe ability to recognise, understand and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal or fictional character. Developing empathy is crucial for establishing relationships and behaving compassionatelywww.psychologytoday.com
experiential learningexperiential learning is, quite simply, learning by doing (a powerful way to help people identify changes required to their skills, attitudes and behaviours, then implement those changes for better performance)www.experientiallearning.org
gamificationgamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contextswww.en.wikipedia.org
heritageheritage is defined as “the combined creations and products of nature and man, in their entirety, that make up the environment in which we live in space and time”.www.unesco.org
inauthenticnot real, accurate, or sincere, not authenticwww.merriam-webster.com
LARPa type of role-playing game in which the participants physically act out scenarios, typically using costumes and propswww.google.com
nostalgiaa feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the pastwww.dictionary.cambridge.org
special venuean authentic property expresses its cultural values truthfully and credibly through a variety of attributes such as its form, materials, function, management system, location, spirit, etc.www.icomos.org

This article was written by Gorazd Čad, a seasoned meeting planner, who has dedicated 25 years of life to the meetings and events industry. He witnessed the fall of Yugoslavia, the establishment of independent Slovenia, adapted to the internet revolution of the ’90s, overcame the economic crisis of 2008, the 2010 eruption of an Icelandic volcano, and the 2019 meetings industry burnout…

The chapter “Authenticity” is part of the POWER TO THE MEETINGS book, set to be published at the end of 2020.