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It’s lonely at the top for event leaders – CEO of ELX

It can be “lonely at the top” for event leaders – making it crucial for senior roles to share and develop best practices, according to the new CEO of an exclusive industry community.

Nicola Kastner was recently announced as chief executive officer of Event Leaders Exchange (ELX), holding extensive experience such as Global Vice President of Event Marketing Strategy for SAP and founding the strategy advisory firm the Event Strategist in 2022.

In this exclusive interview, Nicola unveils her plans to help its membership take advantage of AI, use data to develop strategy as well as grow in numbers to improve problem solving and innovation.

She told ExpoPlatform: “There are about 100 members, but it’s time to take it to the next level. 

“It is lonely at the top for leaders in the events industry, and ELX fills that gap by fostering an environment where senior leaders can exchange ideas and best practices with peers in similar roles.”

“There are a few things that I want to focus on. Certainly membership growth and membership value – the two have to go hand in hand. 

“I also believe as senior leaders we have an obligation to give back and leave this industry better than it was when we joined. 

“I’ve walked a mile in our members’ shoes, so the opportunity to be able to impact our community and the industry as a whole is a really exciting opportunity.”

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ELX is an invitation-only group for senior leaders in events from the world’s largest corporations.

It has a cap of 250 of members as well as a minimum revenue or event portfolio size requirement for the organization they are heading up.

Nicola believes part of increasing the value of the ELX community involves making sure the right people are joining – those who want to contribute as much as benefit from the teachings of others.

She said: “We want to grow smart. We want to grow with like-minded people and people who are going to contribute to the community as well. 

“I don’t want somebody as a member just for a logo, that’s not what this is. 

“Once we reach that cap, we’re capped unless something changes – but I don’t see that happening.”

One key area Nicola has identified as a challenge and opportunity for the community to work in is through the growth of AI in events.

She believes ELX can provide a good space for leaders to share ideas and best practices for implementing the technology in their organizations.

Crucial to this is that the advice is practical, rather than theoretical – a problem she has identified with much of the conversation in our industry so far.

Nicola said: “People are just sick to death of hearing about AI in theory. What we need to do is get to practical applications. 

“From a personal perspective, that’s where I want to help our members get to as well as helping accelerate their journey as a community.”

She added: “Everybody claims to be an expert, but we’re all still figuring it out. 

“One of the things that I’m also hearing from our community – and it’s something I personally struggle with even though I use AI every single day – is prompting. How do you ask for the right things? 

“That’s one of the things I’m going to dig into with our members and find ourselves a prompting expert to teach us how to do that.”

The arrival of ChatGPT 18 months ago marked a major milestone in exposure to AI tools.

This new wave of disruption in the digital space saw machine learning models start to interact with the public like never before, with the tool becoming a household name. 

It also greatly reduced the distance between AI and the end user, providing a platform for a wide range of custom-made applications and innovations.

But with these advancements also came renewed concerns over potential job losses.

A study from the International Labour Organization downplayed these risks, saying generative AI is “neither inherently good nor bad” for job security and that it all depends on how it is managed. 

Nicola’s belief in how AI will impact professionals in the events industry follows a similar argument.

She said: I think roles will become redundant if you don’t leverage AI. I don’t think you’re going to lose your job to AI, but you could lose your job to somebody that knows how to use it. 

“I see AI as an efficiency creator – not a job replacer – I use it all the time.”

Nicola added: “Organizations are constantly evolving as the business is changing. So how do we evolve ELX? How do we evolve and help our people grow as well as the industry changes?

“As AI is coming into this space, what does that do to the current roles that are in our teams and what do we have new roles that we need? 

“How do we make sure that we enable people to use these tools?”

Meanwhile, another area Nicola highlighted as being crucial for industry development is through thorough measurement of the performance of an event.

This involves utilizing data in new ways to shine a light on where shows are succeeding or failing.

She gave an example of how analysis of internet use spikes during major presentations at an event can be an indicator of engagement levels.

Nicola said:Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion. I believe that so much. 

“By monitoring your WiFi usage during your keynote you can identify when people have lost interest. 

“You correlate it to social – if there’s a lot of people uploading photos, that’s a major moment, that’s an interesting moment. 

“But if there’s a big WiFi peak and there’s no social activity, then you marry it up with your timestamp in your scripts, you can see where people have lost interest. 

“Your executives may or may not listen to you, but at least you have the data to manage the conversation.”

She added: “I’m very passionate about measurement – that’s something I’ve built my career on. 

“We’ve not necessarily done as good of a job as we could holistically as an industry in measuring and then articulating the value of the discipline. 

“There are lots of opportunities for us there.”

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