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25 Sep 2023



By Caitlin Read, director of operations at Arc

In early September, the events industry decamped to the seaside for the annual AEO Conference. This year’s theme, building collective intelligence, which was apt for an event that saw a record number of peers from around the industry coming together to exchange ideas and share experiences.

Our theory, that we quickly demonstrated in the room, was that a large group of people, even if they are not experts, can collectively make better decisions than a single expert.  We used this concept throughout the day, as we heard from people throughout the industry, saw case studies in action, asked questions, and shared experiences.

Some of my key takeaways from the brilliant sessions were:

  • Determination - from the brilliant Darren Edwards; never have I been so impressed by someone sharing their story that showed mental fortitude will see you through any obstacle.
  • Innovation - from Nicola Meadows, Adam Parry, Raphael Sofoluke, and Jo Tyler. New ideas come from everywhere in your business. They may not be seen under the fancy lens of ‘innovation’ ‘diversification’ or ‘new product development’ but ideas, thoughts, suggestions, are happening everywhere in your company, so keep your ears open for them, encourage your teams, and keep an eye on the data.
  • Good People – In Carina Bauer and Doug Emslie’s fireside chat, they talked about company, personal, and brand journeys, and the most critical concept they kept coming back to was ‘good people are what makes a business great.’ These are two legends in our industry, and they didn’t talk about the clever moves they’ve made, the business opportunities they capitalised on, or even the daring risks that have paid off – they talked about the importance of people. And I think that’s the most telling summary of our industry and its vital role in business.
  • Trust and Research – Raphael Sofoluke and Ruth Yarnit, talked with Steve Smith about scaling their businesses. Something everyone in our industry wants to do. They shared with us there is no one-size-fits-all blueprint, but two of the most important keys for anyone trying to scale their idea is build trust - with your industry, your customers, your teams, your partners -, and do your research.
  • Brilliant jerks – Probably the most quoted line of the conference came from Alison Jackson, who is not putting up with ‘brilliant jerks’ in her organisation. Alison and Matthew Butler talked about how a focus on culture is the biggest value add and most rewarding thing you can do for your business.
  • AI – After ‘brilliant jerks’ the thing that was talked about most on stage, and in the networking breaks, was artificial intelligence. How are people using it? What does it mean for us as an industry? What’s it capable of? Any successes? Konstantinos Maragkos and Ade Allenby both emphasised that AI is a tool, nothing more, nothing less. We should all be curious what it can do. Have a play with it and think about how it can make face-to-face better.

After the AEO conference, I have never felt more optimistic and excited about the future of events. I don’t believe we’re standing on the ‘burning platform’ we once were, heck, I don’t even think we’re going through a ‘transformation era’. Pre-pandemic we were so wrapped up in the changing needs of the customers, the changing ways of work, digital tools that connect buyers and sellers. We were so worried the sky was falling. And, all of those ‘changes’ are still true and valid. The world is changing. But the pandemic taught us, or maybe just re-focused, to accept and work with change. Something our industry has always been good at doing.

When we come together and share collective intelligence, like we did this September in Brighton, we see the universal truths that have always been true about our industry remain critical to success: value your people, focus on your data, evolve.