Positivity Prevails at PCMA Convening Leaders 2022
While it may have been tempting to sit out an in-person show at the start of this year due to concerns about the Omicron variant, attendees and exhibitors of Convening Leaders 2022 (CL22) stayed the course, just as Sherrif Karamat, president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), urged in a statement the week before the event.
“Our industry and our businesses can and will move forward,” he said. “How this happens, it is up to us—all of us. Our audiences need us more than ever. This is our time.”
With open arms, Karamat welcomed roughly 2,500 eager face-to-face participants to Caesars Forum in Las Vegas Jan. 9-12—in addition to approximately 600 remote digital participants through the online platform presented by JUNO, which also powered the show's mobile app. It was the first major industry show of the year, and he couldn’t have been happier with its success and the vibe on the show floor throughout the sessions and at the networking events.
“I am just thrilled with the number of people who made it to Las Vegas, and that we have hundreds of people online participating in CL22,” he said.
Karamat also noted other attendee statistics, including 47% with 20 years of experience, 10% CEOs, 10% C-suite executives, 10% vice presidents and 29% directors.
“That's a remarkable testament of the level of people that are coming here and also their commitment to the future of this industry,” he said. “This industry matters. What this industry does is a model for transforming industries.”
Hosting the event at its 550,000-square-foot Caesars Forum conference center, Caesars Entertainment was pleased with CL22's success and how well the show was produced.
"With more than 2,500 attendees traveling from around the world to be together, we couldn’t be happier," said Lisa Messina, senior vice president of sales for Caesars Entertainment. "The program was rich with content, and PCMA did a great job in laying out their program in the space."
Messina added that the venue's design provided a perfect environment for connecting. The conference space is on one level and easy to navigate, while featuring a residential feel with lots of natural light and direct access to the 100,000-square-foot outdoor Forum Plaza. CL22's opening reception was held on the plaza, with rich content that included immersive entertainment and experiential activations, such as projection mapping paired with a musical ensemble.
Safe and Sound
Health and safety protocols were a priority before, during and after the show. In addition to Caesars Entertainment's enhanced protocols, PCMA implemented a vaccine mandate and mask requirement for the show, in addition to offering socially distanced meal options, distanced seating options in sessions and on-site COVID-19 testing.
"We want attendees to feel comfortable given the current situation, and offering options such as distanced seating in every setting allows for that," Karamat said.
Vaccine credentialing was handled by Safe Expo, and PCMA also accepted Clear Health Pass. Safe Expo coordinated the on-site testing and overall health and safety plan at the event. PCMA was dedicated to complete transparency and sent health and safety emails to all attendees detailing any positive cases that were reported.
From partners and sponsors to attendees, the reception at CL22 was optimistic overall about the show, the power of face-to-face connections and where the industry is headed.
Being on the main stage as a sponsor and participating in CL22 was particularly important in the current environment for the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC), according to Nadia Vanderhoof, chief marketing officer, marketing and communication division for the OCCC.
“It is vital that our industry shows that we are unified, able to host safe events, and that the convention and trade show industry is innovating and changing the way we do business for our clients,” she said.
Vanderhoof added that the power of meeting face to face couldn't be more relevant in this new world, especially with the supplier chain issues, new health and safety protocols and the competitive staffing issues the industry is facing.
“Exchanging ideas and best practices is done best in person,” she said. “I just spoke to a future PCMA graduate who is looking for a hospitality job once she graduates this summer, and we may have a position open that would suit her skills. Would that connection and conversation have taken place if we weren’t here in person? No, we would have never met.”
Brad Dean, president and CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, was happy about the turnout, positivity and quality of business conversations at CL22.
“This was our first event of the year, and we weren’t sure what to expect with the most recent variant,” he said. “In the conversations that I and our sales team are having here, there’s a genuine level of interest in accelerating the recovery, and most planners we’re talking to are dead set and ready to start booking again.”
He added, “We are feeling better about the meeting segment today than we have at any point during the pandemic.”
Being at the show this year was an incredible experience, according to Cathy Schlosberg, senior vice president of marketing at Encore, one of PCMA's Uber Partners as well as a production partner for CL22.
"It's been so inspiring to me, and it really feels like an even tighter, collaborative industry," she said. "We're all just coming together with joy that things are starting up again."
Andrew Peters, meeting manager at National Defense Industry Association (NDIA), found it refreshing and comfortable to return in person to the show.
“It was great to see attendees back at CL this year!” he said. “Overall, I felt reasonably confident in my in-person attendance of the event because I knew that everyone was vaccinated, and masking was required at all times (except for eating and drinking).”
Peters said he welcomed the opportunity to reconnect with his hotel and CVB reps in person and give them a heads up about future business he is looking to place.
Highlights of CL22 for Peters included the Maritz Global Events Well-Being Challenge and the keynote speakers.
“I always enjoy participating in the well-being challenges at PCMA events,” he said.
“When I travel for my own conferences, I try to get out after the event to explore the city, and the well-being challenge helped me do that at CL too," Peters said.
His walks must have paid off.
“I finished second in the challenge!” he said. “I really appreciate Maritz/Heka Health for putting on the wellness challenge and Vancouver for the great prizes and giveaways.”
Meanwhile, event technology was well-represented throughout the show, with an Event Solutions Stage offering a variety of insightful sessions, event tech guru Dahlia El Gazzar of Dahlia + Agency leading the Tech Therapy Lounge and many of the leading virtual and hybrid event platforms exhibiting, including Hubilo and JUNO, which won Best Event Solution: Community Platform in an on-site "tech pitch battle."
"Face to face at PCMA was a blast for JUNO!" said Josh Hotsenpiller, CEO of JUNO. "It was fun to see people's faces when they realized the virtual attendees at home were using the exact same app and platform."
He added, "We visited with a lot of people creating their 2022 Community Flight Plan, a new tool JUNO released for the event, and the busy tech area proved business event professionals are embracing digital transformation."
According to Karamat, CL22 featured PCMA’s most impactful program in its history, designed to focus on challenges of our day and important topics such as diversity and inclusion, equity, leadership, mental health and sustainability.
“We were very intentional in the type of knowledge, content and speakers being featured this year,” Karamat said. “COVID has highlighted the fact that our society and our world are ailing, and there are so many issues we are facing right now. We all need to address that and start being transparent and truthful.”
He added that PCMA also understands the importance of allowing attendees to customize their event experience based on personal needs such as fitness and overall well-being while focusing on professional topics that are most beneficial to them at this stage in their career.
“We created a more immersive kind of setting with features such as the wellness programming, and micro-learning sessions that allow attendees to tap into topics they are passionate about,” he said. “We are addressing how people show up to events, what they want in white spaces and the type of content that is relevant today, and allowing them to design their own experiences.”
CL22 kicked off in celebratory fashion with a champagne toast to the 2022 Class of 20 in Their Twenties, followed by interactive workshops aimed at addressing the biggest challenges attendees are facing today and a festive and vibrant outdoor opening reception at Forum Plaza.
The opening general session on the main stage the next morning was a hit with attendees, as PCMA showcased Ronan Farrow, Pulitzer Prize- and Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter and New York Times best-selling author. Ronan replaced Dan Levy, co-creator and star of the TV series Schitt’s Creek, who was originally scheduled for CL22 but had to pull out due to an extension of a prior contract. There was even a surprise performance by Grammy Award-winning singer, choreographer and dancer Paula Abdul, who lit up the stage after greeting the crowd by walking through the rows of masked attendees.
Aside from Farrow, headlining general session speakers included Scott Galloway, professor of marketing, NYU’s Stern School of Business and New York Times best-selling author; Mateo Salvatto, head of innovation, ORT Schools, CEO of Asteroid Technologies and social influencer; Wanjiku ‘Wawa’ Gatheru, environmental justice advocate and Rhodes Scholar; and Indra Nooyi, best-selling author and former CEO and chairman of PepsiCo.
Corporate social responsibility initiatives at the show included the Hospitality Helping Hands session, during which CL22 volunteers helped sort and box 10,000 books for hundreds of children in 62 schools in the Las Vegas area. The initiative was done in collaboration with Spread the Word Nevada, which also received $10,000 from the PCMA Foundation.
Wellness was prominently featured at through activations such as Maritz Global Events Well-Being Challenge, presented by Destination Vancouver and powered by Heka Health. The program featured a walking challenge and other bonus activities, in addition to chair massage stations and a stage showcasing meditation, yoga and other sessions on wellness topics.
Meanwhile, Karamat said he was very happy with the success of the labs and think tanks, one of which centered on sudden-change actions with regard to leadership and the new generations.
"My goal when we leave here is that not only are we reinvigorated about the potential promise of our industry, but that we will take away new ideas, we will make new friends, and we will continue to build our economies and our business on this platform," he said.
Main photo: PCMA President and CEO Sherrif Karamat. Photo by Lori Tenny