When Dahlia El Gazzar discovered that The Future of Events was cancelled, she immediately picked up the phone. However, she didn’t contact the organizers of the conference that was slated to be held at RAI Amsterdam from August 22—24. Instead, she got in touch with some of her peers who were also scheduled to speak at the event in the Netherlands. Just a few hours after news of the cancellation hit the industry, El Gazzar texted Liz King, owner of Liz King Events, and Aaron Kaufman, President of Fifth Element Group, and the group had one bold question: how could they salvage the industry’s scheduled brain date?
“We all started thinking about our non-refundable tickets to Amsterdam,” El Gazzar says. “We didn’t want to let the opportunity for all our peers to connect and collaborate disappear.”
The group didn’t wait to determine the details, and they unveiled [CTRL] + [ALT] + [DEL]. After sending a press release that evening, it was clear that other members of the events industry agreed. “Our inboxes blew up,” El Gazzar says. “Everyone wanted to know how they could help.”
Expanding from Digital-Only to 15 Global Destinations
With less than four weeks before the program date, they needed all that assistance, and El Gazzar says the industry proved its generosity. Those involved also proved their excitement for the future. El Gazzar, King and Kaufman had initially planned for [CTRL] + [ALT] + [DEL] to be a digital-only program, but participants took the initiative to coordinate face-to-face meet-ups, too. From Calgary to New York to Cape Town, there were 15 [CTRL] + [ALT] + [DEL] pop-up events around the world. “This started as an online event to bring together the global audience, but we always keep an eye on the opportunity to create face-to-face engagement,” El Gazzar says. “The pop-up events came together organically.”
“Digital engagement is powerful, but we always long for the face-to-face connection,” El Gazzar adds. “It’s in our DNA. We can’t get enough of being together to solve problems, discuss trends and think about the future.”
Whether participants were behind their own screens or sitting next to colleagues at one of the pop-up events, the [CTRL] + [ALT] + [DEL] program welcomed them with a range of cutting-edge speakers and session topics. “People are hungry for content that isn’t part of traditional programs at industry events,” El Gazzar says. “We told our speakers to be as disruptive at they wanted to be. We didn’t want anything to feel like typical education.”
That appetite for innovative thinking was even bigger than the organizers of [CTRL] + [ALT] + [DEL] expected. When the program began, everyone was kicked off the GoToMeeting platform because the license didn’t accommodate the more than 1,000 participants who logged in. They immediately connected with GoToMeeting’s Help Department to make the correction.
Turning to the Right People to Promote
Planning an event in less than four weeks is challenging, but breaking through the digital noise to make sure people know about it can feel even more daunting. “We knew we needed some loud megaphones to spread the word,” El Gazzar says.
With Silvia Pellegrini at Events Uncovered TV, Will Curran at Endless Entertainment and a number of key industry bloggers, the team turned to some well-respected names to make sure that meeting professionals marked their calendars for the event. El Gazzar, King and Kaufman also trumpeted the word to their own tribes. “We all have different specialties and different communities, and we made sure that we communicated that this was an event created for the industry, by the industry,” El Gazzar says. “This wasn’t about competing with each other or creating an event owned by one particular organization or group.”
That collaborative element is El Gazzar’s biggest takeaway from the inaugural edition of [CTRL] + [ALT] + [DEL], and it’s what will continue to shape the event as they plan for the next installment of the program. “We have to be open to bringing in our competition and breaking down traditional boundaries,” El Gazzar says. “Our industry needs to work together to move forward.”
Want to learn more about [CTRL] + [ALT] + [DEL]? Click here to check out the agenda from the first year and join the community
By David McMillin