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"Business events is a meta industry"

Sherrif Karamat, President and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), about Convening Leaders 2020, being your true self, economic and social transformation and an experiment like no other.

tw: If you think back to Convening Leaders 2020, which moment comes to your mind first?
Sherrif Karamat: That is a tough question as they were so many memorable moments but one that truly captured me was the group of talented young children of the Children Choir of the Detroit Academy, Michigan. They were not only talented, they were composed and confident and their affection for their city was evident. Most of these children had never been on an airplane before or even left their city. Seeing their performance was inspiring and gives me much hope for a bright future.

Which speaker impressed you most?
Of the main stage speakers, I was incredibly impressed by Bozoma Saint John – her business experience, her personal story which was beyond inspiring but I guess the point of being your true, authentic self really resonated with me. At the end of this journey we call life, if we are able to say “I gave it my all and I was true to myself”, I would think that would be very rewarding.

Transparency is 2020 the big trend for Bozoma Saint John. Which trend do you see?
Transparency and authenticity are two powerful words but I wanted to look at something different in your question. In my estimation, a trend is something that has profound long term impact on people and society, thus the big trend for me is the “democratization of power and influence to the individual”. Today, the individual is all powerful and is driving fundamental change in the way we work, live and do business. This trend is disrupting many traditional business models that technology is helping to bring to life.

You believe: Business events drive global economic and social transformation. Please explain.
It is about the “why” of holding an event, which means we have to move from activity to outcomes. Business events is a meta industry impacting all industries in a global society and is an ideal platform to drive outcomes for numerous reasons. We use this platform to ensure that organizations achieve their objectives and as individuals we use this platform for our personal and professional development. However by virtue of bringing together people from every facet of business and society it is truly the ideal platform to drive broader economic and social good, aide in creating sustainable industries, new jobs and taking care of our social wellbeing, but we are only at the cusp of this movement.

Are face-to-face meetings the antidote in a divided world?
It is said that the “more connected we are, the more disconnected we have become”, this for me leads to a lack of understanding. When we meet face-to-face, looking into someone’s eyes, understanding their fears, their motivation and challenges, most of the time, we realize they are not different from our own. We all have fears, challenges and motives. Investor Warren Buffet said it best: You’ll never see eye-to-eye if you never meet face-to-face. When we come together regardless of purpose, it is amazing what we can overcome, what we can achieve. Meeting face to face does not mean that you have to agree or the world would suddenly become undivided however, it certainly allows you to have a better understanding of the other person and helps shape how you may respond.
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Sherrif Karamat on stage: A warm welcome to 4,600 delegates at Convening Leaders 2020.


PCMA believes that business events can economically and socially transform communities, enterprises and individuals. As the world’s largest platform for business events strategists and their business partners, PCMA provides provocative executive level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence to its global audience of 7,000 professionals and students. Its Ascent leadership initiative PCMA promotes inclusion and diversity. Headquartered in Chicago, PCMA has 17 chapters in the US, Canada and Mexico with members in 40+ countries and regional offices in Switzerland and Singapore.

850 delegates followed your flagship event remotely. Do you think that their number will increase due to climate change and “flight shame”?
I do not believe in “flight shaming” and I would challenge anyone that tries to do it, as for me this is treating the symptom and not the root cause of the problem that we face environmentally. We need to have a balanced approach to a sustainable society, one that creates new industries, sustainable energy sources not one that causes massive structural unemployment, and restricts us from the very problems we are trying to solve. I do believe that the remote event audience will continue to grow, not because of flight shaming but because not everyone will ever be able to participate face-to-face at an event for numerous reasons including schedules, budgets etc. However, we see remote audiences growing for any event if we provide value and meet the audience needs.

4 keynotes, 90 speakers, 4 networking events like the Closing Party at the new Chase Center with Maroon 5... How do you convince your sponsors?
It takes everyone to create new experiences and deliver greater value that is relevant for all participating, this is why we treat our sponsors as partners. Saying that differently, they help us create transformational value not one that is transactional. This is much bigger than one individual or company and each partner helps us to create value for all participants that ultimately delivers tremendous returns back to the partner’ organization, destinations and brands. Our team works with all our partners and host cities not on an event basis but as a longer term strategy of value creation.

San Francisco was a great host and exceeded the expectations of many delegates, yours too?
In so many ways San Francisco exceeded my expectations. Our host led by Joe D’ Alessandro and the Team at San Francisco Travel were an absolute pleasure to work with and understood our vision for Convening Leaders. This was supported by the incredible team at Moscone and the San Francisco business events community. This city is the world center for innovation, culture and progressive thinking matched with natural beauty and incredible dining and entertainment options.

Why should European meeting professionals pencil Convening Leaders from 10 to 13 January 2021 in Houston in their calendar?
I would say Convening Leaders is an experiment like no other where we are inclusive, we learn, we fail, we challenge, we conduct business and we have experiences like no other all while we foster economic and social transformation. This is your community, your platform, your movement to build life-long friendships and business relationships that would propel you and your organizations and thus I call on business events professionals from Europe and around the world to join the 5,000+ in Houston.
“The big trend for me is the democratization of power and influence to the individual.”
Sherrif Karamat,
President and CEO of PCMA