IMEX America speaker on becoming future proof

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IMEX America speaker on becoming future proof

By Rich Luna | Sep 8, 2021

Erik Qualman knows a bit about perseverance.

As a kid growing up in Rochester Hills, Mich., he dreamed of playing college basketball, eventually ending up as a college coach. Then he was cut from the high school team as a junior. He didn’t give up.

Standing about 6-foot-7, Qualman attended Michigan State University, where he was the team manager (or water boy, as he says) for several years, unable to make the team. Again, he didn’t give up. One day, with the team down a player, he subbed in and lost four teeth after taking an elbow to the mouth. He kept playing, though, and made the team, earned a scholarship and eventually played in 17 games for the Spartans.

“For me, that kind of flipped the switch to where if you can dream it, you can do it,” he told The Meeting Professional. “Even to this day, if I run into some kind of obstacle, which I always do, it’s just like, well, this isn’t an impossible dream as that was. That was a defining moment for me for sure.”

Qualman’s message of perseverance is one he believes will resonates with meeting professionals when he delivers his keynote at IMEX America on Nov. 10 at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

A five-time bestselling author, the 49-year-old Qualman is a Socialnomics thought leader who has spoken in more than 55 countries on topics including innovation, leadership, digital leadership, future trends and digital transformation. He has partnered with brands such as Starbucks, Raytheon, Sony, the U.S. National Guard and Airgas, as well as more than 200 universities. He’s a former sitting professor at Harvard and MIT’s edX labs and the founder and CEO of Equalman Studios, which has produced film and animation projects for the likes of Disney, Cartier, CompuCom, Chase, Hearts on Fire, IBM and others.

One of his most popular publications is Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business, and he’s nearly as well known for the neon green glasses he wears.

“What are the habits we can practice each and every day to ensure that we future-proof ourselves, particularly coming out of the pandemic?”

As the business events industry pushes to recover from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, Qualman sees a future driven by digital engagement along with the impact of face-to-face meetings.

“What do you need?” he asked. “You need digital leadership and then you need focus, especially if you’re working in a virtual world. It’s been probably very stressful for most of the people in the room. They’re probably very excited to get together and it’s just trying to help them out from a standpoint of, OK, we got this.”

Qualman cited some questions we should ask ourselves: “What are the habits knowing that technology changes every second, but human nature never does?” and “What are the habits we can practice each and every day to ensure that we future-proof ourselves, particularly coming out of the pandemic?”

“It’s not only knowing the technology changes every second but knowing that the world at a macro level—whether it’s a pandemic, whether it’s just a shift in technology—changes every second,” he said. “Digital leaders are made, they’re not born. Technology is going to be really important, but what’s more important is relationships and how do we use both the offline and online to develop those relationships.”

Qualman said he’s hearing from CEOs who are wrestling with how to manage the future of meetings.

IMEX America. Learn more about keynote speaker Erik Qualman.

“You’ve got a pretty big chunk that think it’s going to be the Roaring Twenties, that, hey, when we get together, we’re going to blow it out,” he said. “The other side looks at it and goes, well, we saved all this money. Now we’re used to having this money that we didn’t pay to have XYZ salesperson fly, have a conference, blah, blah, blah.

“You can’t replace face to face, but when time, distance and safety are an issue, this is how I use those [digital] tools. But you don’t replace the lunches, coffees and conferences.”

Qualman saw his future in front of him when he worked as an intern for one of the automakers in Detroit in the early 1990s. He had to print out and distribute meeting notes and he told them about new innovations: email and attachments. He met some resistance until he told them he could track whether clients actually received emails and could tell open rates.

His career would also take him to Yahoo! and Travelzoo.

“I understand that our attention, the chance we have to change behavior, is very difficult,” he said. “When I’m on stage, when I’m off stage, whatever the media might be, all I want to do is try to get you to do one thing either differently or go deeper on your strength. I’m going to give you some tips, tactical tips and tricks, and I hope you just take one of those that you not only use five seconds from now, but five years down the road.

“Everyone in the audience is different. When I talk about the five habits, it’s going to break out almost evenly in the room and people raise their hand about which ones are their strongest. That’s the beauty of an event like this. Just kind of reset to your strength, but also hopefully take away one tactical piece.”


Nov. 8-10, 2021
Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

Nov. 8, Smart Monday powered by MPI: Shimi Kang, Harvard-trained physician, author and global entrepreneur

Nov. 9: Radha Agrawal, co-founder, CEO and chief community architect of Daybreaker

Nov. 10: Erik Qualman, author, Socialnomics thought leader

Learn more about IMEX America speakers.



Rich Luna

Rich Luna is Director of Publishing for MPI and Editor-in-chief of The Meeting Professional.