Designing Conferences with Lasting, Life-Changing Impact

Sherrif Karamat, President and CEO, PCMA, shares his insights on how conferences can leave positive legacies both for the host communities and the delegates they serve.

Business events, especially face-to-face meetings, are proven catalysts for economic and social progress. They provide positive outcomes for host communities and destinations in addition to event participants. The best business events are ones that ultimately drive business results while also providing inspiration to help improve the world.

Billie Jean King, tennis legend and equal rights activist, said it best during 2019 PCMA Convening Leaders in Pittsburgh: “When you wake up and have a fire in your belly, you can make a difference and change the world.”

The key is for business events professionals to help create the proverbial “fire in your belly.” Here are some ideas:

Inspirational content

Anthony Prusak has attended many business events in his decades-long hospitality sales and marketing career, but it was a 2019 presentation by Gen Z entrepreneur Nadya Okamoto that inspired him to act. Okamoto, who spoke about “Transforming Experiences Into a Positive Force for Change” during PCMA’s Convening Leaders January event, started the non-profit PERIOD as a teenager to provide feminine hygiene products to homeless women.

He returned home motivated by Okamoto’s passion and decided to help TSA agents at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. The agents had been working without pay due to a partial U.S. government shutdown that began on 22 December 2018. Prusak launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $1,000 to provide lunches for one shift of 80 agents. He raised nearly $6,000 in 13 days, enough to provide lunch for all 240 TSA agents.

Prusak told PCMA’s Convene magazine he hopes what he did “will influence others and they will find some way to help someone. It’s a good feeling.”

On-site initiatives

CSR projects are not new to business events, the key is offering opportunities that allow participants to connect to the host community and inspire them to seek similar opportunities in their home communities.

Consider a celebratory event that benefits local charities. PCMA’s Party With a Purpose has raised more than $2.5 million in 26 years to support local charities, PCMA’s social impact initiatives in addition to scholarships, research and education programs. Our annual Hospitality Helping Hands event has both an education and social impact component. Participants gain hands-on learning experience on planning volunteer opportunities while supporting a local organization.

Melissa Johnson, meeting and special events planner at the Public Library Association, participated in her first Hospitality Helping Hands during the 2019 PCMA Convening Leaders event. She said the experience will help her understand the logistics of planning a similar event for her association’s next conference. “It’s really about trying to figure out to give back to the community, but also to leave a lasting impression on the host city,” Johnson said.


This can be a less visible, albeit important, component to business events — adopting sustainable measures that leave the community, and the world, in a better state. It can mean providing reusable water bottles and water fountains during events or smart boards and digital displays to eliminate disposable signage.

Wonderful Copenhagen, the city’s tourism and convention organization, even examined the CO2 calculations of food served a business events as food is often overlooked as a source of carbon emissions. That doesn’t mean business events have to stop serving meat, but planners can take into consideration choices than can have a better environmental impact. Participants may not notice the change, but the business event will leave its legacy.

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