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Where High Tech and Social Consciousness Meet: Evolving Events in Canada

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Q&A with Mariam Abou-Dib of the Canadian Labour Congress

Mariam Abou-Dib has been involved in the labor movement for more than 20 years and is deeply active in workers' and human rights. She is currently the political assistant to the president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), responsible for the organization’s events and public relations. She shared with us the essence of Canadian events, vital trends in the event industry, and the key to engaging audiences in the digital age.

Q: Looking into your crystal ball, what do you see as the major trend for successful brand experience in 2018 and beyond?

MA: From my perspective, real success in events will come from using the latest technology to really bring audiences into the experience of the show floor or meeting — make them feel like they belong. I mean, who doesn't want to be part of a space where all your senses are stimulated, where you're not only intellectually connected but emotionally invested?

Today’s tech can help us tell our story in real time while evoking feelings that move attendees more easily into action. I always like to say that the difference between a fad and a trend is that a fad doesn’t keep your audience engaged or lead people to long-term action. A trend is what activates audiences.

The difference between a fad and a trend is that a fad doesn’t keep your audience engaged or lead people to long-term action. A trend is what activates audiences.

Mariam Abou-Dib

Canadian Labour Congress

Q: What a great concept: activated audiences. What would you say are some of the examples of event tech that boost “activating audiences?”

MA: For really immersive tech, I like virtual reality and how it’s made a big comeback. VR is no longer about being in a game or alternative world, but an excellent vehicle to move audiences to an experience and inspire change. Of course, VR is still just a tool like any tech and needs to be powered by storytelling — content that’s true, relatable, and relevant.

Q: Can you give us an instance of how you have leveraged VR?

We used VR at one of our events, the CLC Human Rights Conference: RiseUp! At the display, users were faced with a post-apocalyptic scenario where Calgary became a disaster-relief area. They started at a café enjoying themselves, and suddenly disaster struck in real time. They were transformed into evacuees, thrust into hostile environments that included dealing with displacement, homelessness, and eventually landing in a refugee camp.

The VR display was only four minutes, but according to post-event data, it was a huge success in terms of social awareness and empathy. People were deeply moved. It’s one thing to read about refugees in war-torn countries; it’s another to experience their plight. The tech was impressive and interactive, but it was our storytelling and goals that ultimately made it a sensation. 

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Q: Any other cases where you found success with innovative tech?

MA: I like holograms because they can be beautiful and haunting, sometimes both. We recently employed holographic technology during a multimedia event performance dealing with the missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. To the music of A Tribe Called Red, live dancers were accompanied by holographic dancing spirits. It was spectacular. 

Q: How is the Canadian event industry different from the rest of North America?

MA: What I love and feel is unique about the industry in Canada is that we’d like to think we're more than the flash, the glitter, the bling, or the ribbons and bows. We know the “decorations” are important to pique people's curiosity, but it takes substance to keep them engaged.

Also, I feel we have a very collaborative approach to events, a reflection of the cooperative society that is Canada. We like to bring different people in and promote inclusivity. Lastly, our values expect the government to play a role in bringing all the stakeholders together to the table — including organized labor, where I work — and that’s different than other countries, where the public and private sectors tend to be more separated.

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Q: Speaking of inclusivity, Canada is known for embracing multiculturalism. Is this reflected also in the event industry?

MA: I would say so. We have come a long way in making events more representative of Canadian society. At the CLC, our success is in large part due to our events being produced by competent and diverse teams of individuals from all backgrounds. Part of our ability to be innovative is embracing the richness that is Canadian pluralism. We grow because we see strength in our diversity.

Q: The New York Times declared Canada “cool” and “hip,” while the World Economic Forum listed Canada as having the most positive influence globally. Why do you think the world is currently paying so much attention to Canada, and how does it affect the event industry?

MA: I read that NYT article, and it made me smile! It’s great that the world is finally paying more attention to us. I’m sure a lot has to do with our young prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who's active on the world stage and an ambassador for whatever "hip" means. That's kind of his job, right?

However, I go back to my analogy about being more than flashy. As Canadians, we are showing the world our substance as a people. The event industry can also play a role in this by telling the stories of our struggles and successes as a caring society. The events I mentioned where we used VR and holograms are two perfect examples. We’re far from perfect, but I would say it’s a uniquely Canadian quality to always try to do better with what we’ve got.

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Q: How important and on-trend is sustainability in the events industry?

MA: It’s certainly becoming more of an concern. We're not there yet, though. It will take a concerted effort with more education and incentives to truly green our events without breaking the bank. Most event professionals, including myself, are not fully aware of all the ways to ease environmental strain. We know to go paperless and work with our audiovisual partner for energy-efficient solutions, but we need more communication to find eco-friendly alternatives and spread that information that promotes solutions.

Q: Do you have a personal philosophy or saying that drives your work or life in general?

MA: My main philosophy in any arena is that where there are challenges, there are opportunities. The key is taking a moment to look around to see what’s really happening, trust your instincts, and then solve problems. At the end of the day, there is no better feeling than to find solutions that contribute to making a better world for future generations, while at the same time having fun alongside incredibly diverse, talented, and creative individuals.

As for a saying, I love this quote by Maya Angelou: "My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive, and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style."

Q: What drove you to the work you do today?

MA: It was partly because most people in Canada aren’t fully aware of the contributions unions have made to the country’s very fabric. I felt as Canadians, we had to tell a story of the rich history of labor. My experience in communications and event planning drove my decision and goals in terms of telling our story. For years, along with my advocacy work, I was overseeing and organizing large-scale conferences across the country for one of Canada's biggest unions before I came on to the CLC.

Feeling trendy? Keep your events on point by exploring the Freeman Trend Lab website.


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