State of International Conventions

State of International Conventions

Today we talk with Shawn Cheng, Project Manager from MCI Group, about the state of international conventions.

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The world has changed the way it operates and that includes how event planners need to think while working on international conventions. In this episode, Shawn Cheng, Project Manager at MCI Group and President of PCMA’s Canada West Chapter, shares his thoughts on the few things that international conventions are facing. You will hear more about the main reasons people attend conferences and how they need to be re-designed to work in the present scenario. He also talks about using gamification effectively to increase engagement in both virtual and hybrid event models.

Guest

  • Shawn Cheng, Project Manager at MCI Group and President of PCMA’s Canada West Chapter 

Hosts

  • Brooke Gracey, Senior Manager, Demand Generation, Cvent
  • Cody Liskh, Team Lead, Event Quarterback Team, Cvent

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Transcript

Cody Liskh
Great. Well, thanks for joining Shawn so happy to have you on the podcast. Before we dive into the interview. Can you tell us just a little bit about MCI and how you ended up as a project manager and also the president of PCMA’s Canada West chapter? 

Shawn - Vancouver
hi, definitely. First of all, thank you for having me on the podcast. It is definitely an honor.For those of you who just joined. My name is Shawn and I am currently a project manager at MCI in the Canada office so for me, so starting when I was closer to 10 years ago that I'm looking for a career change forsake. And I think at that time, even an industry seems pretty attractive to me. And then so I'm starting to dive a little bit more and kind of looking around.
So the first couple of years, I was looking at, I was doing all kinds of different events from wedding to festival to conference and I end up finding that I actually quite enjoy the conference environment and that that's how I starting to volunteer. A little bit more and taking a few more contracts with the different conference management company and it just some couple years ago that MCI urgently needs someone to come in for two weeks to kind of get something going on. And then so they call me and then I came in and I stay on till now and there's so much five years now. And so, I kind of worked my way with the company. I think for me, that the best part, working for a company like MCI like agency which is I am able to experience and work on a lot of different projects. And that's kind of work what I'd really like it. And that kind of tie into the more I work in the industry, the more Passion, I have to be fair for the industry and therefore when I started to get more involved with Association like PCMA and now the current president for the local chapter 

Brooke Gracey
That's awesome. And I like what you said that you get to do a lot of different projects which I feel like when you're in the meetings and events industry, things are constantly changing. Anyway, and especially right now it's like every day is different. We're all kind of learning the new normal. And I feel like you're the very best person to ask about what are some of the things that are we will be facing immediately and especially for those international conventions. This is on the top of everyone's minds.

Shawn - Vancouver
Well, I think for a domain for the International Convention, the immediate question is when those conventions can happen right that that's kind of come down to two to part. One is the uncertainty on travel. No one really knows when international travel, not even allowed to do it. And then, and that is certainly a large gathering. I know that. Right now, in many cities in Asia and in Europe that day they start to loosen up and the size of the again starting to allow them to get bigger and bigger. I mean, North America, we are definitely a little bit slow on this one. But again, like the uncertainty of those two-part things is really Put out the international conference, kind of on hold on a little bit more long term if you kind of bypass the urgency in us in the next couple months.
Even when we are allowed to travel in allowed to host a large gathering, I think, by that time another question will pop up, which is Would people still want to do that. Right. Like it's, you know, by that time will how, how, what's the percentage of the people who will get familiar with the digital Participation so they will choose not to attend those large gatherings forever. So, you know, those are kind of lagging a bit more near future, the question that process organizer for international convention needs to notice me try to answer it. 

Cody Liskh
Yeah, that's the question right there. Well, people really want to continue to participate. I mean so much has been changing in recent months, what are some of the warning signs that you've noticed 

Shawn - Vancouver
I mean the warning sign right now. It seems kind of not the warning signs but now we are talking about Lou fatigue, right, we are talking about people like a tired of the web, the webcast tire about online conference things and dear friend when We allow to meet. Then we will, you know, eager to me. But if you're looking a little bit longer. We're talking about we get tired of those virtual experience, but by that also mean we are gaining a lot of the experience on virtual participation and you know this a percentage of that kind of like that force us as the event organizer to deliver the better job of providing digital content or audience, but I also mean our audience might just get used to it, or the audience will get You to know what would require more on those type of offering. And so, so then that comes down to the long run. Again, the question is, was so they will not come to physical maybe in the future. What that means or should we give in a different reason to attend. And I guess that's kind of the key question that we will need to answer here. 

Cody Liskh
Yeah. And I remember when I talked to you beforehand, you were talking about. There are really mainly three reasons that people attend conferences. But I imagine those might have to be modified a little bit depending on the new scenario that we're living in our current day and age. What are those three things that people will attend conferences for and how can we redesign each of those parts to work with you know that the current environment that we're in. 

Shawn - Vancouver
Now, no. Totally. I mean, If you're really looking at, then this is really generic but you know you're really looking at a business event, whether it, they are Association conference. or they are user conferences, or they are you know product showcase you know what kind of whatever event. It is Does really come down to like three types of reason and really generates people to come. The one is the reason people need to come in, they need to learn something, you know, whether they need to Continue to educate themselves in their profession earn the credit or they need to know the product they are using, or just selling better right so that the learning is really important for this type of Large gathering and then so you know this one in the near future, when we know the good percentage of the learning experience can be replaced virtually What that means for your entire event program.  
I mean, the short answer is, we will, you know, as the event Organizer needs to look into. Make sure we provide a blending learning experience, which means the learning experience, not just keynote and you break out into the different room and in each room a speaker what just go through the PowerPoint and then go Q&A And then if you are doing a panel discussion that considers innovative right you just that just not going to cut it anymore. That day, you know, like right now and you know in the real near future, is how can we create a very dynamic learning experience that will fit both in-person and online and how can we create like mix engagement touchpoint for no matter where you are participant the content that you're able to learn and engage the participant in some form of way. 
And then, you know, another reason for people come to a large gathering is to network and do business right so Whether it is you attending a trade show which is your visitor booth you have a seller and buyer or even just to scientific like oh two scientists that they met at a conference and they start talking and they start to form your collaborative projects together. So, in the near future. That also means that you know, right now, when we are looking at those programs if we know a percentage of the delegate Will not be in the building. Like before, um, how can we make sure that we deliver the same result. You know, like, we will need to actually honestly it forced us to really looking our job more seriously, you know, because we need in the past, like when we're talking about networking it's let's make sure it's an open bar and, you know, everyone will be happy, right. 
But now is actually. Well, how can we make sure the networking is actually meaningful, we actually be able to create quality connections people Maybe is we will implement on artificial intelligence will implement machine learning into Both the platform for a digital audience, but also in-person on-site to help delegates and help you know our participant to find exactly what they want and what they need and even by thinking about that that also means that you know The value that we are able to provide to our sponsors and exhibitors to our partners that are going to be more tangible and going to be more Reasonable you know like in the past that when you attend the trade show you hope you will get a certain result. But if we now Force ourselves to really provide a quality connection, then that they're actually going to be more tangible. So, you know, in the long run, you might not be bad and last but not least, I think another reason, which is the part that I believe is the hardest part to replace for a physical event to virtual is the destination experience right like Yes, you know, we all talk about we attending conference because we want to learn because we want to do business. 
But honestly, deep down, it's also because you want to go travel right you want. This is a great excuse for you to visit the city that you will never be able to or this is a great excuse that you are able to arrange your family vacation before or right after it. And so, in the new normal that we know 
A good percentage of people were not able to physically be there. How can we try to still bring down little destination experience to the front of the people right maybe That and then you think this is the way to create a FOMO or Using this as a way to really trigger those virtual attendances that they feel okay I choose not to come this year and I regret it for you right now, so I will make sure I come next year and that might be the way that will You know, we're looking at our conference, we're looking at our Business in the future is to give people when we give people what they want. But we give people more for physical attendance. So, the online attendance will grant you Want to come in the next few trends. There's a lot of association data already. And there's the proof record that this strategy works. 

Brooke Gracey
Yeah, you really hit on something there. Shawn that I've been thinking about a lot lately because, you know, when we talk about everything to virtual it makes sense to Design the content so that people are learning and to, you know, maybe use technology or other fun ways to make sure that we're connecting And networking, but I mean the big part of going to these events is going to that destination, right, whether it's London or Dubai, or, you know, Australia, like there's all these like cool places that we can go and we go and we experience the environment, the food that tastes the sights, the smells. You know that really does bring that excitement to the event. And a lot of the reason why people go to events as well. So how do you give that kind of international destination experience in this virtual age? 

Shawn - Vancouver
And that is a great question and to be Fair I that's what I say. I think it will be very challenging and difficult to replace that experience and that is also why When people come down to should I actually attend or should I just watching online that might be one of the big deciding factors is to experience different but I do think that, and this is something that I don't think we as a planner are heavily talking about at this moment, which is fair. But I do think that they are a way to bring that destination experience to the virtual attendance and I think One good example to start exploring is looking at what Airbnb Did right now so we all familiar with the business model from Airbnb, which is you know renting house and apartment for a traveler. I personally Am a big fan of Airbnb that I always enjoy the experience. And of course, you know, during the COVID pandemic that this business kind of got dramatically hit.
But then they start to roll out something very unique which is co Airbnb experience and they're starting to encourage it. You know, the hosts at a different destination to offer a virtual experience of course. So for example, if you're going to their website, you can learn how to read point treat in French with someone in Paris, you are able to attend a cooking class with a grandma in Milan in Italy Or you will be able, or someone from Dubai will take you a secret walking tour with her camera Goes through some of the hidden streets that you can watch, and they will tell you the story. So, I mean, don't get me wrong, like those sub experience that's still not the same when you are physically there. But I think those saw some of the good response, I will see from the hospitality industry right now is trying to try to react to this type of new behavior change. So definitely no answer, but definitely thing is something worth for us to look into it. 

Brooke Gracey
Yeah, those are great examples I mean even like playing some music that's from the area. I mean, we, I think we don't realize how we use all of our senses When we're at the events and while maybe some of those can't be translated to virtual. There are some really cool things you can do. And I, love some of those examples you gave us 

Cody Liskh
I would personally love to attend a virtual conference and have some kind of Interaction with somebody from another country, who's demonstrating a local part of their culture. I mean, that is something that maybe you can watch some YouTube clips or whatnot, but it's not interactive like you could really do and take advantage of. So, it's a really good point. I think that's something that people should probably start taking advantage of 

Shawn - Vancouver
But if you even, you know, like go a little bit further on this one is if you are, if you do still have to do an in-person event in your destination Then what you can actually do is actually made a tour guide to be one of the delegates. Right, like, you know, the people who are actually physically in the destination that and then that actually be the one who shares, you know, his or her experience At the destination and put online and on the platform for the virtual audience and look at imagine how big the FOMO you can create for the people who are watching them at home and they say, oh, Mary, I know her, and she's having so much fun in London and regret my decision now. 

Cody Liskh
I think about, I mean tour guides are really already there. They're already trained on how to make you really excited about the location that you're in. So that's a resource that people should really be tapping To give that international experience. Totally but you know I want to shift and talk about one of the metrics that I think about with international conferences and that has to do with room nights at the hotel that you have set up. I mean, we're not staying in hotels right now. So, what is another metric that Maybe our listeners can use to look at this differently? 

Shawn - Vancouver
Ya know, and that is a million-dollar question honestly, everyone is kind of waiting to see how that will pay out Room night is definitely. I mean, the key thing for me. I don't think room night will fade away. But they definitely need to be not the only metric that we looking at international conferences I think 1 thing that definitely works for hopefully for the industry to explore is the tangible RI the conference bring to the destination Is how this conference that or how this business event that happened at your destination and what kind of impact you bring to your society and to your community. For example, if it's the medical conference that that bringing let's say thousands of pediatric into your city Can those pediatric do something with your community or with your kids in the society and Or how many young medical students are able to benefit of the conference happening in your city and getting inspire and actually decide to persuade this profession, you know, for their future. I feel those are actually The, the unsung impact for a business event or for international conference brings to the destination. I think those are some definitely need to be taking into consideration, if not more important than simply a room night or the direct spend to the city that week. 

Brooke Gracey
Yeah, really good point. Not to switch gears again. I was thinking more when we were talking about the, you know, engaging your audiences and all of that, through those virtual events. How to bring the destination into it. One thing that we talked about a lot is gamification, because, I mean, that's a great way to increase engagement in both virtual and the hybrid event models. You have any ideas or tips or tricks for event producers on how they can effectively use gamification. 

Shawn – Vancouver
I think Before we dive into what type of gamification, how to do gamification for engagement. I think the real question is, what's the behavior of your audience are and I'm actually playing this. it up there right now is if you're really looking at the virtual audience. There are two types. One is content consumer, which is, you know like I am attending this conference while attending this session is because I want to consume the content. I want to learn something I want to see something So those are really more like you know your Netflix user, right. So for you what the gamification would engage me, you need to create for this type of Audience is to create something that makes their viewing experience easier and made them want to do a little bit more During the interview experience. But there is a different type of audience which are a content creator. So, they are almost like the gamers, you know, the video gamer that you are playing this video game is not just because you want to see the beautiful graphic.
It's because you want to create something because you want to achieve or accomplish something right so if that is your Audience, then that will actually make a gamification way more sense that you're able to design something more complex and really trigger people. So, for example, maybe you can go as bold as Everyone is able to attend a conference for free. When you're very low costs, but the more engaging. You are on. For example, the more session you attend the more question you ask, the more booths you visit then more functionality will open That you are able to see a more purposeful way you're able to access more VIP content that is not available for the regular delegates. Or you simply just pay more and to be able to get those assets so that as you can see, this is like complete two different Strategy for designing gamification, but it's really come down to What your audience's behavior is, and you might not be able to answer the question for the exam. I won't be able to answer that question right away from my client. That requires a lot of testing so that that means that we will need to keep going. It's almost like doing the design thinking that they're twitches, you need to keep discovery keep redefine come up with a prototype and keep testing and come back again in passing. 

Cody Liskh
Yeah, this is so great. Shawn I, you know, it's such a great conversation to have. And I'm so glad you are on the podcast. If you had to leave one takeaway for our listeners, what would that be 

Shawn – Vancouver
I think If I if I can leave one takeaway to everyone. I will say this is a time for us to step up, you know, this is a time for us to make sure We deliver more than what we used to do because we know if we don't change or we if we don't provide the value we if we don't provide more value to our audience. They will just not come to your events, you know, in the future, the boring event would just die but the event. We're not dying because all the event going to be super awesome that everyone would like to come and that requires us to be the one who drives that 

Cody Liskh 
It is some really great advice. Well, Shawn. Is there anything you want to promote here or share with our listeners on the call today? 

Shawn - Vancouver
I'm not really by me. I definitely highly encourage; I think this is still a conversation and I love to have the conversation. So please, some, you know, follow me on LinkedIn or shoot me an email. That you know if you have any questions, happy to help. And happy to support, but if you do are, you know, wanting to learn more about what MCI is doing or MCI can do potentially for you. Welcome to our website, which is https://www.mci-group.com/ 

Cody Liskh
Sounds good. And for our listeners will make sure to put a link to Shawn's LinkedIn and also MCI on our website in the podcast description at cvent.com/podcast, Shawn. Thanks again for joining the podcast we loved having you on 

Shawn – Vancouver
Thank you for having me.