“Hello! I’m so glad–-” The audio cut out.
An ashy blonde woman with wireframe glasses and a cozy baby blue sweatshirt shared a smile and choppy wave from the other side of the screen.
“Ah yes!” She exclaimed. “Look at that. We finally got together!”
That energetic ray of sunshine pushing through the screen was Monique van Dusseldorp, a prolific events curator and moderator. This conversation was a month overdue; December is a busy time for events as the tech industry winds down the year.
Dusseldorp is a self-proclaimed “socially awkward person who likes new stuff”. As one of the leading event curators, moderators, and designers in the Netherlands, she builds events centered around technology and innovation. Her extensive resume includes clients like TEDxAmsterdam, Cross Media Cafe, and Next Generation among many, many others.
In 2020, the pandemic upturned the tech industry–events either went dark or went digital. As a response, Monique created Van Dusseldorp’s Future of Events, a Substack that questions and celebrates innovation in knowledge-based gatherings like conferences. The first article of the series was published nearly a year ago on December 16th, noting “every aspect of the events industry is changing this year– but the basic needs underlying our desire to get together are unchanged. So what is the future of events?”
Through ten essays and a bonus story, this digital zine explores innovative ideas about the future of event design; querying if concerts are actually movies, defining meme-making as a social performance, and investigating micro-events as most important to large audiences. These thoughts spark a controversial change in form for an industry that is often reticent to evolve.
These ideas are all secondary to her core philosophy. “When you think of an event, as I do, as a way of developing knowledge together with a group of people, then it works really well. Events basically serve to serve community to understand what's going on and connect to each other.” For Monique, curating is all about building an ephemeral community regardless of platform, creating knowledge instead of disseminating information. It’s an exchange.
Monique van Dusseldorp has been at the center of technological innovation since the beginning of her career thirty years ago coincided with the rise of the internet. Technology has transformed humanity’s definition of community, spinning a global web of copper and ethernet. This has exploded in the pandemic to a booming virtual sector of the events industry, one that has changed inclusion and access for the better.
Virtual events are now an indispensable tool. Mentally scrolling through a rolodex of examples, Monique became excited as she began to discuss a recent online event regarding new World Health Organization (WHO) ventilation guidelines in the Netherlands. It was a rush job–the event was organized in ten days. Since it was digital, her team were able to gather a WHO representative, three top experts in this field, and 150 people who represented almost all Dutch municipalities. “If it’s online, you know, it develop(s) knowledge in a way that we couldn't do before.” Every person who needed this information was in attendance; a comprehensive representation that can only happen online.
Monique’s digital personality was effervescent and filled the screen, but she regretted that she is often awkward in larger social settings. Her first career interest was fine art, a solitary field that suited her introversion. Events weren’t ever in the picture. She’s friendly thanks to her curiosity, but emphasized her love for the solitary nature of curation and research, for bringing that knowledge to people, and for generating new thoughts in a group. “In retrospect, oh, (events) actually suited my character,” she admitted. “But the fact that I ended up there was purely coincidence.”
We were deep in a robust conversation about orchestrating connection in events when the question surfaced.
“What does your life look like outside of your work?”
Monique looked off screen for a moment, and fidgeted with the strings on her sweatshirt. Until this point she had been self-assured and confident. The first true silence since the call began.
“To be honest I don't have any hobbies.” She sighed, commenting on a habit of listening to industry podcasts while walking her dog. Monique is always working, always moving, always thinking about what the next thing is; something that has often created tension between her and her two children. “The event perspective makes stuff in my life meaningful, because I love my work.”
So what is Van Dusseldorp’s prediction of the future of events? Big conferences and fairs may disappear. Companies are prioritizing their team’s social interactions more with the explosion of teleworking brought on by the pandemic. “Companies still need a team to work and function and for that you need social interactions, you need to know each other. The experience part of any event becomes more interesting; the food, the drink, the dance, all that.”
A life dedicated to searching for the next big thing can take its toll. “Every three years, I think, like, I'm so bored with events, I just want to do something completely different.” A busy life of travel causes her to spend time away from her two teenagers and the family dog. She’s addicted to a life of ephemerality and events, unable to leave it even if she wanted to. “After six months, I realize there's nothing else I can do except for write, but writing doesn't pay very well either.” Touché, Monique.
Monique is currently working on a collection of “Future Of” mini documentaries, exploring themes in brands, media, and tech. Perhaps one day soon we’ll see some of her event innovations come to life. Count me in.