2021 Catalyst Awards: Quantum Leap

Catalyst

Introducing our Quantum Leap Award winners!

Ben Chodor

President, Notified (formerly Intrado Digital Media)

Editor’s Note: Chodor built a dream team of planner-focused experts and developed the tools meeting professionals needed to keep their stakeholders connected at a critical time.

Motivation: A passion for doing what has never been done before.

Approach to supercharging experiences: The hospitality, meetings and events industry has transformed in recent years. Similar to other sectors, the catalyst driving change is technology—something my company, Notified, is committed to evolving. We must remove the barriers that have stood in the way of tech adoption and progress, so attendees continue to have the best possible experiences at events, whether they’re joining in person or via digital channels.

Similarly, event planners need comprehensive, end-to-end event technology solutions and related services to power the creation and management of events, no matter where they’re taking place. At Notified, we have consolidated all the primary tools event planners, marketers and communicators need to acquire and retain customers through virtual, in person and hybrid events, conferences, trade shows, town halls and product launches.

When technology is fully embraced, we are able to reach our audiences where they are—making the experiences more effective and engaging. In turn, we’re also enhancing our ability to report the thing planners want to know most: return on investment.

Moment of enlightenment In March 2020, the industry’s future was unknown. All in-person events came to a screeching halt. In that moment, my team activated everything we could to help customers transform in-person events to virtual, in a matter of weeks. We held late-night brainstorming sessions on Notified product advancements and identified new and creative ways to engage audiences (regardless of their locations). The work was quick, meaningful and impactful. Despite being challenging times, we celebrated the success of so many customers. The events industry has always inspired me, but witnessing the resilience, collaboration and perseverance demonstrated over the last two years, especially from my team, is what has led me to meeting nirvana.

As we move forward, we’re sustaining that ideal and making the “dream” of hybrid events a reality. New opportunities for content delivery, engagement and collaboration continue to emerge—and we’re moving fast to innovate and deliver our product roadmap. We’re introducing AI capabilities to support matchmaking options for networking, 1:1 meeting rooms, interactive virtual lobbies, gamification and metrics, including social listening and media engagement surrounding the event—so whether you’re IRL or WFH, you can still experience a perfectly executed event.

Next advance pursuing: It looks like the uncertainty around in-person gatherings and events will persist well into 2022 and potentially beyond. Although we’re all eager to get together in large groups, we must accept that hybrid is the new normal. But hybrid events are still new, and best practices are constantly evolving. That is why we’re working to identify the best ways to collect and review event data in order to validate strategies, as well as to pivot and adapt the ways in which we structure events and deliver a measurable return on investment to customers.

Lawrence Coburn

CEO and Co-Founder, twine

Editor’s Note: Coburn is attacking one of the biggest challenges with virtual meetings: meaningful networking.

Board: MarketMuse, an AI powered content strategy platform

Motivation: I am obsessed with how software can help bring people together.

Approach to supercharging hospitality experience: We believe in striving to be a force for good for the industry and supporting event profs wherever we can. Our company code is to work to see the good in our customers, partners and competitors. Our role as a supercharger of the hospitality industry is to push the limits of what’s possible with software in terms of connecting people for meaningful conversations and serve as a trusted technology advisor and partner to the entire ecosystem.

Moment of enlightenment: When an ambitious, curious customer deploys twine the right way, leading to joy and serendipity for the attendee. We believe that networking can change lives and careers, and we feel fortunate to get to work on this very rewarding problem.

Next advance pursuing: Virtual networking remains extremely underdeveloped and underwhelming in our industry. Yet the power of software and removal of barriers such as location has the potential to make virtual networking the most exciting and career-changing part of online gatherings.

Dahlia El Gazzar, DES, EWD

Tech Evangelist, DAHLIA+Agency

Editor’s Note: El Gazzar is the reassuring hand helping meeting professionals adopt the tools that will allow them to do their jobs better—and have fun at the same time.

Motivation: Act as if it’s impossible to fail.–Dorothea Brande

Approach to supercharging experiences: Be Smart. Strategic. Intentional. Inclusive.

Moment of enlightenment: When event participants get to make meaningful connections, get eureka moments from content and interactive conversations to catapult their professional development—and go home happy even if they have walked 10K+ steps 🙂

Next advance pursuing: Empowering our event professionals to be better to themselves first, their teams and their clients.

Ben Erwin

President & CEO, Encore

Editor’s Note: When the meetings world shut down, Erwin and his team jumped into action, providing education online and support in the ballroom when the time was right. And is now advocating for safe in-person meetings with a compelling #WeMetThere campaign. 

Boards: American Hotel and Lodging Association; PCMA; YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago

Motivation: Our team’s unique position to positively impact an incredible industry.

Approach to supercharging experiences: We are in the people business. Our greatest strengths are the talent and commitment of our team members. My favorite numbers to quote on stage are the tenures of our team members. We are aligned that our purpose as an organization is to “connect and inspire people,” and that starts with our focus on supporting our customers anywhere and however they want to meet.

As a leader in that environment, it is important to take a long-term view.  The mindset is much more akin to recognizing we are all part of a journey that has no defined end. We focus on building a better tomorrow for our customers and team members, day after day and year after year. It’s about being open to continuous learning, adapting to changes in the world, and using our purpose to prioritize investments. The events of nearly the last two years clearly challenged us to make sense of a changed world.  Ultimately, we strive to be a company where people want to invest their energies to connect their communities on their journey.

Moment of enlightenment: When that moment came, it was punctuated with goosebumps. Having lived through these last 18 months, it is hard to not pick moments that celebrate our restart. We worked throughout the pandemic using our unique position to advocate for the industry and help our customers understand how to safely and responsibly connect their audiences. The promise of our new brand, the commitment to industry education through our Professional Edge webinar series, and investments in hybrid solutions all work to chart this next chapter.

I have been back on the road reconnecting with our customers and team members and seeing firsthand the volume of events growing. The reward, however, is simple. It is incredibly humbling and fulfilling to meet furloughed team members we have welcomed back. My peak moment arrived late spring when I walked into a crowded ballroom to see a longtime team member who I knew had been on furlough. The words: simple “It’s so great to be back.” The handshake: emotional.

Next advance pursuing: We are effectively turning back “on” this great, large business. How, as an industry, do we get back to what we love doing? How do we design events that combine the best of in-person with the advantages of digital? How do we welcome back thousands of team members and put them in a position to succeed? How do we introduce our customers to the many diverse and talented members of our team?

Sandy Hammer

Co-founder and CMO, Allseated

Editor’s Note: Hammer and Allseated created an innovative virtual alternative and helped meeting professionals imagine more.

Motivation: I am inspired everyday by the people I surround myself with—that’s motivation!

Approach to supercharging experiences: We went “virtual” to help create an experience as similar as possible to in-person events. And while we know we cannot replace in-person events, over the last 18 months we have had no choice but to adapt and learn new technologies. We created a gaming virtual space that can give us a real experience, all driven by design and brand. We just cannot afford to be satisfied with Zoom software built for video conferencing, not running an event. In order for a virtual event to be successful, you must feel something, be totally immersed, and have a connection to others. Only then can you really experience and be true to running an event.

When we built Allseated EXVO, we strived to create a world where it doesn’t really matter if you join in person or you stay virtual—you will both have an experience, you will both be connected to each other, and you will both feel together at the event. We listened to our community and empathized that tech is tough to learn and people are resistant to change. I think we are smarter as we head into 2022, and we will keep building to the needs of the community.

Moment of enlightenment: It was when we ran our first industry event, Forward Together, in Allseated EXVO. It was the first time we invited everyone in our worldwide events community to join us on our platform to relax, meet up with friends and have some fun after months of uncertainty—but, most importantly, experience something different. I think after nine months of Zoom, the word “fatigue” was creeping into our daily lives and something different had not presented itself yet.

We created—with our industry friends—a wonderful feeling of event spaces within EXVO. The spaces felt alive; they had texture, color, movement, sound and entertainment. The response was outstanding, which gave us the drive to keep building. Nine months later, we have expanded to creating hundreds of events. Together with incredible industry creatives, we have built some of the most amazing spaces by building on the empathy of event pros who need virtual events to feel as real as possible. No one should be satisfied with just a square screen.

Next advance pursuing: Now that the virtual/hybrid shift is here to stay, only technology can keep up with the demand to make sure we bring the best experience to our Industry. We need to make simple and easy tools. We need to create just as much of an experience in the virtual world as we do for in-person events. The two worlds need to feel like one—always connected.

At the end of the day, it should not matter which world you attend. We plan to introduce augmented reality and virtual reality and to keep pushing the boundaries for bringing more experiences inside with animation and motion capture. We are bringing Hollywood to your doorstep.

Gary Lagestee

Vice President of Customer Development, Clarity Experiences

Editor’s Note: Lagestee and his team make the scary thought of producing and attending a virtual or hybrid event fun, cool and approachable. They are a lifeline in a ballroom, too.

Motivation: Making the events industry a remarkable place to be.

Approach to supercharging experiences: If we asked everyone what their experience has been at events over the past few years, we’d get a wide range of responses. The positive experiences I believe people are looking for at events are connection, education and motivation. The only way to accomplish this is to start planning for any event with purpose. Be willing to adapt, change and take risks, but keep your purpose front and center.

To supercharge the hospitality experience, we have to continue working hard to get back to live events as soon as possible. This is where true connection, education and motivation happens. Next, we need to limit the barriers, so planners have more freedom to make choices for their events. Barriers such as exclusives, minimums, fees for choosing “outside” partners should be removed. Planners can then make choices based on value versus cost.

Lastly, focus on all people across the industry and work to not only make service better, but also to make the industry better as a whole. If you can help out a partner, colleague or provide feedback that gains more respect for our industry, do it!

Moment of enlightenment: We’re in the live events space! Nothing is better than that keynote presenter that nails his/her presentation, and the crowd is on its feet in gratitude and excitement. The musician that brings emotion to the crowd. The event that we got to be a part of that made a difference in the world. The small event where someone was recognized or awarded for a job well done. We do this because we love it and we love the people we work with.

Next advance pursuing: Clarity has attracted a lot of talent over the years, and we have a very positive outlook for the events industry. We will continue to add great people and produce great events because that’s what we do!

Brian Ludwig, MBA

Senior Vice President of Sales, Cvent 

Editor’s Note: Ludwig and Cvent are always looking at what is next and how to make the possible accessible for all meeting professionals.

Motivation: The pivotal role events play in building businesses and communities.

Approach to supercharging experiences: Personalization. Good hospitality is being friendly and welcoming. Great hospitality is curating the experience to each individual. The perfect illustration of this is the three-level system Four Seasons uses to guide its hospitality strategy: Get it right, get me right, and wow me if you can.

“Get it right” is basic hospitality—it’s table stakes. “Get me right” elevates it a bit more—say, the event planner who went out of her way to track down a spare phone charger for an attendee who forgot his. But the “wow me if you can” is where the magic happens. Say that same event planner sourced a branded portable phone charger and had it delivered to my hotel room with a personalized note as a gift and thank-you for attending.

If we all think back to our most memorable events or travel moments, they’re the ones where someone took the time to go above and beyond—to wow you—that made a lasting impact. Personalization is the key to bringing people back again and again, whether to your event or to your hotel.

Moment of enlightenment: In August, we hosted our customer conference, Cvent CONNECT, in Vegas—and it truly topped every other CONNECT event from the past decade. Not only was it our first hybrid conference, proving that our technology, and our teams, were up to the challenge, but it was also the first time seeing many of our customers and partners in person in more than 18 months. As a company whose pre-pandemic business was nearly exclusively reliant on in-person events, that’s a lifetime. There was just an incredible energy and genuine excitement that I’ll never forget.

And then…to be able to share that not just with the in-person audience, but to also bring CONNECT into the homes of thousands more around the world as a virtual environment really topped it off. The experience proved that hybrid events can provide meaningful content, engagement and community across both in-person and virtual attendees—and we can’t wait to do it all over again in April 2022.

Next advance pursuing: As an event-tech company, we’re always innovating. But the breakthrough I’m excited about most is less about technology—because that’s always our priority—and more about how to help the industry capitalize on the opportunity that’s ahead. The pandemic has been a catalyst for innovation, and we talk about this unlocking a “golden age of events,” where more events are being held, more attendees are engaged and events become an even more critical part of the business landscape. This is a breakthrough moment for our industry, and we’re focused on helping our customers make the most of it.

Bob Priest-Heck

CEO, Freeman

Motivation: “Our people.  Freeman has the best people in the business.”

Approach to supercharging experiences: “I have been singularly focused on getting our customers and team back to the work we love, live events. In-person business events are not only critical to our customers but also to our global economy. The catalyst we’ve used to get us there is data; data from our own proprietary research as well as through a key strategic partner.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Freeman has been fielding research with attendees and exhibitors to understand their confidence and concerns with virtual and in-person events. Our panel is now the largest in our industry and represents more than 3 million responses to date. This sentiment data helps us guide our customers, and also helps inform our own business projections.

We partnered with computational modeling software company Epistemix to test and model scenarios for safe in-person events. I was proud to introduce them to the Exhibitions & Conferences Alliance for research to help our industry better understand the risks and how to improve the safety of events. Modeling demonstrated that business events are much safer than many typical daily activities.

Moment of enlightenment: The best thing of the last 18 months is seeing our Freeman team back working alongside our customers at events all across the country!

I recently hosted an all-company town hall meeting while also on the road attending one of the largest-yet in-person events in Chicago. Attendance at town halls has been growing as the company grows. And, this town hall was our biggest yet and included hundreds of formerly furloughed team members returning to work as our company ramps up to meet our customer’s needs.  Seeing all the familiar, friendly faces and the positive comments about being back at Freeman was so rewarding after working so hard to manage through the pandemic as a business while staying true to our culture and values in how we treated our people.

And just as I finished the Town Hall, I joined our customers on the show floor. There’s nothing better than being “back” with our team alongside our customers and doing the work we love to connect people in meaningful ways!”

Next advance pursuing: “At Freeman, we are on a mission to redefine live events. We tried and learned much during the pandemic through virtual and hybrid events. And we know shifting buyer behaviors and the digital transformation is changing everything. And yet, all our data tells us that nothing replaces the power of in-person events for their ability to drive commerce, networking and the exchange of ideas. Our innovation is focused on creating those ‘moments that matter’- no matter the format—through a more digital, personalized, and targeted attendee experience.”

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