© Chris Montgomery

April 28th 2021

"Let us all thrive together and create a new era of events"

GCB Future Talks - North American Edition, Vol. 5

Kelly Gallagher, Director of Marketing and Partner at Canvas, a full service conference & incentive planning company, loves the challenge to create and plan exceptional business events. In the latest version of our interview series with North American event planners, Matthias Schultze, Managing Director of the GCB, wanted to find out more about her way of planning events during the pandemic. Kelly shares a great optimism about the new creativity caused by the Coronavirus: "Let us not go back to the same meeting room setups and the same cold cut sandwich buffet." She wants to "ensure that our entire industry not only recovers, but comes back even better than it was before!"

Matthias Schultze: The world of business events has changed tremendously in the past year. Do you have any examples of virtual/hybrid programs that you may have executed, and if so, are you able to share any details on how that experience was in terms of execution, attendance, feedback, challenges, successes, etc?

Kelly Gallagher: When the world went into lockdown, all live events came to a halt and so did Canvas. We very quickly realized that we had to adapt to survive. We executed our first virtual event in June 2020 and now consider ourselves experts in executing anything from webinars to full scale conferences. The biggest thing that we learned is that these events take so much more time than a live event, because the strategy behind it is so important. In order to keep people excited and engaged, every moment has to be planned. Attendance numbers are really unpredictable as a whole throughout events, but what we have found out is that approximately 60-70% of the registered attendees of our clients' events had actually logged in to the event. Previous industry assessments of virtual events in the fall of 2020 have shown a 50% login rate for the live broadcasts across all types of events, so we feel great when we see numbers above that. Our challenges tend to be more tech related: Wi-Fi dropping, attendees without access to proper equipment or Wi-Fi, etc. Our job is to improve upon each event to solve those problems ahead of time and we've found a lot of success as time has gone on. But none of that outweighs the overwhelming success we've seen. There are people who have never had access to a live event, who are now participating, and there are speakers who never had the availability to keynote for our clients that are now able to share their stories. I could go on and on about the great things we've seen come out of virtual events, but the absolute biggest feedback we get is this: No matter how great the event was, people cannot wait to get back to meet in person. That's where hybrid is coming in this fall, and we're excited to execute our first hybrid events, soon.

The latest research of the German Convention Bureau's innovation network Future Meeting Space shows that the relevance of events for an organization's overall communications mix will continue to grow in the future. What is it that you need from event suppliers - from locations to tech service providers - to be able to create successful events in the future?

As we look ahead to the future of meetings, I think the word I will use the most when speaking to suppliers is adaptability. Before Covid, we lived in a world where menus were menus and policies were policies. 2020 threw us all into a world where there were no rules and no policies surrounding events. And frankly, we all thrived in that setting. So, when we look to go back to live events, we want to have that same creative experience. Let us not go back to the same meeting room setups and the same cold cut sandwich buffet. Let us all thrive together and create a new era of events that change people's lives for the better.

In our "New Now", new tasks require new skills. In your opinion, what skills and competences will be in demand for event professionals in the future? Are you looking to, or are you already furthering your education on any specific topics/skills?

The obvious answer to this is tech. Every single meeting planner has to be at the top of their game with tech in order to stay in this business now. For all our clients, we expect to see their live events come back fast and furious. But we also see them incorporating a lot more tech. Whether to include a hybrid component, an extensive app for use on site, or to produce a lot more film content for use later. The connection to the outside world during an event will be increasing, so as planners and suppliers, we need to prepare for that. What questions are we all asking right now to creatively get ahead of what that will look like? These are the discussions we are having within the event community as we forge ahead.

To keep up with the speed of change driven by the digital transformation and global events such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the business events sector needs to drive innovation. How do you come up with new ideas? Would you be/ Are you open to collaborate with other event professionals to discuss new solutions and the future of business events?

In April 2020, we teamed up with two of our competitors to take virtual events by storm. We shared knowledge, contracts, nitty gritty details of how we were working, to make our learning faster and more efficient. This is not a normal way of operating, but once we started, we knew we made the right choice. All three of our companies not only survived the pandemic, but we are thriving right now. So clearly, yes. We want to be on the forefront of collaboration to ensure that our entire industry not only recovers but comes back even better than it was before.