The latest edition of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) Convening EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) conference was one to remember. Building on the success of last year’s event, which served the meetings industry in these parts of the world, the 2023 gathering took place on 20-22 September, at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Over 550 attendees (a staggering increase from last year) got together for three days of exploration, insightful presentations from within and outside the industry and structured conversations. The conference theme ‘Let’s Collaborate. Let’s Grow. Let’s Belong.’ was carefully unfolded through the planned sessions but also created a ripple effect into the participants’ personal connections.
The vibe of collaboration and belonging to an industry committed to delivering a positive impact was reflected in what Sherrif Karamat, CEO of PCMA, said: “Humans need to make in-person connections so that we can collectively evolve to face the unknown future. The business of human connections is what we collectively do better than anyone else.”
Sustainability & Artificial Intelligence
As these issues are of burning importance to the industry right now, Convening EMEA 2023 could not have ignored them. Warming up the delegates already with the exploration tours offered around the host city, the organizers made sure we got a front row seat in how sustainable Copenhagen is. Copenhill, the famous waste energy plant, for example, was as pleasant to the eye as it is for the residents, since it transforms garbage to green electricity and at the same time serves as a skiing and recreational facility.
The topic was reinforced with interactive sessions, looking at the challenge from different perspectives – destination, event planner and association, to be precise. According to these, destinations (Canada in this case) have taken upon themselves for now the biggest part of the work, as they initiate the sustainability conversation and align all the local stakeholders to follow a common course. Professional Conference Organizers (AIM Group here) feel that the recent surge in transparency from organizations on the matter has been a great accelerator, whereas associations (the European Society of Cardiology here) state that they cannot control delegate behavior but can definitely add sustainability criteria to their RFPs.
A structured approach came from the white paper recently published by the Strategic Alliance of the National Convention Bureaux of Europe (SANCBE). Launched in May 2023, the paper follows the EU’s Green Dealand the Net Zero Carbon Events (NZCE) movement to create common practices and language across 29 European national CVB’s. In fact, PCMA and the newly founded Alliance have partnered up to set up next year’s Convening EMEA, in Barcelona.
In an effort to expedite sustainability progress in the region, the 2024 event will change its format to include a Sustainability Conference with a tech focus. “The climate challenge is a cross-sectoral matter,” said Karamat. “We want to make the most out of the gathering. Harnessing technology to tackle climate change means getting a different viewpoint, attracting young people and driving positive change.”
‘Unlocking the power of AI for events and beyond’ was only the beginning of a conversation that continued among attendees in the halls of the Bella Center. Veemal Gungadin, Founder and CEO of GEVME, explained how – when utilized right – AI can transform event strategies, attendee experiences and even brainstorm. Conference topics, speaker selection and data analysis are faster, leaving time to the user to focus on more thought-provoking matters.
Actually, PCMA announced its continued partnership with GEVME and their product Spark, a new AI learning and training service aimed to help businesses elevate their team performance and productivity through the use of generative AI. According to a soon to be released Convene report, 64% of event professionals surveyed are now using AI in some form, and this tool aims to assist the meetings industry create higher value events. As Karamat put it, “technology is part of the solution to the sustainability problem.”
Inspiration for Growth
PCMA Convening EMEA 2023 was dedicated in the integration of out-of-the-sector speakers who offered an alternate angle. With the message that simplicity is the only way to navigate through our complicated world, Philip Davies (President of Siegel+Gale) explained that belonging to a community doesn’t mean fitting in; it means looking within oneself and contributing to that community. Simple.
The idea that possibility and uncertainty are two sides of the same coin supported this simplicity theory. Nathan and Susannah Harmon Furr said during their keynote: “The greatest characteristic of a leader is to lead their team through the unknown with a vision of what they want to achieve.” In order to move forward we need to step into the uncertainty, face it head on and create opportunity and change.
This notion of change was reflected also through the words of a representative of the younger generation, who boldly stated that the industry needs to freshen up and diversify its practices and members to stay relevant. One of the most contrarian conversations left delegates thinking that perhaps going ahead means stopping, reflecting and developing a degrowth mindset.
Seynabou Cisse, Event Manager at Dell Technologies, captured the spirit of this year’s event in a phrase: “Growth is measured by what we value more. Let’s focus on people and communities and move past the numbers.”