Dec 19, 2017 by Alex Carter

An Inside Look at Planning the Nobel Peace Prize Celebrations

The Nobel Peace Prize celebrations have made history for more than a century. We caught up with their events team to talk about what goes into creating an event of this magnitude.

The Nobel events team know they face steep expectations every year. Many guests of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony have not attended the ceremony before. In fact, many of them have not been to Oslo, or even to Norway.

As Dag Kühle-Gotovac, Head of Administration at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, puts it, they are not just hosting an event. They are hosting on behalf of an international institution, and are responsible for the first impressions of countless distinguished visitors.

That fact is not lost on the events team. From months of careful planning in a tradition of meticulous attention to detail and guest protocol, everyone is driven by the knowledge that they are creating something far greater than the product of any individual.

For the 2017 run of events, the Nobel events team and zkipster started collaborating to elevate the guest experience with the best of what modern event tools offer.

The Nobel venue, Oslo City Hall. Photo: Dave Strom via Flickr

Tradition and event technology together at an age-old event

Upholding traditions and working with new tools is a delicate balancing act.

As Dag explains, traditional events involving participants and guests from all corners of the world, are increasingly difficult to police. Those involved have expectations about the speed of communication and processing, and those actually policing the events weigh in heavily about data security and speedy and secure guest check-in.

The transition to digital guest management, whether it’s full or partial, must not lose sight of dearly-held traditions that help give the event its defining character.

Photo: M.B. Haga, MFA, Oslo via Flickr

At the Nobel Peace Prize events, a critical aspect when inviting and seating guests is that they are addressed with the correct protocol – with different approaches befitting royalty, ambassadors, academics, local indigenous representatives, dignitaries, and the rest of the groups that make up the highly nuanced guest list.

Even with the move to digital, protocol is one of the anchors that makes the event feel truly special. So although the team interacting with guests is using zkipster, the tool complements, and does not replace, personalized greetings and the essential skill of protocol.

Navigating these and other complexities is what makes the integration of modern tools with tradition genuinely successful. And at the heart of it are the users of these tools: the events team.

Team collaboration brings the impossible into reach

It may come as a surprise, but the core Nobel Peace Prize events team is about six people. This year, Olivia Robinson, head of European client relations at zkipster and accomplished event professional, joined their team for the 2017 run of show.

Not everyone on the team knows each other that well. But, as they collectively tackle detail after detail with absolute precision, you wouldn’t guess it from watching. Trust and fully streamlined event tools enable teamwork without requiring total familiarity.

As Dag says, “One of the most important attributes to an events team being able to collaborate and work together successfully is trust: trust in each other, trust in the tools.”

The overarching attitude is that each person is playing a part in creating something greater. So when a task needs doing, from helping run electricity to setting out champagne for the king and queen, whoever is available leaps to it, even if it isn’t necessarily part of their main role. The worst thing to do is just stand by and go on autopilot.

That’s not to say all of this comes easily. The Nobel run of show is a grueling 3-day schedule of events, from the ceremony itself to a TV interview, black-tie banquet, concert, and more.

Describing the experience of working through each one, Olivia says: “You have to battle tiredness, as you’re on your feet the whole time and not let your attention to detail ever drop. The camaraderie of the team helps keep everyone moving and supporting each other.”

The essentials that helped the team through the weekend: Joking, laughing, and maintaining a sense of humor, staying calm, and seeing the bright side in surprises. She adds, “It isn’t visible to the guests, but it is absolutely critical that it’s there behind the scenes.”

What matters most for the Nobel guest experience

If people take away one thing from attending the Nobel Peace Prize, Dag says “I want guests to feel like they’ve been part of something significant.” The experience that they were part of something bigger is just as important for guests to feel as it is for the events team.

The way to achieve that, from the perspective of the Nobel team, is to make the platform as much as possible about the content. The event itself must be seamlessly executed and befitting the audience, but not overtake the message.

The message for 2017 was of the laureate ICAN, an organization dedicated to nuclear disarmament, which set the direction for the Nobel events team.

Olivia explains, “The trick is to amplify without overwhelming. For the concert, there was an actual antique piano from Hiroshima that had survived and been restored by a Japanese pianomaker, played by John Legend. It was incredibly powerful being in the audience and listening to him perform on it.”

As with everything else, there is a balance in making guests feel part of something greater without making them feel personally insignificant.

We need to make each guest feel appreciated and treated as a guest, not a number or a nuisance.

The Nobel team leaves no stone unturned making sure each guest has as seamless and personalized an experience as possible. “We need to make each guest feel appreciated and treated as a guest, not a number or a nuisance” explains Dag, and months of planning go into perfecting every detail.

Different guests are greeted at the airport before the event even begins, and taken to their hotels. Every member of the team knows how each plus-one is related to their primary guest. At the event itself, each guest who checks in receives a personalized name badge, and is then seamlessly guided by hosts to their places. Even the police bomb squad is greeted with biscuits and coffee to make their experience that much more pleasant.

When the ceremony concludes and the banquet hasn’t yet begun, with just an hour and a half to spare, the events team double-checks every badge and member of the guest list to ensure no guest is greeted with a misspelled name or given the wrong card. Using a cloud guest list manager condenses what could be an hours-long process of checking and updating into an efficient burst between the events.

After being part of the process first hand, Olivia mentions “It’s striking how the impact of every single guest on the whole event is carefully taken into consideration. It’s something that’s partly manual and partly made much easier by modern event tech.”

© Photo European Union

And ultimately, a truly significant and successful event is a monument constructed of thousands of cared-for details. Guests may not (and in fact, should not) see every detail that goes into their experience, but they surely feel the effect when the sum becomes greater than the parts. As Dag puts it:

“There is no such thing as a flawless experience, but if our guests leave having forgotten any or all flaws along the way, and feel positively dazed by the experience, then we have succeeded.”


Top photo: © Photo European Union