MeetingsNet’s 2021 Changemakers list recognizes outstanding meeting professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find the full 2021 Changemakers list here.
CEO and Founder, Caspian Agency
For creating educational programming to help planners adapt to the virtual-meeting environment and leverage their strategic-thinking abilities
It is not accurate to say that Heather Mason thinks the Covid pandemic was good for the meetings business. But was it a catalyst for shifting the industry in a direction she thinks is best for unleashing the full potential of in-person meetings? She says yes.
“I’m excited about what the Covid disruption has allowed in terms of invention in our industry,” she adds. “At the beginning, a lot of people saw the pandemic as destroying the pie. But what I saw was that it was creating more pies.”
Even prior to that, Mason was trying to elevate the importance of business events. A couple of months before the pandemic began, she created online courses under the heading “Caspian 10 Essentials” that are part of San Diego State University’s Masters program in event management and are CMP accredited.
Then, shortly after the pandemic shut down in-person events, she created another online program titled “The Four Fundamentals of Thinking Virtually,” where she helps event professionals reimagine what’s possible through the online medium and determine how to develop pricing for virtual events. And in late 2020, she launched the Envision 2021 contest: Her firm offered a total of $5,000 in prize money for the most impactful disruptions that planners see coming in the future—“not ideas that are two steps ahead, but 10 steps ahead,” she says.
As for her take on building the most effective experiences for attendees, “I feel like I’ve been wandering the desert for years, saying that doing stand-alone events are not worth it—they’re not great for the audience nor the bottom line,” she says. “Then Covid hit, and suddenly people were like, ‘What should we do now? I guess we have to study our audiences to find out which content works best for the in-person experience and which works best for the virtual experience, and get everybody interacting before and after the event too.’ Yes, exactly!”
Her message over the years, which is now starting to gain traction: “Technology means we can get people to build relationships ahead of time so that the event is just one brick in a structure that lasts for years,” she continues. “It’s the most important brick because it’s the most intense experience of all of them. But the event should be the setting for the full blossoming of relationships rather than for starting relationships from scratch.”
Most recently, she launched “Event Science: The Adventures of James Caspian,” an online series that chronicles the ways venues are innovating to deliver the next versions of the in-person experience. “It’s a 25-minute show with bimonthly episodes, each set in a different venue,” she says.
“I’m fascinated by all the permutations for hybrid events: There are more than a dozen ways to do them” in terms of agendas, content delivery, and interaction between in-person and virtual audiences. “I’m building out a complete view of hybrids for planners to understand them better.”
Best Advice for Planners
“The strategy, logistics, and execution of a meeting all have to be considered as a unit—you can’t build a solid event on soft ground. Planners need to make that case to executive stakeholders so they are part of the conversation from the beginning.”