It was like we never left.
That was the collective sigh of the meeting and event planners that converged in Ottawa for Ottawa Meet Week from April 4th – 7th. Hundreds of meeting professionals and partners gathered together at a variety of events throughout the week; all in-person, not socially distanced, and without face masks.
For most of us, it was the first gathering since restrictions were lifted, and boy, did we go all in! Hundreds of one-on-one business meetings, numerous receptions and dinners, and countless exchanges of business cards and handshakes.
We’re back friends, and while at times it felt like we never left, there were some differences between this 2022 event, and meetings industry events of 2019.
Here’s what I noticed.
We’ve attracted some incredible new talent! I met a ton of people for the very first time. Given the industry fears of not being able to replace the talent that walked out the door over the past two years, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, I was absolutely delighted! Our industry’s newest are indeed bright, full of energy, and ready to have a conversation. We all need to give them the benefit of the doubt, and a chance for them to become part of our bright future.
When we are busy, we are busy! Sixteen-hour days of meetings followed by receptions, dinners, and after-parties. All in the name of creating better relationships that lead to better business. Everyone I talked to talked of business picking up and moving at lightning speed. Now is the time to exercise grace and patience as venues and teams are still staffing up and getting ready for the busy year ahead.
We’re still getting used to being back. Many of us complained of sore feet or needed to go “emergency dress” shopping to find a new outfit for the galas and dinners. Two years without needing heels and skirts are now coming back to bite us. We’ll be better prepared for the next one, my friends.
Even without the fancy shoes and outfits, boy did we all look good! Despite many of us carrying some extra COVID pounds, foregoing fancy haircuts, and lack of new business clothes, we looked amazing. Maybe it was because we all wore our best accessories, our smiles. Even if you were wearing a mask, we could see the smiles and “smeyeles” (smiling with your eyes when your mouth is covered by a mask) and we could hear the pure joy in our voices as we chatted with one another. Those smiles, the hugs, and the genuine care for each other will be what sticks with me for months to come.
Virtual has its place, but it doesn’t compare to in-person. I saw my good friend Candace for the first time in two years, and even though we meet once a week via Zoom, I couldn’t stop staring at her. It was like I couldn’t believe she was in front of me, all the curves of her face, all her cute freckles, and the highlights in her hair. I couldn’t believe she was right there, close enough to hug. It was emotional and a great blessing to be in her presence.
That’s what our industry truly is, a blessing. My friends at Ottawa Meet Week served as my extended family for four straight days; family that genuinely cared for one another, respected one another, and loved on one another like crazy. We have moved past the automatic and disingenuous “Hey, how are you?” and into the honest and genuine “No really, how are you? Tell me about your past two years.”
I know many of our professionals needed to move on during difficult times, but I can’t imagine being anywhere else. That is what Ottawa Meet Week reminded me above all else – why I love our industry and our people.
And now…. we’re back. And we’re ready to pick up where we left off.
The only thing that is constant is change. That is my new normal, and I for one can’t wait to see what changes next!
Leanne Calderwood, CMP, is a personal branding and LinkedIn trainer for the meetings, events, and hospitality industry. She believes our industry is built on experiences, and that experience should start with our professionals.
She serves hospitality professionals and teams through her online courses and consulting services to help guide #eventprofs out of the shadows and into the spotlight using their branding strengths and stories.
When she’s not talking shop, you can find Leanne drinking tea, making jam, and gardening at her home in Kelowna, B.C. with her husband, two teenage sons, and her dog, Farls Barkley.
You can learn more about Leanne over on her blog at www.leannecalderwood.com
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