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Awakening the Senses at the EVENT 2019


By: Jess Poon | May 13, 2019

Hundreds of meeting professionals from across Canada gathered at Hotel Bonaventure in Montréal for the second edition of the EVENT on April 4-6, 2019. A collaboration between MPI Ottawa, MPI Toronto, and MPI Montréal/Québec, the EVENT strives to challenge the typical conference format and showcase ways to disrupt the meetings industry. all while elevating the attendee experience.

Studies have shown that sensory stimulation not only drives our attention and decision making, but also plays a large part in memory formation and association. The more senses are engaged at once, the more vivid a memory will be. With that in mind, this year’s event was built around the theme Sensoryship, where every element was designed to boost creativity and stimulate awareness with each of our seven senses.

I’d say they hit it out of the ballpark.

The sensoryship adventure commenced after an empowering morning at MPI Ottawa’s Global Meetings Industry Day event. We boarded the inaugural Rallye On The Rails: a partnership between VIA Rail and the MPI Foundation that showcased innovation and education in a different environment. Sponsored by Conventions Regina, we departed from Ottawa in a private train car and were inspired by two speakers from Saskatchewan who taught us how to set intentional goals to live a meaningful life.

Intention played a huge role in designing the EVENT. Every element throughout the two and a half days was well thought out to elevate the attendee experience to a new level. From sight, smell, touch, hearing, taste, balance and proprioception (sensing the position and movement of one’s own body), the organizers ensured that every crevice of the convention floor was dedicated to a specific sense that connected us at an emotional level.

Thursday night kicked off with the Opening Mixer, sponsored by Hotel Bonaventure, which tantalized our senses in intriguing ways. Upon arrival, the registration desk had its own sensory area where attendees were encouraged to customize and scent-erize their name badge. Surprising many was the “aroma jockey”, who teased our noses with a mix of natural essential oils that corresponded to the beat of the music and set the ambiance. It was the first time I could “smell music” and did it ever smell awesome!


“Think with your senses, feel with your mind” was the motto I woke up eagerly embracing on Friday morning. Ottawa Tourism and Shaw Centre, in collaboration with Freeman Audio Visual and Mastermind Event Rentals, showcased Canada’s four seasons in the plenary room in a creative, eye-popping way that made us fall in love with them even more. Charismatic emcee, Daniel Dõ, introduced Speakers’ Spotlight’s Gregor Jeffrey, the first keynote presenter who had the audience raving for days about his talk on Neurocommunication: The Science of Influence. Later, award-winning Canadian storm chaser George Kourounis and motivational speaker, Sébastien Sasseville, also both wowed us with their personal triumphs, tribulations, and heart-touching stories.



Attendees were encouraged to recharge in between sessions by taking a moment in the meditation room or quiet hallway, or by putting on a pair of silent disco headphones and boogie-ing on the dancefloor. As we learned that there are four types of thinkers, I imagine each of us prefers to revitalize our brains differently as well! Delegates expressed appreciation for the variety of engagement experiences with which to refuel.

After all, how could you say no to dancing to Queen B in the middle of the afternoon for a pick me up?!




Rather than offering a traditional sandwich buffet in the hallway or a meal room with round tables, we were invited to pop over to the FOODERY to fuel up throughout the day. Curated by some of the awesome Partners (that is “the EVENT speak” for Sponsors), including Tourism Richmond, Fredericton Tourism, Discover Saint John, Meetings + Conventions Calgary and Tremblant Resorts, the FOODERY provided more than just meals, it delivered an experience. The room was set-up in a playful and welcoming way that allowed different types of interactions. In between the fiddle and spoon music, caviar tasting and tealeaf readings, were the DIY trail mix and DIY noodle bars. We also had the opportunity to savour the moment through a combination of two-way dialogue and live culinary lessons led by Trevor Lui. On the other side of the room, blind wine-pairing sessions with certified sommelier, Heather Lockwood, were elevating our wine knowledge while heightening our sense of smell.

To tell you the truth, I was all for that sensory overload!




Nearby hallways led to the experiential labs designed by other strategic Partners. Caesar’s Windsor, Québec City Business Destination and Hotels Red Deer held breakout sessions that were a perfect mix of meeting planning education and sensoryship experiences. I loved the diversity of the sessions and how they can be integrated into my own meetings—whether that be a board retreat, an exhibit hall or a plenary room.

Besides the breakout rooms, untraditional sessions such as the “improv lab” by Explore Edmonton, the “mountain getaway” lounge by Banff & Lake Louise Tourism, “bar sessions” by Tourism Saskatoon, a live quartet by Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and Yukon Convention Bureau’s cheekily branded washrooms were well received for their ingenuity and learning opportunities. They offered new ways to connect with others, while sharpening our soft skills. Social and emotional intelligence are just as important in the workplace as traditional know-how. An innovative feature from 2018, the “braindates” format was brought back in collaboration with e180 and Tourism Winnipeg to connect attendees through collaborative learning. Delegates were encouraged to facilitate or attend braindates anytime throughout the EVENT, in one-on-one or small group knowledge sharing sessions.



98 braindates were held in just under 48 hours. I’d consider that our own version of a hat trick!




Friday evening’s reception sponsored by Tourisme Montréal did not miss a beat as we were transported to a soirée of spectacle and exhilaration with Cirque Éloize. Interactive food stations were delivered in an inventive way while energetic circus artists and acrobats awed us with their impeccable physical feats.




This year, the EVENT was able to sponsor 53 planners through the INITIATIVE program, providing opportunities to grow, learn and collaborate with meeting professionals across the country. This is a big undertaking and wouldn’t have been made possible without the generous INITIATIVE sponsors. When an event has an even ratio of planners to suppliers, there is an increase in ROI for everyone. The MPI Ottawa Chapter itself proudly sponsored two planners to attend.

The EVENT has not only raised the bar on meetings in Canada for a second year, but also brought back the snap, crackle, and pop. I am beyond excited for next year, as 2020 is set to take place at The Westin Prince, Toronto on April 2-4. Mark your calendars now; we are expecting a sell out! Will you be attending?

Watch the wrap up video here!



Written by Jess Poon, MPI Ottawa Director of Member Events,

Canadian Cardiovascular Society



Ryan Young, co-founder of the EVENT, Brookstreet Hotel

Article edited by Melanie Hudson, National Association of Federal Retirees



Jess Poon
MPI Ottawa Director of Member Events at Canadian Cardiovascular Society

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