Straight Talk With Liz Irving, Executive Vice President, Clarion Events

December 14, 2020

How do you build a consummate event industry professional? Take an endless curiosity and a passion for learning and innovative thinking, sprinkle in an affinity for building relationships, bind it all together with more than 20 years of hard work and experience, and you end up with Liz Irving. 

As executive vice president – head of marketing, technology and customer experience at Clarion Events North America, Irving oversees the strategic direction and integration of marketing and technology across the company’s North American trade show portfolio, including digital and virtual platform development, innovation and product strategy. 

TSNN had a chance to catch up with Irving to see how she and her teams have weathered 2020, and what this challenging year has taught her most about herself and the industry she has dedicated herself to since college.

What is the biggest change your organization has had to navigate during this challenging time? 

The rapid adjustment to virtual was a two-fold challenge. Not only were we suddenly thrust into learning how to connect with one another working remotely, but at the same time we were navigating how to shift from the live events that we do so well, to virtual, which was still so unknown. One thing we knew that couldn’t change was our customer focus. Their needs are always the priority, and this was at the heart of every decision, even driving how we evaluated the technology we used as we transitioned to virtual experiences. 

As I look back, I feel proud of how far we’ve come as an organization. The learnings and experiences we’ve had (and are continuing to have) help us further refine our offerings and define who we will be as an organization, as well as the products we will offer going forward. 

How do you think the industry will be most changed going forward?

I believe the development of technology is changing the face of our industry. These new and evolving platforms are allowing organizers to meet customers’ needs in new ways, create more opportunities for connection and further extend our event reach into new markets – even attracting audiences who may not attend our live events. Through all of this, we now have a unique opportunity to focus on connections made and now utilize data to create really personalized experiences that offer more value than ever before.  

Is virtual here to stay, or a stop-gap until live events return?  

There are types of virtual experiences that are definitely here to stay. We are seeing several virtual models at Clarion that are working quite well, including virtual meetings, thought-leadership and product demonstrations. We will continue unlocking opportunities to provide value to our customers outside of the live events. Though challenging, this time has shown how adaptable our teams and customers are. I’m really looking forward to creating hybrid event experiences and using technology to continue unlocking potential customers’ connections before, during and after events. 

What have you learned most about yourself during the pandemic? 

I realized quite quickly [that I needed] to get comfortable with being okay not knowing all the answers and the paths to take from what has worked in the past. The world changed and our industry changed so quickly, I had to change my approach to think more like a start-up to lead my teams. I’ve spent a lot of time learning – from my customers, my teams, my colleagues in the industry, and from my tech partners. Each day I am starting with eyes wide-open with the opportunity to move forward and test new ideas and approaches.

Discuss the teamwork needed this year. 

My teams have been absolutely amazing, especially as we went through very rapid development of our virtual programs and ongoing changes with our live events. Their positivity, their trust in our leadership, their willingness to step up and support one another and assist our customers have been so impressive. As I look around today across all our portfolio and functional teams, I could not be more pleased to work alongside such a talented and innovative group! Basketball is a big focus in my house, so to quote [former Bulls and Lakers coach] Phil Jackson, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” 

What kind of self-care has been key for your mental health these past nine months and why?

I’ve enjoyed slowing down personally, taking time for myself each day to exercise, walk our dogs each morning before work and enjoy being at home with my family. Being a mom of two middle schoolers can be very interesting in normal times, but I’ve found new ways to connect one-on-one with my boys, which I am so thankful for. I’ve also focused on keeping a daily gratitude journal, writing three things that I’m grateful for. It makes me just stop and say, “today was a good day” and reflect for a moment. 

Where is the first place you want to travel when things open up and why?

Yellowstone National Park. We had a vacation planned for the summer that we were not able to take. My family and I love to travel and experience places we’ve never been to before. It’s been a very busy nine months so far, so spending a little time being “off-line” is something I can’t wait to do.


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