Calgary definitely knows how to show visitors a good time, and ILEA Live in our city was no exception. But in between the parties, social outings, and awards ceremony, last week’s international gathering of event profs had some exceptional educational opportunities alongside the lighter moments. Here’s a recap of the sessions our team attended, and some key takeaways from each.


Session: The Ruckus! An Industry Disruption Adventure  

Speaker: David Adler, Founder and CEO, BizBash

Summary: Adler’s opening night session was a heavy-hitter, and he cracked this one out of the park. The talk was an interesting and interactive discussion where each side of the room delved deeper into one of two disruptions that our industry is facing: security and instant gratification.

Security was a discussion about the serious implications of today’s political climate on event security. We discussed everything from who would be most affected to how our industry should be reacting. Instant gratification centred around the cultural shift that has influenced how our clients expect more, faster, and for less.

Takeaways: Security is a real issue that our industry needs to take seriously and not brush off as overblown – even here in Canada, where we can tend to feel relatively safe. We need to stay informed, be prepared, and react to changes.

Delivering on client expectations with less lead time and lower price points might require us to consider packaging services in new ways – like an “event-in-a-box” approach at a lower price point – or risk getting left behind. The flip side to this is that innovative and impactful events are worth a premium.

Ultimately, constantly innovative design – in all of its many forms – is key to reshaping our future, and part of our industry’s and our clients’ constant hunger for bigger and better.


Session: Establishing and Selling Your Creative Value

Speaker: Tahira Endean, CMP, DES, CED

Summary: Endean’s session was a thought-provoking look at the value of creativity in an increasingly tech-driven world. What intangible, uniquely human talents do event profs bring to the table, and how do we explain, defend, and put a price tag on the value of creativity?  

Takeaways: If you don’t believe in your value, no one else will. In general that’s a fairly solid life motto, but it also applies to how we do business in a very real way. We were reminded of the importance of offering real value for a fair price – and acknowledging that if that price can’t be met, the relationship probably isn’t the best fit for either party. We aren’t selling a service, but an outcome, and there’s a big difference.


Session: The Art of Being Unmistakable  

Speaker: Srinivas Rao, Founder and Host of The Unmistakable Creative Podcast and author of Unmistakable: Why Only is Better Than Best

Summary: We get the impression that Rao eats, breathes, and sleeps his philosophy that being uniquely you day in and day out is the only thing that no one else can do, and therefore the only way to hit on lasting and actually fulfilling success. His talk was peppered with interesting references to past interviews with unusual influencers like Brian Koehn, notorious bank robber Joe Loya, and Jon Levy.

Takeaways: Your “youness” is the only thing other people can’t copy, and can never do better than you. In an industry where being adaptable and ‘doing it all’ is valued, Rao is an advocate of having a creative style that is recognizably yours. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking idea that we’ll be mulling over for weeks.


Session: Warrior Finance

Speaker: Cher Przelomski, CEO, Vice President, Planning Factory International

Summary: As the name of Przelomski’s talk suggest, this was a no-holds-barred talk about the finance side of business. And we literally mean no. holds. barred. Her opening thought set the tone when she said bluntly that, no matter who you are or how good you are, if you don’t have a handle on the financial side of your business, you will not be in business long. This talk was loaded with practical, useful advice on how to actually run a business in this industry, and empowered us to stand up for our creative work and its value.

Takeaways: Przelomski’s talk had so many tangible tips and action points, but the key takeaway is that finances matter – a lot. Find a good resource to support you if finances aren’t your strength, but whether it’s understanding billable hours or getting familiar with cash flow projection spreadsheets, you need to be aware and you need to get involved.

Another empowering takeaway from this session was reconsidering how we as an industry compete for and price work. Bring up the RFP process around any group of creatives and be prepared for a couple rounds of drinks worth of horror stories… Przelomski suggests that it’s time to quit responding to RFPs, to stop using the word ‘proposal’, and to stop doing work for free.


Session: Creative Lessons from the Fashion Industry  

Speaker: Johanna Blakley, PhD, Managing Director, The Norman Lear Center

Summary: Fashion is a little like the wild west of creative industries. There is no copyright protection in fashion; knockoffs and copying abound. Rather than lament this, Blakley took to the stage to suggest that perhaps this free-for-all on creativity and ideas is what makes fashion designers the poster children of innovation, and forces the industry to elevate their creativity. She suggests that the survival strategies that fashion designers use can teach creatives in other industries how to change their perspective on guarding creativity.  

Takeaways: This talk resonated with us because of the ways in which it mirrored our personal philosophy that collaboration trumps competition, and our belief that we can can share our insight, ideas, tricks, and  tools because the creativity and drive that we bring to the table is something that can never been stolen – after all, our next “best idea ever” is just around the corner. Blakley suggests focusing on developing your signature style and aesthetic, and knowing your customer in order to succeed, rather than building walls around your creative capital. She even mused that copying may have certain virtues, such a creating a broader pallet of design choices, establishing trends more quickly, and forcing thought leaders to be more innovative.


Session: Finding Creative Courage  

Speaker: Dustin Westling, CSEP, Managing Partner, OneWest Event Design & Logistics

Summary: Ok, we’re clearly a little closer to this session topic and its speaker than the others listed here, but in all objectivity, this talk was a raw, intimate look at the day-to-day challenges our team of creatives faces, and how our leader has learned over time – through both successes and mistakes – to best create and nurture a culture that fosters creative courage. The session was punctuated by a thought-provoking and constructive Q&A period, and while we may have been the subject of the talk, we learned just as much as everyone else in attendance.

Takeaways: Westling explored the many definitions of creativity, and landed on “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc. – originality, progressiveness, or imagination.”

He revealed how he has learned to encourage productivity by managing energy, not time, and how creative courage can only flourish when creativity is part of everyone’s job description, and no one feels intimidated or dismissed.


Session: Boom!  

Speaker: Ciaran Gribbin, Recording Artist

Summary: This session was the perfect way to end ILEA Live 2017 on a high-note. Gribbin taught the group ‘how to be rockstars and groupies’ – which essentially amounted to a very interactive and energetic exploration of communication skills, creative problem solving, and supportive teamwork abilities. We have to be honest here and say that the most memorable moment for our crew on this one was Dustin getting called up to perform a song as Axl Rose, with Renée joining him on stage to round out the chorus – trust when we say this is not a performance we’ll soon forget.

Takeaways: Get out of your comfort zone! Being in the spotlight can make you sweat, but it can also allow you to shine. Embrace it, and don’t be afraid to share it. And also… Dustin and Renée have serious star power.

Photo credit: Kate Pope Phototography