What the Association Sector Can Learn from Our Events Industry Partners: Part 2

By Danielle S. Russell, CAE • June 14, 2023

In case you missed part one, a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend MPI’s the EVENT, hosted annually by the MPI Chapters in Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. Event professionals are known for being warm, friendly, and welcoming, but as an Association Executive in a room full of MICE Industry professionals, I still sometimes feel like an interloper in that crowd.

This was my third time attending the EVENT as a speaker. To prepare, I challenged myself to attend not only every plenary session but also every breakout session. I wanted to experience all that the EVENT had to offer in terms of knowledge, education, and experiences from the perspective of an Association Industry practitioner.

Here is part two of the top takeaways for what Association Professionals can learn from our friends and partners in the Events Sector, as observed at the EVENT 2023.

Shared Connections

For many associations, events such as conferences, trade shows, professional development, networking, and advocacy receptions represent a significant portion of their annual expenses. Belonging and community are hard to quantify but undeniable parts of the value that members experience, and many of those connections continue to be made in person.

The symbiotic relationship between the Meetings and Events Sector and associations, spanning vendors from venues to destinations and service suppliers such as AV and registration, creates many shared connections, including common partners and sponsors.

As a member of the board of CSAE (Canadian Society of Association Executives), these partners and sponsors are rarely shy about finding me at a conference such as the EVENT to give me feedback and ask questions. I’m sharing the best nuggets of that wisdom here with you, reflecting what Associations can learn about the partners and sponsors (and their needs) that we share with our friends in the Meetings Industry.

Common Partners

In 2021, I spoke at EVENT for the first time, virtually, and had the opportunity to visit AV Canada‘s offices in Mississauga, Ontario, where I recorded my session. It was also a chance to check out the facilities that had been built out to support virtual and hybrid meetings.

During that time, I met with Tammy Bradley, who I knew through her involvement with MPI as a volunteer. We discussed how event industry partners, such as AV suppliers, were creating opportunities for associations to deliver member value. While our conversation focused on the realities of Hybrid Meetings at that time, which can be a misnomer as planners often hold two separate meetings simultaneously, these discussions between Association Executives and Meeting Professionals can provide valuable knowledge and ideas if we take the time to listen.

In 2023, Ignite Magazine, the voice of the Events Industry in Canada under the leadership of publisher Debbie van der Beek, launched the WorthIt Campaign to help their partners, the Business Events Sector, speak with one voice. Reconnecting with Debbie and her team at the EVENT made it clear that our common partners are still working to recover.

Understanding and respecting the value our supplier partners bring and leveraging that value to strengthen our own association’s member value proposition becomes clearer when we engage with our friends. One of the most powerful takeaways from the WorthIt panel, facilitated by Ignite Editor Laura Bickle, was when Mark Awad of bb Blanc said, “If all you care about is money, I know you don’t care about value.”

Common Sponsor Needs and Concerns

When was the last time you heard “this wouldn’t be possible without our generous sponsors?” Chances are it hasn’t been very long. Many associations heavily rely on sponsors to present events and programming, and in an age where non-dues revenue is crucial, understanding and meeting the needs of our sponsors has never been more critical for financial sustainability.

One of the hugely fascinating and informative aspects of the EVENT is that many of the core volunteer committee members were also sponsors of the conference. By observing how people treat their co-sponsors in that setting, you can discern what they value and need.

As an example – as a speaker at the EVENT – I was assigned a volunteer liaison. Jenny Dao from Discover Saskatoon checked in on me before and during the conference, and made sure I was mic’ed and ready for my session; she was also the sponsor of one of my favourite recurring sessions at the EVENT – the best conversations happen at the bar, facilitated by Jennifer Spear.

In the end, we all know (or should know) that the best and most fruitful sponsor relationships are where a mutual goal or objective can be met through open communication and thoughtful collaboration. Events Industry Associations, as well as Association Industry Associations like ASAE and CSAE, provide us with opportunities to see these relationships in action and find best practices we can replicate when building relationships with vendors and stakeholders in the industry our association was created to promote and serve.

New and Novel Ideas

Attendees who hung around to hear my wrap up of the EVENT would have heard me say, there are no stories, just new ways of telling your story that might resonate with you audience. Aside from the early introduction of VR, holograms, and the growing presence of AI at in-person and virtual events, most in-person experiences struggle to be memorable in new and novel ways.

This year the EVENT sought to ‘Flip the Switch’ (as was the theme), and in so doing took the same old stories, sponsor activations, room set-ups, and PD sessions and attempted to show these elements in a new and novel way that might resonate with attendees.

If you are looking for something out of the box to wow your attendees, there are a few components of the EVENT’s schedule that really stood out for me, from a Wrap Up, to a RAP up, to creating continuity with the choice of MC, here are a few worth “borrowing” from the EVENT 2023.

How to Choose and Use Your Emcee to Make an Impact

In this time of uncertainty, a familiar face can provide a sense of comfort. Attendees of the 2022 EVENT in Toronto immediately felt drawn back into the fold when last year’s closing keynote speaker, Calvin Strachan, stepped onto the stage as this year’s emcee.

This struck me a such a smart way to bring back a crowd favorite in a new role and create a sense of continuity between two events held in different venues a year apart.

The RAP Up

I said it during the event, and I’m going on record here, Rappers – in particular free stylers and battle rappers – are some of the smartest people around; thinking on your feet, making impact AND rhyming at the same time? Brilliant.

The team from Event Rap; Orlando “Zeps” Molina performed a free-style rap based on suggestions from the crowd, before Baba Brinkman brought the house down with a 8-and-a-half minute fully rapped summary of all the plenary sessions from the previous 3 days.

Even though I was gently roasted by Baba, I couldn’t help but appreciate their talent and creativity.

An Unconventional Wrap Up

I am grateful to the organizers of the EVENT for giving me the opportunity to grace their stage three times. This year, I provided a wrap-up of the EVENT using my signature formula for tying compelling stories to interesting ideas and inspiring actions.

My Tuesday Thoughts weekly newsletter was borne partially out of a comment from my 2021 the EVENT speaker liaison – Geoff Mak from Exhibition Place – so it felt somewhat serendipitous to be bringing the formula I use every week to a live and in-real-time demonstration.

These unique approaches and ideas from the EVENT can be sources of inspiration for associations looking to make a lasting impact and create memorable experiences for their attendees.

About The Author

Danielle S. Russell, CAE is a Canadian not-for-profit industry leader, college professor, speaker, consultant and YouTuber who proudly lives life as a practical minimalist. Danielle has worked in various roles in the association sector for over 15 years and is an active industry volunteer, including serving as a member of the CSAE Board of Directors. She hopes you’ll connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @dani_s_russell and become part of her professional community. Reach her at [email protected]. 

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this column belong solely to the author.