BizBash's 10 Conferences That Captivate 2023 is sponsored by Pixis Drones.
The basics: This year’s C2 Montréal took place May 24-26 at Montreal’s Place Ville Marie and Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth. Drawing 5,000 guests, the creativity-focused conference had a “combined perspectives" theme created by experiential business event producer C2 International.
A unique environment: Guests at this year’s event encountered something unexpected in the middle of their business conference: a fully dressed bride and her wedding planner having a heated argument. Of course, longtime attendees of the event have learned to expect the unexpected, and quickly discovered that the pair were actually actors. The tongue-in-cheek performance was one of several clever stunts and activities that nodded to the conference’s new hotel setting, where the production team tried to evoke some of the familiar signs hotel guests might spot.
Johan Vakidis, C2’s chief creative officer, said the combined perspectives theme was “baked into the whole experience, including the format and content.” And part of that was finding fun ways to work with and embrace the venue, which wasn’t the typical black-box space in which most previous editions of the conference have been held. “A hotel by default is very purposely designed for a certain mood and vibe,” he pointed out. “We even played a bit on the fact that hotels usually have repetitive patterns and carpets, and we applied some of that to the chairs and other things we brought in—in addition to the staged acts that mimicked some of the craziest things you might find at a hotel.”
Atypical brainstorming sessions: Leaning into artist performances comes naturally to the team at C2—after all, the business conference was born from a partnership with Cirque du Soleil and has become known for its immersive, interactive, and theatrical lab experiences; networking opportunities; and unique programming. Jesse Gainer, C2’s vice president of growth and partnerships, described it all as “spontaneous moments of joy or awe.”
Gainer continued, “One of the things that C2 is well known for is our labs, which use experience design and environment design to create these great atypical brainstorming moments. So we had to reimagine what that would be in this space.” Part of that reimagining came from working with local Montreal artists, giving them subject matter and a theme and letting them drive the experience. “And so what we got were lab experiences that felt a bit wild or untamed, but still cohesive to the story,” he said.
One memorable and timely lab experience was called AI.PM2027. The idea was to imagine that, in 2027, Canada will elect an AI prime minister. “It was a collaboration of actually using AI, but then combining it with tangible touchpoints of the political campaign process,” explained Gainer. “There was a mechanic where you physically input the emotions of this prime minister, and the exercise provided real-world outcomes of what would happen if this is how you trained that AI.”
Timely programming: Speaking of artificial intelligence, generative AI and its impact on business was, unsurprisingly, one of the biggest topics of conversation this year, both across the lab experiences and the programming. (One of the event’s most viral panels was a discussion from Yoshua Bengio, considered a founding father of modern AI and recipient of the 2019 Turing Award, and Yuval Noah Harari, a world-renowned historian and author. The pair discussed AI’s impact on humanity, and called into question the ethics of the technology.)
The “combining perspectives” theme tied into the content, too, which drew additional speakers like skateboarder Tony Hawk and ALDO Group CEO David Bensadoun. “We had a ‘pleasure and purpose’ talk, where a sex tech CEO and a pastry chef talked about pleasure as a gateway to deeper meaning, community, and business,” added Vakidis. “This combination of seemingly different things, lining up on one commonality, was the recipe for everything.”
The power of live: While the event was technically hybrid again this year—with several content sessions viewable via livestream or on demand—the team really focused their efforts on the physical, in-person element. “There are certain types of meetings that can happen very well digitally, and be super immersive in their own way,” acknowledged Vakidis. “But, for me, I felt a vibe from the [in-person] audience this year—there was a readiness that felt different from last year. There was a hunger. That’s something that will come into consideration on how we design a participant journey in the future.”
To Gainer, hosting and attending an in-person meeting is more of a premium than it’s ever been. “It’s more expensive to travel, and companies are a bit more stringent about sending people to events,” he noted. “It’s incumbent on us to really think about how we’re hosting people, and make sure the experience feels personalized and authentic—that if you’re going to come and spend that much money, we connect with you and really understand our audience.”
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Pixis Drones is a market-leading drone light show company built with experiential agency DNA and a splash of Hollywood moxie. While the company is known for the drone light shows it did for Super Bowl LVI, the 2022 NBA Draft, and the 2023 NFL Draft, it has delivered shows for noteworthy B2B and B2C brands across various industries and markets.