Events Council Blog

Insight from the Hall of Leaders: Deborah Sexton

Aug 08, 2018

2018 Hall of Leaders inductee Deborah Sexton has served the meetings and conventions industry for 35 years, including 12 years as president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). We talked with her about her innovative career.

What would you identify as your most enduring contribution to the events industry?

I have two contributions that I believe will have a lasting impact on the events industry. First, I envisioned and endeavored to build the Business Event Strategist movement, elevating the role of professionals and arming them with skills to lead their organisation’s engagement strategies. It began first with prompting PCMA to deliver on the education required to fuel the movement, with tracks such as PCMA Business School with renowned MBA professors. I introduced this movement at PCMA’s 2016 Convening Leaders, and the concept is now becoming widely adopted across the industry.

I was also one of the first industry leaders to pursue and embrace livestreaming, even when the naysayers told me this would cannibalise our face-to-face events. I advocated for the PCMA board to double down with the purchase of what is now known as the Digital Experience Institute (DEI), which is widely recognized as the industry authority on digital events, offering both education and certification. PCMA proved the naysayers wrong with actualising consistent year-over-year attendance growth for both PCMA’s face-to-face and online events. We were ahead of the livestreaming curve, and now you see organisations across the spectrum adopting livestreaming complements to their live events.

How do you plan to continue to make an impact on this sector?

I will continue to seek out opportunities to advance and evolve our industry, much like I did at both PCMA and the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau (now Choose Chicago). I’ve been seeking out those who are curious, willing to challenge the status quo and break paradigms — and believe together we can test ideas, hypotheses and strategies that have the potential to exponentially expand and grow the global business events industry.

I’ve also been collaborating with a number of business events strategists on a new model for member and audience engagement — one that allows organisations to deliver immediate small wins and scale up to prove growing success.

What are the most significant milestones you have seen the events sector reach during your tenure in the industry?

Industry organisations coming together to advocate for the events sector — this first began with the funding of the initial Economic Significance Study and evolved to the creation of the Meetings Means Business Coalition. There is still much to do, but we are all now working together to elevate our industry and diverse professions.

Organisations now embrace taking new risks with each of their meetings and events, rather than recycling last year’s programmes. They are placing more focus on designing experiences for their attendees and enacting engagement strategies pre-, during and post-event, resulting in growth for both their events and audiences.

Adoption of CSR and sustainability started out slowly, but now an overwhelming number of professionals believe in giving back to the communities in which we meet, and leaving the smallest carbon footprint possible.

The advancement of event technology has also had a huge impact on our industry. This technology now enables meetings and events professionals to be more productive and creative, as well as better track ROI.