REVIEW: What happened at PCMA's Convening EMEA?

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Convening EMEA PCMA Festival of Vienna dinner at MAK Museum. Photo Credit: ami

The second annual Convening EMEA conference, organised by PCMA, the association for professional convention managers, was held at Vienna’s Messe Wien Exhibition Congress Center. Holly Patrick reports.

Under the banner ‘Together we move forward’ hundreds of meeting professionals gathered in Vienna last week - the world’s most 'liveable' city according to one index - for a meeting which faced the challenges of the present with a view to safeguarding the future. 

The omnichannel meeting, hosted by event emcee and broadcaster David Meade, convened around 400 business event professionals in-person and online and, in one way or another, almost every session came back to the idea of sustainability.

The event itself was certified by the Austrian Ecolabel for Green Meetings. Each delegate was given a travel pass to use on Vienna’s trams, busses, metro, and suburban rail, which allowed delegates to explore the city in a relatively low-impact way.  

Technology, sustainability and the future of meetings were highlighted in futurist Gerd Leonhard’s opening keynote on what meetings will look like in 10 years. He emphasised the need for the industry to focus on sustainability, because 'two degrees of warming will be tough on us, but four or five degrees of warming will result in 600 million climate refugees'.

The conversation carried on with a session on goals and measurement – The key to delivering sustainable events. The panel first polled the audience on what questions they wanted answering, and following a quick show of hands, discussed the major sustainability threats, what sustainability woes keep event professionals up at night and where to start your organisation’s sustainability journey. Lisa VanRosendale, senior vice president at Freeman and session panellist said, “Pick one thing and go for it. It could be something as simple as moving to using sustainable materials or reusing your existing materials.” 

Networking breaks, punctuated with Viennese snacks and free-flowing coffee, allowed delegates to reconnect and discuss learnings from the content sessions.

Following lunch, Kenes Group CEO, Ori Lahav and AFEA Travel and Congress Services CEO, Sissi Lygnou discussed budgeting in uncertain times and shed light on how lead-times have changed, how to develop new risk module strategies and how to apply practical hybrid event budgeting. 

We have to move from awareness to ownership, let’s change our mindset from victims to changemakers.
Sherrif Karamat.

The first day culminated in a Festival of Vienna dinner at the Museum of Applied Arts where guests ogled the gallery’s permanent ‘Vienna 1900’ collection, starring works by Gustav Klimt and sampled Viennese cuisine at the pop-up food market. 

A half-day content programme on the second and final day covered various topics, from attracting new audiences without ‘reinventing the wheel’ to having difficult conversations. The latter, led by PCMA's '20 in their 20s', saw the audience (optionally) blindfolded to eliminate visual unconscious bias, while three presenters covered sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion, and mental health. At the end of the presentations, the audience was asked to discuss the challenges surrounding these topics and pledge action to tackle the issues. 

Following a discussion on the negative impact that sending and receiving emails out of office hours has on our mental health, Mylene Gagnon, vice president of sales and convention services at Business Events Montréal, pledged to schedule emails to send during office hours, instead of emailing at any hour of they day. A small but impactful pledge. 

Sherrif Karamat, president and CEO of PCMA and CEMA, closed the conference with David Meade and guests in a final keynote session on the main stage. Karamat noted that as meeting professionals, we need to start framing things as “happening for us” instead of “happening to us”.

He added that Covid-19 was a wake-up call. “We need to stop talking and start acting," he said. "When something happens, it shouldn’t be up to someone else to fix it. We have to move from awareness to ownership, let’s change our mindset from victims to changemakers. He explained that we don’t need to “boil the whole ocean or eat the whole elephant,” instead we need to do a bunch of little things because “little things have an impact.” 

Jamie Bennet added that the industry needs to act.

“This event can’t just be a talking shop. Now is the time to take action and we must put into action all the things we’ve discussed during the event,” she said.

And just as one Convening EMEA event ended, organisers announced that the next edition will take place in Denmark at the Bella Centre Copenhagen between 20-22 September 2023. 

Wonderful Copenhagen director, Kit Lykketoft, who was onstage with Karamat for the closing keynote said: “We are excited to host PCMA Convening EMEA next year as it is an event always rich on content and highly engaged participants from all corners of our industry.”

Holly Patrick
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Holly Patrick
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A desire to travel led Holly Patrick to the business meetings and events world and she’s never looked back. Holly takes a particular interest in event sustainability and creating a diverse and inclusive industry. When she’s not working, she can be found rolling skating along Brighton seafront listening to an eclectic playlist, featuring the likes of Patti Smith, Sean Paul, and Arooj Aftab.

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