Top Planner Q&A: Best Practices, Challenges and New Trends

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Within the meetings industry, Jean Pickering is known as a seasoned planner. As Director of Real Estate Conference Management at Informa, she creates 18 successful real estate forums and conferences across Canada. This includes The Real Estate Forum, Canada’s largest annual national conference on real estate investment and management issues. The Real Estate Forum attracts more than 2,500 executives and was sold out in 2018 for the 12th consecutive year.

We asked Jean about best practices, challenges and new industry trends.

Q: What are some of the best practices that you have learned from planning successful events?

Ensure that all team members understand and are committed to the same objectives. Keep everyone informed – knowledge is only powerful if it is shared. Plan early and plan for success; events have a habit of creeping up on you. Be ready to learn something new every day.

Oh! and I also tend to invite people to join our team that are better at what they do than I am!  The right people in the right role is paramount when planning successful events and TEAM is everything.

Q: What is your biggest challenge as Director of Real Estate Conference Management?

This is an easy question to answer – finding dates!

The 18 events that we run across Canada are predominantly one day forums and conferences, we look to run these during the traditional conference and convention season on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, nine mid-February to first week June, then the remainder early September to first week December.

We run our events in convention centres and are slotted between large scale trade shows – finding those openings and at the same time avoiding public holidays, religious holidays, public school holidays, private school holidays and copious numbers of other commercial real estate industry events that are looking to attract a similar target audience to us, the list goes on, it’s a real challenge – actually a nightmare at times with so much at stake!

I’m fortunate that our events have been running for many years and so are established, repeat business – in addition the convention centres that we use for our events have great sales people who know their product and are empowered – so although we might not always get the out-and-out date or meeting rooms that we want; with a bit of back and forth we always manage to come up with a date and the space that works.  At the Metro Toronto Convention Centre I work with Eleni who has worked on our events longer than I have – so completely understands what we need and when!

Q: How do you motivate your team?

I strongly believe that our team is made up of an inherently motivated bunch who are crazy about planning successful events.  Every day I look forward to going into the office and spending time with them – their energy is amazing.

We, of course, have team fun days, go for lunches together and that kind of thing – it’s important to have down time together from time to time away from the office.

Being valued I would say is a great motivator, and they are all that!!

Q: What are some of the newest trends in the conference industry that you think are the most effective?

From conference management technology, streamlined registration processes to more sophisticated ways for speakers to interact with attendees during their presentations and of course apps that are engaging (i.e. not just a duplication of what’s on the conference website), those that promote and encourage attendees, speakers, exhibitors and sponsors to network before, during and after events.

Anything that helps a team with its efficiency and effectiveness and also things that have a positive impact on an attendee’s experience are exciting.

Q: What are some of the highlights that we can expect from Informa in the next year?

Not many people know that Informa’s oldest business, publishing, started way back in 1734 in London UK.  It now has offices in around 48 countries, has over 11,000 employees and delivers in the region of 500 trade shows and 10,000 conferences annually.  In addition, Informa publishes newsletters, academic journals, commercial databases, and academic and business books and following one of it’s most recent acquisition Informa became the worlds largest trade show owner.

Here in Canada, in addition to the real estate side of the business that I work on – we have in our portfolio a whole raft of fan-based events like FanExpo Canada, Boston and Dallas, MegaCon to name a few, we have the One of A Kind Show, The Interior Design Show, Art Toronto, The Artist Project, and The Buildings Show – all of which are extremely established and successful events.

Informa tends to grow through acquisition so who knows what the highlights will be in the next year – as you can imagine I am as interested to know the answer to this question as you!

Q: What is the one thing that you triple check before the start of the show?

One thing.. are you kidding me!! I triple check everything 😊

Q: What is the one thing you do after the last day of the show?

Running 18 events a year we are always at different stages of the events cycle for a number of events, onsite at one event whilst planning for the next – so no real downtime between events.

That said, the morning after our last event of the year – The Real Estate Forum held in Toronto – I go for a much needed foot massage and pedicure then, when possible, take myself off to the annual Winter One of A Kind show in search of holiday gifts!

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