Leaning Into In-Person Events

Digital events have their place and will remain an important part of our industry going forward. But it’s our face-to-face events that change the world.

Author: Sherrif Karamat       

Sherrif Karamat

PCMA president and CEO Sherrif Karamat speaks during the last EduCon, which took place in 2019 in Los Angeles. (Jacob Slaton Photography)

Sherrif Karamat

Sherrif Karamat, CAE

As in-person events start coming back — including PCMA’s EduCon 2021, set for July 7-9 in Phoenix — we know that we can’t take a rinse-and-repeat approach to the way they were held pre-pandemic. And that goes beyond the fact that the health protocols we must follow to help our attendees feel safe — like mask-wearing, social distancing, and no longer rubbing elbows on the buffet line — will automatically make our events look and feel very different than before COVID-19.

Over the past year, we’ve learned that there are aspects of business events that work perfectly well on a digital platform, and at the same time, there’s much to be said for those things that don’t. One silver lining to this horrific pandemic: We will no longer take for granted the opportunities that can only be realized by bringing people together physically. We must really lean into the power that only face-to-face events possess to transform industries, professions, economies, and society.

RELATED: Real-Life Examples Show the Importance of In-Person Events

There are two significant events that I’ve personally attended that stand out in my mind as delivering on that promise: The 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, and the Singapore FinTech Festival.

Like every medical conference, the annual AIDS Conference has furthered progress on disease treatment. But the 2014 conference, in particular, also succeeded in removing the stigma of AIDS, and spurred governments to drop policies banning those who had AIDS or were HIV positive from entering their countries. The event created major media coverage and raised awareness about how the disease is transmitted. Sharing the science behind the disease helped change the way governments viewed AIDS and HIV patients and paved the way for greater understand- ing and acceptance in the larger society.

We’ve invested much time and effort in telling the world how much business events contribute to local economies. But some events go beyond that, by put- ting their host destinations on the map as knowledge hubs. Singapore FinTech Festival (SFF) offers a perfect example. Organized annually by the Monetary Authority of Singapore in partnership with The Association of Banks in Singapore, SFF launched in 2016 with more than 13,000 participants from 60 countries, focusing on API, Big Data, blockchain, and machine learning. The following year, SFF attracted more than 30,000 participants, and in 2019, the world’s largest fintech gathering became even bigger by merging with Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH). The event has firmly established this city-island-nation of 5.8 million as a leading fintech center.

Business events will look different in a living-with-COVID world, and we won’t be able to use the number of in-person registrants as the main yard- stick of their success. We have to take a step back and see the role face-to-face events play in shaping our world for the better. Yes, they will be different, but their impact will not diminish.

EduCon Is Around the Corner

The last EduCon took place in 2019, so I’m especially looking forward to bringing the event back, July 7-9, for both a digital and in-person audience at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge in Phoenix. I’m excited to see industry friends and colleagues again, live and in person, and can’t wait to be inspired alongside them by an outstanding lineup of speakers, all focused on helping us create a better future. For a sample of what’s in store, see these profiles of the Main Stage program:


Sherrif Karamat, CAE, is president and CEO of PCMA.

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