Every so often, an earnest college student will ask me for the "official" definition of a special event.

And I am at a loss for the answer. Would that be a big, public event for 100,000 visitors, such as the Surrey Fusion Festival? Or something small and whimsical, such as the combined bridal shower and wine tasting created by Picture Perfect Parties? Would it involve the latest in technology, such as the app-based "Find & Seq" event from Sequence Events? Or is a classic element such as breathtaking floral a must, as shown in a beautiful wedding from Xena Productions?

The world of special events is wide, and in this issue, we bring you outstanding special events from around the world. We have a full 17 pages devoted to the nominees for our Gala Award, which recognizes remarkable work from festivals to floral, from weddings to tech. You will find the four events described above here, along with scores more. Just turn to page 23 and start reading. And I hope to see you Jan. 10 in Nashville, Tenn., at the Gala Awards ceremony, a highlight of our show, The Special Event.

But Special Events doesn't just document great events. Our readers are event professionals—not hobbyists—and so in this issue we also present the results from our research to give you a sense of where the event business is heading this year.

Our annual event industry forecast shows the optimism I've come to expect from all of you. After all, dreaming up an event proposal that involves stunts worthy of a James Bond film, as E=MC2 Events did, or turns employees into graffiti artists, as POP Kollaborative did, is not for the timid. (Yes, these are both Gala nominees, too.)

So it's not surprise that 80 percent of you expect to stage the same number or more events in 2014 than you did last year. For all the data, turn to page 13.

What all the graphs don't show you, though, are the comments that our survey respondents shared with us. In reading through them, I was struck that some of the fears from the days of the Great Recession are finally beginning to fade.

Certainly, event professionals are clear-eyed about the challenges they continue to face: tight budgets, tight timelines, and ever-higher expectations.

And yet, a phrase I saw over and over again in your comments was "better"—how can I make my skills better, how can I collaborate better, how can I make my events better.

Your focus has shifted from surviving—getting by—to improving—getting better.

Not only does this suggest an improving economic outlook, but it is also the hallmark of a professional.

With that attitude, I know you will have a great new year.