Our key takeaways from PCMA Convening Leaders 2021

Every year at the end of December with the flip of a calendar page, a rush of excitement is ushered into the hearts of event professionals globally. January brings with it the anticipation of a hopeful, shiny new year as well as a countdown to PCMA Convening Leaders. Like every aspect of our current realities, PCMA had to take a step back, reflect, and strategically redesign its annual conference. After all, this is an event that the industry looks to for inspiration, connection, and starting off the year strong.

As a kickoff for a year so full of optimism, after its tumultuous predecessor, what messages would PCMA strive to deliver and leave as key takeaways for attendees— attendees who have each been impacted and changed by 2020? We cannot speak for everyone, but here is what we’ll carry forward as we face this new year and all it has in store for us, both personally and professionally.

Continue to discover, reskill, upskill, and proudly wear the badge of “lifelong learner”

The lines between work, life, education, and leisure have blurred. As Thomas Friedman discussed during his Main Stage session, education and work used to be two distinct notions and locations. The timeline seemingly resembled: learn, work, retire. Now: learn, work, learn, work. Education needs to be incorporated into the workplace with the focus moving from “just-in-case learning” (concepts you may have been taught in university that you perhaps may need professionally) to “just-in-time learning” (where you’re developing the requisite skills for the current reality/job at hand).

Companies are looking for “problem finders more than problem solvers.” This critical thinking, curiosity, and daringness to learn and try something new is mandatory in our “never normal” (as Peter Hinssen spoke of during the session “Renew and Transform Your Organization in 2021 and Beyond”).

Carve out time to think, create, and understand the difference between “urgent vs. important”

In order to have the capacity for this creativity and deep thinking, we must take ownership and prioritize it into our schedules. During Hon. Julia Gillard AC’s Main Stage session, she spoke of when days are so congested, where we only have a few minutes off, it’s near impossible to find time for deep thinking. There’s a constant battle between “urgent vs. important” which many of us can attest to. How can we be proactive vs. reactive? When she needed that space, she would go into her “cone of silence;” however, she wished she’d carved it out more as it’s critical for our knowledge economy. Give yourself the time; it will be a worthwhile investment for all.

Experiment and see uncertainties as “opportunities in disguise”

As Peter Hinssen discussed, we’re no longer in a world where we can wait for the Harvard Business Review to learn the best steps for achieving something; “It’s no longer about lessons learned, it’s about lessons learning”. We must be “bold on the vision and flexible on the details.” He asked us to reflect on how, within ourselves and our companies, we can build the guts and develop the psychological safety to experiment and attempt new things. This comes from leadership. This comes from employees being able to dare. This comes from an openness to try, and not see mistakes or missteps as failure, but rather as learning steppingstones.

In this same session, Dr. Ayesha Khanna further mentioned that even with all this change in near every dimension of our lives, we can rest assured that one aspect hasn’t: “Our focus is always the same: customer-centricity is the most important theme for the 21st century.”

Meet people and engage with who and how they are NOW

In order to be customer-centric, we must know who our customer is now; not who they were in February 2019 nor their preference at in-person events, but who they are NOW and we must meet them there. An attendee may have loved watching live sessions and discussing ideas face to face at an in-person event, but in a virtual context, they may prefer to watch sessions at their own pace on demand and be more active via chat instead. Do not design your events with previous information, but from current insight.

Concurrently, the magical moments of meeting people in the line for the restroom or at the buffet are off the table virtually (pun intended). During “The Strategic Art of Virtual Connection,” Jenny Sauer-Klein presented how at in-person events:

“Connection often happens via serendipity, but at virtual events, if we don’t plan for connection on purpose, we risk that [it] may not happen at all.”

We must allocate time for connection and ensure we create that sense of psychological safety so attendees can feel free to explore ideas across time, space, and screens.

Exercise that resiliency muscle

The word “resiliency” was used in many contexts across PCMA Convening Leaders, whether it be personal, such as Karen Calder’s session of “Build Resilience and Conquer Adversity with the 5 Rs” or as a company, where Peter Hinssen described how some have prospered during this time due to “the capability to bounce back and leverage the potential of these opportunities.” With so much being unforeseen while at the same time moving at an unimaginable pace, the ability to try, learn, fail, grow, and repeat (in any order) is critical to move forward as an individual or as a company. Resiliency isn’t static and must be exercised and challenged so we may flourish and reach new heights. This trait is what will ensure individuals, teams, and companies not only survive, but thrive.

PCMA Convening Leaders truly focused on meeting attendees for who they are now. PCMA also understood that when the event officially finishes, the learning doesn’t have to. With a bevy of on-demand content, our lifelong learning (or for as long as the content is available in this case!) can continue. The conversations will continue. The industry will continue. Why? Because we are resilient. As Hon. Julia Gillard AC said:

“We are shaped by the scrapes and successes on our journey.”

We as an industry have had to take a step back, brush ourselves off, and collaborate like never before. This iterative process continues, but for the “day after tomorrow” the outcome will be a stronger more united industry, meeting people for who they are now, and ensuring that we continue to reskill and upskill with every event strategically designed, every new connection made, and every existing relationship strengthened. Events are the connecting fabric in communities as was beautifully stated during Hon. Julia Gillard AC’s session. We will ensure that the tapestry continues to be woven and that baton she referred to, continues to be carried forward.

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