DES Spotlight: Carly Silberstein

Oct 5, 2017, 12:09 PM by Jennifer Kingen Kush

des spotlight

Carly Silberstein, DES, is chief executive officer of the Toronto-based event and association management company Redstone Agency Inc. She is a DES scholarship recipient, thanks to the generous support of Meetings + Conventions Calgary. We asked Carly to share her thoughts on what it takes to engage Millennials to attend events and what role live-streaming plays in their experience.

 “Millennial” seems to be one of the most-mentioned words among event organizers. What do you think the biggest misconception of the Millennial generation is? And how do you counsel your clients on overcoming generational stereotypes to better engage future leaders?

I feel that the biggest misconception of the Millennial generation is our obsession with digital. Older generations think we are digitally obsessed, and while that may be true, we still really value face-to-face (F2F) interactions and don’t necessarily prefer digital communications over the opportunity to network. Millennials know the value of developing our professional networks through meetings and events and in most cases, would choose to attend a live event over the virtual alternative. This has been proven by several studies, showing that this group prefers to go old school in their professional lives.

This is evident to our clients as well when we evaluate attendance of our events and conferences. We show them that we speak from experience, because at Redstone we have witnessed first-hand the positive impact that personal connections can make.

How do you think the association and events industries will evolve as more Millennials step into leadership roles in their organizations? What will be some of the most exciting changes you anticipate as a result?

We will see the association and events industry become much more tech savvy, customer-centric, and experiential. Millennials are not afraid of innovation and experimentation — through trial and error, and without fear of failure. Millennials are enriched through “the experience” that events and association membership can provide, so we will see a huge jump in social media–worthy activations. I think we will also see a lot more use of mobile apps supporting the events and association industry. Not just apps for the annual meeting or conference, but an engagement platform or community-building tool that members can access from the palm of their hand, throughout the year.

What’s your perspective on the most successful engagement strategies for connecting with younger attendees in today’s industry? Then, looking ahead, what technologies most excite you in terms of appealing to a younger audience? Are there new tools on the horizon that should be on everyone’s must-watch lists?

Social media is a critical and cost-effective tool for engaging younger attendees in the events and associations industry and it is still shockingly underused by many associations. Not only is it a critical tool for engaging people to attend, but it’s also necessary for on-site engagement. However, it is important to note that reaching out to Millennials who are digitally obsessed, marketing geniuses, means you can’t just use social media for the sake of using social media. It has to be strategic, bring value, and be on point to be relevant and effective.


Social media aside, engagement starts with an event or association’s own website. It’s important to ensure that your website is designed in a user-friendly manner that optimizes the user experience— fresh, clean, sleek, modern, desired content is easily accessible, and above all else, mobile friendly. This is key to appealing to younger audiences. Personally, if I land on a website (of any kind) that is not mobile responsive, I navigate away immediately.  

Here’s what else appeals to Milennials: A promise to give them an experience, such as mentorship, or access to something (e.g., subject-matter experts, job opportunities, or an exclusive network) that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to get anywhere else. And give them the opportunity to shine — through awards programs, writing/volunteer opportunities, , and reverse or co-mentoring programs’.

As for new tools, we think live streaming and hybrid events are underused. At Redstone, we are huge advocates of live streaming. We are also hearing about virtual reality and artificial intelligence — left, right, and center. I think that chatbots will be used to help with registration/membership from event and association websites and apps. I also think that virtual site visits will become a cost-effective option as the technology becomes more widely accessible. Too bad for us planners who love to travel!

As a digital native, were there any lessons in the DES course that particularly surprised you or challenged your thinking? What were some of the most valuable lessons you took away from the course? 

The DES course in its entirety was very relevant and applicable to my day-to-day role to deliver more value for my clients. If I had to choose one piece of information that has stuck with me — and helped me prove the case for hybrid events — it would be debunking the common myth that hybrid events cannibalize in-person, F2F event registrations. Quite the contrary, the live-stream component of a F2F gives past or prospective attendees a “glimpse” into what goes on at the meeting, possibly creating FOMO and giving them the added push needed to get to the in-person meeting in the future.

I also learned about Event Canvas and am currently in the process of getting my certification.