June 27, 2019

Get Vulnerable with Your Events: the Impact of Shared Experiences

“Give possibility the benefit of the doubt, not the impossible. That’s how magicians create the impossible.” – Sunday Opening General Session Keynote Speaker, Vinh Giang

Last week, the VDA team attended the Meeting Professionals International (MPI) World Education Congress in beautiful Toronto, Canada. The 3-day conference took place in the vibrant and welcoming capital of the province of Ontario, a city still buzzing over their new – and first – NBA Championship title.  The city was emblazoned with signs in a show of support for the home team; and the streets lined with Rainbow flags, celebrating Pride month and the LGBTQ communities of Toronto. The architecture, history, rich culture, and cuisine made Toronto the perfect host city for the annual gathering. The educational sessions were rich with exceptional content, and the networking opportunities plentiful and spread throughout the city to really give attendees a taste for the local social scene. The goal for this year’s conference was to “immerse attendees in an unforgettable shared experience”: the VDA team thought that MPI was very successful in creating a memorable event so we wanted to provide you a recap of some of our key takeaways so that you too can share in our experience for those that were not able to attend!

Vinh Giang, WEC19: “You are only as good as you can communicate.”

Sunday’s sessions began with the magical Vinh Giang; the magician turned public speaker captivated audiences with his tricks and cunning, using magic as his metaphor on stage. Vinh challenged the audience to be more innovative in their approach to creating new experiences. In his follow-up session, Vinh delved into his experiences as a renowned pubic speaker, teaching audience members that “you are only as good as you can communicate” and that great verbal communication and storytelling are made up of 5 building blocks: rate of speech, volume, pitch of voice, tonality, and pause.

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Vinh taught audiences that you also need to consider how you communicate visually. If there are inconsistencies in the way you are speaking and your body language, it will cause people to not trust what you’ve just said. Body language supports what you are saying, and hand gestures boil down to 5 categories. These communication categories – the placater, leveler, blamer, computer, and distracter – are effective in identifying behaviors! In all your conversations, make sure you are matching and mirroring the foundations of speech and body language of those you are talking to. It provides you both with a level of comfort and evens the playing field for conversation!

If you see Vinh Giang on the agenda for an upcoming conference or event you’re attending, we highly encourage you to attend his session and check him out. He was a truly captivating presence at the conference, and an immensely gifted speaker. For more information on Vinh, check out his website TEDx Talk titled “Creating the Most Influential You”.

Don’t just produce events, create invitations for extraordinary shared experiences.

Attendees were also treated to the inspirational storytelling of acclaimed documentary filmmaker and social entrepreneur, Brett Culp, whose work has inspired audiences around the world! Brett is perhaps best known for his film, Legends of the Knight, a documentary film that tells the true stories of individuals who have overcome devastating obstacles, and were inspired to become real-life heroes because of their childhood love of the Batman. Brett’s film made waves globally by encouraging communities to organize their own viewing of the film; with screenings in over 100 cities worldwide, Legends of the Knight has raised nearly $100,000 for charity.

His presentation challenged session-goers to do more than produce events that inform or entertain attendees but to create invitations for extraordinary shared experiences. Brett’s purpose was to encourage the audience to “transform their events into community-building experiences that inspire connections among attendees” while “creating and maintaining environments that spark dialogue and collaboration between diverse groups of people”. Brett encouraged empathy – connecting with your attendee’s emotions – and allowing people to see the real in your personal and professional lives. When the passion and drive for the events your produce is recognized, people will want to follow and be led by you!

The WOW Factor – “wonder, originality, and worth”

The talented, and inspiring Jade Simmons led the Tuesday morning keynote, teaching audiences’ best practices on how to create transformational experiences! The celebrated concert pianist was both unique and empowering. Jade shared her journey with the audience, recounting an “artistic epiphany” she had on stage during a performance; Jade went from “playing the piano merely to impress audiences, to using her instrument as a vehicle to move them profoundly”, and expressed to session-goers the importance of challenging and changing attendee expectations.

We learned about the real “WOW” factor, which in Jade’s world stands for “wonder, originality, and worth” – this is the stuff of wow. Wow is not a real world, but a naturally occurring guttural utterance, and “WOW” is more than just impressing audiences but bringing originality to the table. If you don’t bring originality to the table in the events you are planning, you won’t be memorable – people will not remember or be impressed if what’s done is what’s expected. As Jade shared, meeting planners and event professionals are really “atmosphere shifters” after all, and it’s up to us to make audiences think they’re coming for one thing and have them leave with so much more than what they came for!

Show Vulnerability at your events, it is powerful.

The final message we wanted to share with you is about an amazing organization called Dear World (if you haven’t heard of this group, we highly encourage you to check them out: We were joined by Dear World storytellers Fresh Johnson and Robert Fogarty, who led attendees through an interactive keynote session that inspired and guided audience members to recognize their own meaningful stories. Throughout this session there was hardly a dry eye in the room as groups of 2-4 people collaborated to talk about some of the most influential and emotional stories in their lives. Attendees then selected a few words or a phrase that represented the story. Throughout the rest of the 3-days, conference-goers were invited to visit the Dear World pop-up photography studio on the expo floor where their meaningful messages were inscribed on their bodies, and then a portrait photo was taken to memorialize each person’s story. The vulnerability required to participate in this activity made it such a powerful shared experience. Attendees were able to connect at a really beautiful, personal level, that helped make this experience so memorable!

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