John D’Adamo is head of U.S. sales at VenuIQ. Based in Florida, he boasts more than 10 years of experience within the events industry and has built long-standing relationships with some of the world’s most respected brands. His appointment and goal of establishing VenuIQ’s American entity mark a pivotal moment in the company’s development.
The Viva Series, Part 1: Perspectives From the Events Industry on IMEX America and Beyond
Viva, in various languages, means long live, acclaim, support, live voice and more. I couldn’t think of a better word to describe the sentiment internationally around the industry—especially in these last few weeks.
For nearly two years, the events industry has changed dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, due to new protocols of vaccination, masking and more, live events are coming back, and November 9-11 saw the first major international industry conference in nearly two years in Las Vegas, attended by more than 15,000 event professionals.
Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group, shared her excitement for the huge event and how they prepared for a large-scale return.
“We worked closely with our new venue, Mandalay Bay, and our host city on robust health and safety measurements including doubling the size of food courts, education areas, lounges and perimeter aisles to give people healthy and comfortable space in all areas of the show,” she said. “What did we learn? We learnt ‘where there’s a will, there’s always a way!’ and that, I believe, sums up the spirit of our amazing global business events industry.”
After talking to many different event professionals, I’ve created a multi-part blog series in the aftermath of IMEX, discussing the lessons learned and predictions for what events and life will be like in 2022 and beyond.
Part 1: What Did We Learn at IMEX
For many, the last major conference in the events industry took place in March 2020 at The Special Event and Catersource co-located in Las Vegas. As COVID-19 cases began to rise, the decision was made that the show must go on. Throughout the week, phones were alight with events being cancelled with the knowledge that for at least the next few months, life would not be the same. The closing party on Thursday, March 12, 2020 was in many ways considered “the last supper” of the events industry. Thousands had their last gathering, knowing at that point that lockdowns were around the corner.
I flew out of Vegas Sunday, March 15, 2020, the final day before the country locked down. Flights were about to be cancelled, and it felt like I was taking one of the last lifeboats out. Little did I, or did we all, know just how devastating and ever-changing the next 18 months would be. Due to the lack of events and to be closer to my family, I made the decision to relocate to Cape Coral in Southwest Florida. As I reasoned at the time, if we are going to be locked down or if life is going to be static for an extended period of time, at least I could enjoy better scenery and be nearer to my family when it all happened.
Soon after, the Tiger King craze swept the nation, followed by many more cultural events, and we saw an event tech renaissance like never before. With increased importance and relevance, tech business valuations started to skyrocket, with companies like Hopin suddenly worth billions of dollars. As the digital revolution was set in motion, I made the decision in May to leave my position at BizBash, a company I loved for nearly six years, to build the North American market at event tech company VenuIQ, the award-winning platform for virtual, hybrid, and in-person events. While the web platform and white label mobile app solution is well-known in the U.K. and Europe, it’s still gathering momentum in America, and certainly having a full-time sales head is a newer idea.
While we had a great rollout and sessions at Event Tech Live, it was not until last month at IMEX America at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Vegas that things really came to life, not just for VenuIQ but for the entire industry. A few of the overarching threads that were weaved through the conference during the days of the event:
- The human need for connection in the events industry is real. At the time I called it on social media the “class reunion” of the events industry. People that hadn’t seen each other in person for nearly two years embraced each other, cried and caught up. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a long time, as it also was for Anca Trifan, creator, founder and CEO of event planning and production company Tree-Fan Events.
“My biggest highlight of IMEX has definitely been reconnecting with old friends, putting an actual height to all those Zoom faces I got to meet and making acquaintances and friends virtually,” Trifan said. “While a lot of collaboration is possible virtually as this new reality has become part of how we operate and do business now, the in-person factor of people working together, exchanging ideas and feeding off of each other's energy is a luxury that we took for granted for far too long, yet it is so important to how us humans connect, co-create and collaborate.”
This sentiment was echoed by events industry powerhouse Kate Patay, owner of Patay Consulting and chairwoman of the SEARCH Foundation.
“The power of connecting at in-person events is stronger than ever before,” Patay said. “We saw more people put their screens away and focus on genuine, meaningful connections with industry colleagues. While many events can and will shift into a virtual or hybrid format, the power of in person really showed itself in Las Vegas at IMEX.”
In-person events are going to be part of the calendar again throughout 2022, albeit more strategic, limited-in-nature events where the purpose of the event is incredibly important. In part 2 of The Viva Series, I will discuss another way events can be leveraged from a macro level with my theory on the conference as future workplace.
- ROI is going to be a larger expectation in the age of virtual and hybrid. Say goodbye to any event that doesn’t have a hosted buyer program, an experience where either the organizers, whether via a budget or via sponsorship, pay for an attendee’s flight, hotel, tickets, meals and sometimes more in exchange for an agreement to meet, and potentially purchase, from the exhibitors and/or sponsors at the show, as well as 1:1 meeting capability because sponsors simply aren’t going to be there. For VenuIQ, we received more than 30 appointments at IMEX America, and many have already responded to initial outreach. While the proof is in the final conversion, this is going to become a must for any event organizer to include in 2022 if they want to ensure a profitable show with sponsors, especially given the third point:
- Be prepared. Event technology is a growing presence. Are you creating tech hubs and pavilions at your events? For VenuIQ, we shared a “tech hub” with three other event technology companies at IMEX America, and each of us had a table and two-chair setup and basic fabric backwall. The cool thing about this experience was not only did it create a welcoming area in the show floor for buyers to find us, it also helped bring together all four companies.
In particular, we spent a lot of time in and out of the show with our direct neighbor Green Hat Games, a brand-new concept for gamification at events. Yvonne Sharpe, key account manager at Green Hat, said the virtual component of events is not going away any time soon, which has resulted in an outburst of new event technology platforms and integrations.
“Having a localized zone or hub for the latest technology companies makes it easy for attendees to connect with the solutions they have been hunting for,” Sharpe said. “IMEX did a wonderful job with this concept, and most of our appointments began with a comment like, ‘I have been looking for something like this all year!’ We immediately saw the value of our ROI.
This, of course, is not an exhaustive list of major learnings at IMEX America, but they are three key themes that I saw at the event. In my next blog in the Viva Series, I will be tackling the concept of how international conferences and events will become the “new workplace” for remote teams, again based on the IMEX experience. Stay tuned!