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C2 Montreal Skylab interior

C2 2017: The dossier.

[A five minute read + photos]

A few months ago, I was invited to attend C2 Montréal as part of a global delegation of business and event peeps. This made me more excited than a kid at Disneyland.

For eons, I had looked to C2 as the industry benchmark – for innovation, inspiration and ideas.

Looking back at the event industry over the past decade, it hasn’t changed much. Sure, we have implemented a lot of new technology and trends have evolved, but at the core our conferences are still the same. We still park delegates in windowless ballrooms, talk at them for hours, then in the breaks we feed them sugary snacks and bad coffee while they exchange business cards.

I KNEW C2 would be different, that I would experience the kind of new event I had dreamt about. After all, C2 stands for commerce AND creativity. Content covers everything from culture, innovation, marketing and AI though C2 is far more than speakers – it’s about meeting people with similar passions, showcasing art and design and experiencing a play land for grown ups.

I set off with a twinkle in my eyes for the sixth edition of C2 in Montréal from 23 – 26 May 2017.

Here are five of my favourite elements.

C2 BalconyImage: One of the foyer spaces with braindates and a central cafe.

1. Environment

C2 is staged in an art gallery warehouse, with a mix of indoor and outdoor spaces including a custom marina built for the event. Sponsors had their own container for entertaining, stacked around the perimeter.

On day one I was met with a plethora of spaces to see, hear, touch, even smell and taste. Every corner had been carefully considered in the design process, creating spaces to connect, collaborate, think and observe. There was the Aquarium – a big glass radio style interview cube, art positioned in random corners, live trees, and every kind of amenity in the bathroom.

The influence of Cirque Du Soleil [as founding partner] was evident – one where each guest felt like they were in the cast of a show.

C2 main foyerImage: Industrial chic foyer space with cabins, available to book for for small group meetings.

2. Event Programming

At C2, artistic performances were seamlessly woven into each day. The performances kicked off each session, and these few minutes enabled delegates to pause, focus, connect and become engaged with the content.

The show started with Maestro Kent Nagano and the Montréal Symphony Orchestra. Just as the audience settled into their captivating performance, the ceiling of the big top was illuminated with projected animations, adding another dimension to the experience.

C2 Montreal KeynoteImage: Maestro Kent Nagano and the Montréal Symphony Orchestra, with projected animations.

Arena stages can bomb if not well prepared – I’ve seen C-Suite speakers visibly uncomfortable with having their backs to part of the audience and it ruins authenticity when guests can see the teleprompt. Yet at C2, the arena stage in the big top felt intimate and exciting and the speakers had clearly rehearsed in the space.

The keynote countdown clock and music [coming from a DJ cage back of stage] built the suspense and the speakers didn’t just speak – they performed. There was very sparse use of powerpoint. The best speakers displayed section headers and key takeaways on screen throughout their presentations.

In the Cabaret space, the room was set [no surprises here] cabaret style – with clusters of small tables and four chairs, like a jazz bar or comedy club. It enabled attendees to better connect with others and with the speakers, and rest water and notepads on a table rather than their laps.

C2 Montreal CabaretImage: The Cabaret space, with small tables and clusters of four chairs, designed to connect.

3. Labs

There were a whole bunch of workshops which booked out in minutes, as I was flying to Canada.

Not angry, just disappointed.

Thankfully there was also a series of labs, providing insights and perspective in a fun and collaborative environment.

I participated in the Cubicle lab – essentially an escape room with clues and puzzles for us to work through as a team, in order to escape. I solved a written riddle in seconds, but am still stumped over the mastermind exercise. My teammates couldn’t solve the riddle, but nailed mastermind.

It was interesting to observe how we all process problems differently, which demonstrated the need for different brain types in workplaces, along with a mix of environments to allow for different types of thinking.

I also participated in the Sky lab. A group of six sat on swings and were lifted into the ‘sky’ – a huge cylinder with interior projection of a sky and natural images. The facilitator led us through a conversation discussing how the next ‘moonshot’ [big idea] would be born, and what it may be. Blue sky thinking, from the sky.

C2 Montreal Skylab interiorImage: Sky lab interior – sheepskin silver chairs, dangling over a mirrored floor.

C2 Skylab 2Image: Sky lab exterior, with a mirrored floor and swings lifted into the ‘sky’ for big conversations.

4. Braindates

Normal conference networking involves chatting to people you know, or getting stuck with one new connection for an hour. So there is often limited ‘networking’. Plus, it’s a lucky dip – if you approach a stranger, will you have anything in common? Can you learn from each other? There’s no way of knowing until you make the approach.

Braindates are targeted short discussions between attendees with a common interest. It’s kind of like Tinder rather than approaching a stranger in a bar. Braindates are the genius brainchild of e180, integrated with the registration platform klik.

Pre event, I posted the topic “how do we balance technology and human interaction at events?”. Other interested attendees can connect and find a time to discuss your topic, and you can search from 1000+ topics to find braindates to fill your diary with.

I discussed public speaking, event design, big scale public events and creativity with industry peeps from around the world. If you like them, you can click your name badges together to exchange contact details.

C2 Montreal BraindatesImage: A group braindate, discussing the ‘special’ in events amongst foliage and comfy furniture.

5. Catering

I’m going to get on my soapbox for a minute, because I have a massive issue with event food.

We all think with our stomachs and the dining experience – good or bad – is one of the most discussed element of events. Generally, event producers are great at designing formal dinner menus, but seem to tap out when it comes to conference food.

Lots of hotels now talk about serving ‘brainfood’ and it’s great that awareness of healthy food is increasing. Except usually ‘brainfood’ is something like muffins that are loaded with sugar and carbs [but a few extra pieces of fruit, so #healthy].

Here’s what we know about sugar. It creates a spike where you get high for a few minutes, then your energy slumps to less than before you ate. So we spend a lot of money, a lot of time and a lot of energy producing events, then feed attendees catering that MAKES THEM FALL ASLEEP. WTF. It’s a missed opportunity and negative ROI.

As an industry, we can do a lot better. And at C2, they did.

I ate poké for lunch [with bamboo cutlery], refilled my bottle with on tap sparkling water, snacked on nuts, enjoyed a cheese board [or three] and drank FRENCH rosé [which by the way, you could purchase by the bottle and tote it in your handbag for whenever you got thirsty…. have I mentioned how much I love Canada?]

Now if I had paid for my ticket [about CAD/AUD $3000], I might have been miffed to have to buy my food and drink. But there were so many food trucks, cafes and bars with different menus that everyone could find food and drink they actually liked. And it helps limit food waste.

WaterImage: C2, the magical place where sparkling water flows on tap and guests are encouraged to BYO (or purchase) drink bottles. Note the phone charging pods in the background.

17-Canada-403Image: Inhaling cheese boards and sipping French rosé on a custom built marina along the river. #blessed as they say.

C2 Montreal RoséImage: Take that Australian #lockoutlaws … I CAN be trusted with whole bottles of rosé.

To wrap things up…

Was the event perfect? No.

There were lots of amazing elements, but as always there were opportunities for improvement.

The overcrowding and queuing needs to be eliminated [the event increased from 4000 pax in 2016 to 6000 in 2017] and there was a big variance in the quality of the content. The coffee was fresh off the boat from America [i.e. not great] and the name badge cashless payment system failed to work.

Will I be back next year? Hell yes.

And in the interim, I will be checking out C2 when it comes to Melbourne for the first time in November 2017. Hope to see you there so we can catch up over a decent latte.

Grace.

Chia Crackers

Crack crackers.

SDG

Sustainable events.

Queenstown

THE carry-on pack list.

Agent Grace phone

Negotiate like a pro.

Operation: MINIBREAK

Busyness vs balance.

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