IACC Delivers Radical Innovation Theme at Toronto Conference

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IACC Delivers Radical Innovation Theme at Toronto Conference

By Rich Luna | Apr 12, 2019

Delivering on a bold theme of radical innovation and change for the meeting industry is a formidable task, but Mark Cooper and his IACC Americas Connect conference in Toronto were up to the challenge.

The group’s 38th annual conference concluded on Thursday, and Cooper, the CEO of IACC, believes the education, speakers, format and overall outcome did resonate with the theme of “Radical Innovation Changes Everything.”

Among the changes that IACC incorporated into the conference were an all-new speaker lineup and a limit of one word per PowerPoint slide.

“It was about putting people into that mindset,” Cooper said. “The theme and the educational delivery were about making sure that people thought about change in terms of taking a big step as opposed to smaller ideas where we could do things differently. I think that came across.”

More than 230 meeting venue professionals from around the world, including meeting planners from the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia, gathered in Toronto to explore the latest trends and innovations in meetings through campfires, workshops, culinary tours and tastings.

The conference’s 27 sessions and eight campfires ranged from food and beverage—including the popular Copper Skillet competition—to technology, innovation, leadership and business tracks. Sessions were held at Vantage Venues and The Globe and Mail Centre in Toronto.

“It was fantastic for us to bring the conference back to Canada after 15 years,” Cooper said. “When you consider we have eight members in Canada and 130 venues in the U.S., for us to retain our numbers and have a strong attendance was really important.”

Keynote speaker Pablos Holman, a hacker, inventor and futurist who works at the Intellectual Ventures Laboratory in the U.S., challenged attendees to embrace innovation, much of it driven by emerging technology. He encouraged attendees to be disrupters of the meeting and event industry in the next five years through innovative venues, services and solutions.

“This is not an industry that is going to be replaced by an app,” he said. “Something important happens when people get together. It’s about relationships. There’s a lot of good about this industry, but you do need to ramp it up.”

Holman’s words resonated with Cooper.

“He certainly made people think deeply about reinventing their businesses as opposed to improving,” Cooper said. “He hit the right notes. He raised the important questions and people wanted to be understand how to deliver against radical innovation back in their conference centers, hotels and venues.”

The conference speaker lineup was all new and included many from Toronto’s meeting planning community. One of the strongest sessions was a panel debate on culinary trends that included Mariela McIlwraith of the Events Industry Council, Tracy Stuckrath of Thrive Meetings, Alan Booth of Deloitte University and Brian Stapleton of Aramark Conferencing. The discussion focused on how the industry can best embrace the fast pace of change, covering topics from allergens and dietary preferences to new foods, managing wastage and sustainable practices. 

“We didn’t want to be at risk of telling the same story and [having all new speakers] was important for us in part so there were fresh ideas and perspectives,” Cooper said. “We also embraced our team learning from Canada and we had a number of Canadian speakers and perspectives as well as the food and beverage influence. Toronto is now becoming a world-renowned city for innovation and creativity. We wanted to capture that.”

Nancy Lindemer, IACC Americas president, said it was time for IACC Connect to return to Canada.

“Our members in the region embraced the opportunity in a truly incredible way, and the ideas and creativity from the team tasked with designing this year’s event was immense,” she said.

Cooper said the ban on PowerPoint presentations of slides with more than one word was a bold commitment.

“I think we partially achieved our goal,” he said. “It’s evolutionary. What we did achieve was a good number of our speakers stepped beyond the safety blanket of a PowerPoint presentation and many adapted themselves to that new style. There were many examples of people being creative on how they got the message across replacing words with images, with video, with props, with food sampling.”

It is a theme that Cooper said IACC will continue in 2020, when its next annual conference is in Dallas.

The popular Copper Skillet competition final was decided between five chefs from the Americas, Europe and Australia-Asian Pacific battling for the Global Copper Skillet Championship for 2019. Designed to highlight the artistry and skills of IACC-member conference venue chefs from around the world, the chefs created an entrée using contents from a mystery basket in a timed competition. Celebrity chef Michael Smith, a regular on the Food Network Canada, was among the judges and also presented a workshop.

Sebastian Layen from Benchmark Hospitality International in Westlake, Texas, was named Senior Chef champion while Niclas Jansson of Sigtunahöjden in Stockholm, Sweden, was named Junior Chef champion.

Layen created a crusted Canadian bison medallion, fig and maple syrup gastrique, roasted fig, artichoke and root vegetables barigoule. Jansson’s creation was beef with brown buttered tempeh, roasted cauliflower, stewed cauliflower with apple and maple syrup, vinegar and lemon poached asparagus, onion, red wine, maple syrup and browned butter.

“I am truly impressed with the creativity from all of the chefs,” Smith said. “The ability to think on your feet and execute a dish from what’s on hand is what we do every day, but once that clock starts ticking you never know what can happen.”

IACC is comprised of members from 25 countries representing small- to medium-sized, globally certified venues focused on meetings, training courses and conferences. Members adhere to a set of quality standards in physical meeting room design and food and beverage service-related standards to enable meeting planners to have a greater understanding of venues.

The organization has had recent success with growth and member engagement. Cooper said 16 new Americas venues were added in 2018. More than 1,330 planners participated in IACC education and more than 2,600 reports and guides have been downloaded. The organization hopes to have more than 400 venues in 26 countries this year.

“It’s our highest number of venues ever,” Cooper said. “We’ve had 21 percent growth of venues so all that can translate into greater attendance, greater perspectives at our events and conferences.”

IACC also announced the following award recipients:

  • Michelle Vuong, student at Ryerson University, Bank of Montreal Scholarship
  • Taylor Stewart, student at New York University, IACC Doris Sklar Scholarship Award
  • Janice Cardinale and Richard Emmanuel of The Idea Hunter, IACC Innovation Award for The Social Roamer
  • Allen Morgan, Instructor at Fanshawe College, IACC Pyramid Award
  • Paul Dolce, COO at Hospitality, IACC Mel Hosansky Award for Distinguished Service


Rich Luna

Rich Luna is Director of Publishing for MPI and Editor-in-chief of The Meeting Professional.