When C2 Montreal attendees buckle up for a breakout session 30 feet in the air, it is not a stunt. It is based on experiments that show how changing physical perspective—in this case, hanging from the ceiling in a Sky Lab—can change mental points of view. Like everything else C2 (which stands for creativity+commerce) dreams up at the company’s annual Canadian showcase event, it is the result of research into what people want—based on how they actually behave.

Richard St-Pierre, president and CEO of the Canadian event production company, says the secret to a transformational meeting is to put participants first: “We allow them to engage in a dialogue with speakers, other participants and the C2 team.” When people take an active role in shaping their own experiences, it puts them in the role of leaders in their journey rather than being passive listeners. “This will spark new ideas within them,” he says.

Once Upon a Time, There was a Disruption

Vice President of Marketing and Audience Julia Cyboran begins C2’s origin story this way: “Eight years ago, our founders were concerned that business conferences were becoming the same old, same old.” In other words, someone—usually an older white man—stood on stage in front of a captive audience and talked down to them. C2’s goal was to make the speaker experience more engaging and interactive. “We tried to infuse meaning into the experience from the beginning,” she explains. Their marching orders were to mix commerce and commercial discussions with creativity and performance art.

The annual event became a de facto R&D tool for trying new things and then measuring how people react. They tracked the participant journey on-site using name-tag beacon technology, and, yes, good old-fashioned surveys. They watched where people went, what sessions they attended and which ones they left early; how they connected with each other—and how they didn’t. Then the team took what resonated and deployed it in other ways to see what stuck. “We are kind of data geeks,” Cyboran confesses proudly.

Still, the team is careful to not get bogged down in information points. “We make listening to what people want the priority,” she says. “We want to know what feeds them. Are they engaging in the content and the environment? What is resonating? Then we can do more of that.”

The Power of Labs

One of the first experiments was a master-class format—immersive learning with several thought leaders. Other meeting environments—known as “labs” in C2 world—were developed, including the Sky Lab mentioned above. The exercise turns the risk involved in having difficult conversations into a physical reality. “It brings people outside their comfort zone,” she says. “They have to have conversations when they don’t feel stable, and it gives them a new perspective.” The lab was replicated in Dubai and at IMEX Frankfurt, a partnership IMEX Group CEO Carina Bauer describes as “creating the right conditions needed for inspiration to strike.”

A Cloud Lab—an inflatable dome made of parachute material and filled with mist (because you can’t always see six or 20 months out) was debuted at IMEX America 2018 in Las Vegas. “We develop methodologies that speak to actual business problems,” Cyboran says. She sees the ideal C2 environment as one that is welcoming, stimulates the senses and creates opportunities to speak to people participants might not normally get a chance to interact with.

When things don’t work, the team iterates and evolves. “We look at what made something not successful, whether it was too difficult to execute but maybe can be tweaked and turned into something awesome,” she says.

Meeting on a Human Scale

“Our North Star question is: ‘What do the participants want?’” Cyboran explains. Notice, C2 doesn’t have delegates or attendees—those who volunteer to be part of these grand experiments are referred to as participants.

To bring participants into the action, C2 focuses on proximity. Discussions are set up around a 360-degree stage so even when 1,400 people are in the room, no one is very far from the action. That intimate setting can result in some unexpected outcomes. Cyboran tells the story of the time rapper Snoop Dog was a guest on the big, round stage. He started asking people questions, not because it was planned, but because he could see them and wanted to know what they thought. What followed was a brainstorming session about the viability of the cannabis industry.

“Real solutions require a lot of minds working toward more collaborative experiences, and the speaker’s role is more about engaging than telling,” she says. “As organizers, we need to make that possible.”

New Frontiers

Today, C2’s annual event has become a hot ticket. The last event hosted 7,000 participants from 34 industries and 60 countries. The creative production team is playing forward lessons learned and is working with corporate and association clients—including IMEX and MPI—to add out-of-meeting experiences to their annual events. “We really enjoy bringing the C2 ethos to different organizations and creating some of our most intriguing and thought-provoking collaborative experiences,” St-Pierre says.

The theme for C2’s annual flagship event in Montreal in May 2019 is “Tomorrow.” C2 will host leaders from a wide range of industries to engage participants on how to create a better tomorrow through actions today.

“We are really fortunate to live in a world where creativity and innovation are highly present,” he says. “The theme Tomorrow is one that we believe will allow creative and innovative minds to come together to address today’s most pressing topics—climate change, artificial intelligence, corporate culture, racial and gender inequality, diversity in the workforce, etc. We are all concerned about the future of business, our organization, our children and generations to come, but tomorrow is already on its way.”

“We are seeing fruits of our labors,” Cyboran says. “There has been a general change across the industry, as groups are finding new ways to get expertise from those on the stage and off, using emerging technology and innovative formats.”

That, according to C2, is how the industry will evolve to deliver the meeting format of tomorrow.

Read more about the meetings of tomorrow in Smart Meetings‘ “Meetings.2029”