Re-imagining the Conference Experience with The Event

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Re-imagining the Conference Experience with The Event

By Susan Prophet | May 23, 2019

I’m a member of MPI’s Experiential Marketers and Designers Advisory Board, so I’m always on the lookout for examples of how meeting professionals infuse otherwise traditional events with elements of experiential design. I wanted to share the story of The Event, because I think it might provide ideas and inspiration to try new things.

Origin of The Event

In 2018, three Canadian MPI chapters – MPI Toronto, MPI Ottawa and MPI Montréal/Québec – saw an educational gap and decided to do something about it. Led by the “three amigos” – chapter leaders Ryan Young, Tim Whalen and Marie-France Watson – the chapters examined how to reinvigorate the event model they currently used while mitigating the risks of trying something never done before.

They identified three goals for the reimagined joint event experience:

1. Make a difference

2. 
Unite the three chapters

3. 
Avoid creating the “same old conference”

Young, Whalen and Watson were methodical about the process of reinvention. First, they approached their boards of directors to get buy-in. Second, they researched specific challenges; such as how to balance the financial goals of each chapter with the risk of failure. Third, they formed a 15-member events committee with members from each chapter. Lastly, they re-examined the governance structure for the event committee and re-imagined the sponsorship model.

They identified three needs for The Event committee:

1. Integrate design thinking and experience creation into the fabric of the event

2. Develop a program to grow planner attendance

3. Utilize social media as their key marketing voice

To facilitate the co-creation process, the three amigos and The Event committee came up with a three-word tagline, which they could build on: “Collaborate, Cultivate, Elevate.”

“[Our] goal was to incorporate as many creative, unique and immersive elements in order to inspire other event professionals to rethink their conference formats,” Young said.

Fulfilling the Mission to “Collaborate, Cultivate, Elevate”

I attended the 2018 The Event in Ottawa, and the three amigos and their league of volunteers succeeded in creating an invigorating environment that felt like an un-conference. Many of the creative forces reunited to build on that success for the 2019 The Event in Montréal. Some highlights:

  • A 4-D cycling tour

  • Improv performances

  • Technology-facilitated “Braindates” with like-minded individuals

  • A 1:1 initiative that raised the ratio of planners attending

  • New speaker/learning formats designed to increase engagement

  • Gregor Jeffrey’s keynote on structuring the way you present information (and yourself) to internal and external stakeholders

  • And, the unique ways The Event engaged its sponsors

A Unique Approach to Sponsorships

At The Event, sponsors were treated as co-collaborators. Instead of just being asked about logos and table placement, sponsors at the “Designers” level could share input on the theming of their room and suggest speakers and activities that could be incorporated or tied into their destination, service or product. The Event organizers also encouraged sponsors to send in a video to be shared across multiple social networks. As a Designers-level sponsor, my company shared a video promoting our Sensory Labs. The social media lift The Event provided was a great pre-event marketing opportunity for us.

The Event Takeaways

Not every risk taken was successful. But it doesn’t have to be. As long as you learn from your mistakes, you can keep improving. Following The Event and its evolution over the past two years, here are some takeaways I hope will help you re-imagine what your events can be. Remember:

  • Don’t be afraid to take risks

  • If you do it, they will come (if it’s designed with them in mind)

  • Teamwork works best when you leverage each other’s strengths

  • Move in an intentional direction: Tie innovations to achievement of goals

  • Push the limits, dream big and have fun 

Susan Prophet is the Director, Business Development for Québec City Business Destination and a member of MPI’s Experiential Marketers and Designers community. Based in Toronto, Susan’s extensive experience and knowledge make her an indisputable asset to the team. She has 20 years of industry experience providing economic development to stakeholders and is deeply committed to the development of sales activities and generating bottom-line results. Adept at developing and implementing strategic marketing plans, Susan brings an innovative approach to marketing that she uses to help her clients create visibility in the marketplace ahead of their  competition.
 

Author

Susan-Prophet
Susan Prophet

Susan Prophet is the Director, Business Development for Québec City Business Destination and a member of MPI’s Experiential Marketers and Designers community. Based in Toronto, Susan’s extensive experience and knowledge make her an indisputable asset to the team. She has 20 years of industry experience providing economic development to stakeholders and is deeply committed to the development of sales activities and generating bottom-line results.