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The last word: Events worth returning to

Putting together an engaging event that participants will find worth their time requires a number of ingredients that often go beyond the theme, or the quality of speakers.  

Earlier this week, Google notified me that last year I travelled to 110 cities in 25 countries across five different continents. It reminded me that in 2023, I hosted, moderated or spoke at over 50 panel discussions, fireside chats and roundtables, both in person and online, from Las Vegas to Seoul – and all over Europe, naturally. 



Every single engagement was related to emerging Europe. Some events focused on specific industries, such as IT and business services, countries — and last year a lot of them discussed Ukraine.  

Others looked at the overall social and economic situation, investment, start-ups, digital transformation, security and geopolitics. 

However, today’s column is not a look at the topics, the locations, venues, or the line-up of speakers but at my personal take-aways from these events and what – in my modest opinion – makes them work. What ingredients make an event worth returning to in the future? 

Now, before I list them, I need to add a disclaimer — the fact that an event has not been listed here does not mean it was any worse than those that are. Indeed, I don’t think there is single event that I participated in last year that I will not rejoin. In many cases, the reasons an event is mentioned here might sometimes be completely unrelated to its theme.  

The list below is therefore highly subjective – the events mentioned simply made me realise how important certain things are for me. 

Boldness 

Not only is it important to learn new things and hear perspectives and cases that one hasn’t heard before, but it is vital to propose well thought out solutions and scenarios related to the future.  

That might be related to international trade, supply chains, foreign investment, technology or much else. What makes an event essential for me is to hear bold solutions and new ideas. They might be verified in the future and might turn out to be incorrect or inefficient. What matters is that the approach is innovative. 

In April, I hosted and participated in the emerging Europe-related programme at K.E.Y. Platform in Seoul. One of the highlights that has stayed with me was discussion focusing on the detailed economic alliance South Korea has with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, one of the elements bringing Seoul closer to the western world and joining a coalition to challenge the authoritarian powers of China and Russia. 

InnovEIT Warsaw, which I hosted in September 2023, explored the innovation divide in Europe. It looked at how bridging this gap must be a top priority and defined collaborative innovation.  

Openness 

Several years ago, I moderated a discussion which included a lawyer among the panelists. When I asked him my first question, he ignored it altogether, opened an A4-size notebook and started reading. When I wanted to intervene, he used his hand to give me a clear sign to back off. His input might not have been informative, but the audience clearly found it entertaining. 

For me, openness is a readiness to answer any questions, even the most challenging ones.  

I saw that very well at the Bucharest-GMF Forum this year when NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg – and his deputy Mircea Geoană – went to the stage, sat down and patiently and respectfully answered all the questions, with a large proportion of them coming directly from the audience. 

That openness might also come from moderators who keep a few surprises up their sleeves and do not share all the questions they are planning to ask panellists.  

Elias van Herwaarden of Colliers did that to me and two fellow panelists at the ABSL Czech Republic conference in Prague in November, thus leaving room for improvisation and spontaneity. 

Bringing up unexpected topics is another way of showing openness. And here again, the ABSL Czech Republic conference delivered, with a fireside chat about the challenges LGBT+ employees working in the global business services sector are facing. 

Agility 

As much as the organisers try to anticipate all potential challenges, there is always some part of an event that might not go as planned. Being able to conjure up a solution is a skill.  

The Invest in Rwanda conference that I joined in March last year showed a perfect example of creativity and agility.  

After a few hours of great weather and a couple of panel discussions under a roof with open walls, a sudden burst of torrential rain made it impossible to continue. Within – literally – seconds, several minibuses and a group of volunteers with large umbrellas appeared and transferred everyone to a hotel where we were later supposed to have lunch.
In the meantime, a stage for the next panel was arranged and the conference continued without any real disruption. 

Atmosphere 

For me, networking is a critical part of an event. Getting to know new people leads to expanding my network. But making new connections is not everything. Those that have been made before must be maintained if they are to lead to joint initiatives or business.  

Reconnecting and having the chance to strengthen existing connections is therefore something I also look for at events. 

By creating a unique, family-like atmosphere, the organisers of CXOutsourcers in Las Vegas last September helped me not only strengthen my relations with people that I had bumped into at various events but transform these connections intro friendships. 

Applicability 

What I also find important at events is to not only share general knowledge but to translate that knowledge into insight; insight that participants will be able to make use of in their communities, businesses, organisations.  

Events should never take place for an event’s sake. The Macedonia 2025 Summit in Skopje is a great example of how it should be done.  

By engaging the global Macedonian diaspora in the preparation process, the organisers make sure they have access to global experts.  

These seem to always be asked how North Macedonia, a Western Balkan nation of just two million people, can utilise the insight and benefit from actionable knowledge in their everyday challenges. 


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