by Nadia Oyebode
In January 2023, during the bone-chilling cold and dry weather, Sharon Bonner, the CEO and Founder of a Bright Ideas Event Agency attended the Go West conference in Edmonton, Alberta. From January 29th to 31st, Sharon made her way through the exhibit halls, captivated by the mesmerizing displays and interactive presentations from a diverse range of vendors. As an industry professional, she was eager to connect with like-minded individuals and gain new insights to take her business to the next level. The Go West event was a significant opportunity for Sharon to stay up-to-date. She got to learn the latest trends and network with other professionals in her field.
While attending the show, she couldn’t turn her event mind off, which is typical for her. She noted things that she liked and things that didn’t work for her. Acknowledging that all people are different and variety is the spice of life, she thought that she would share her thoughts about the event with you. Sharon’s keen eye for detail also allows her to identify areas where the event checked off all of the boxes. In comparison to other areas where she shares her opinions and suggestions.
GO WEST- MAIN STAGE
Sharon observed that The Main Stage at Go West featured 20-minute keynote speakers who offered overviews of their specialty in the event business. While it was beneficial to see and hear the speakers in person, the non-stop nature of the keynotes presented the risk of missing important information for attendees. Furthermore, the lack of bio breaks made the Main Stage not conducive to the audience, and some felt it was unfair to expect attendees to sit for an extended period of time without a break. Breaks were encouraged, but most attendees didn’t want to risk missing some industry nuggets they had been searching for. She loved the varied seating options from couches, to arm chairs, to stools to regular chairs at tables.
The closing on the Main Stage was fast-paced and provided a strong way to end the event. Organizers Brent and Arlene Schilke welcomed the attendees from the stage on Sunday night which was fantastic. However, there was no formal thank you at the end, which was missed after 3 amazing days. Having someone get up on the stage, thanking everyone for coming and giving an invite to come back for 2024 is always a positive way to end a multi-day event.
The closing reception was fantastic and allowed for lots of networking. During the reception Sharon realized that people really liked chilling out, snacking and chatting. She thinks that there should be more of it in Go West 2024.
Sharon recommended including an informal gathering or activity for those staying over on the last night to facilitate further networking and bonding. Organizers should ensure that events have a design to be inclusive and engaging for all attendees.
GO WEST- SOCIAL EVENTS
From Sharon Bonner’s perspective, the social event on the opening night at the Westin had both its positives and negatives attributes. She found the food and hotel staff at the Westin Hotel to be hospitable and accommodating. They went out of their way to make attendees feel welcome and the food was delicious. However, many attendees were unhappy with the smoke in the room, as it caused watery eyes and minor breathing issues.
Bonner also noted that on the opening night, the split between the two hotels. The Westin Hotel & the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald which caused some inconvenience for attendees. They had to walk back and forth between the two locations, not to mention some attendees didn’t attend both. She recognized that the Fairmont Hotel is more spacious, but the loud music from the band prevented attendees from networking and having intimate conversations, which was counter to the event’s overall purpose. She suggests holding the Opening Night event at the Fairmont Hotel (as it is larger) and having the Closing Reception at the Westin (with some casual entertainment or activities).
The second social event on Monday, January 30, 2023, sponsored by ‘Meet in Burnaby’ was fantastic! The layout of the room was perfect, as it allowed guests to easily roam from buffet to buffet. The variety of food was wide and yes there was meat available on this night! The only issue with this evening is that the duo on the stage was quite loud, but more importantly the magician on the stage was not the right fit for the evening. Everyone was networking and chatting, and he had to yell into the microphone which was off-putting and in poor taste. Bonner thinks the magician would have been a better fit at the slower, quieter opening events at the Westin Hotel the night before, where he would have been listened to and appreciated.
Despite these issues, Bonner appreciated the opportunity for attendees to network and connect with one another. However, she suggested that organizers should consider holding the Opening Event in a single location. This is ensuring that any entertainment provided does not interfere with attendees’ ability to connect and network effectively. And as she is aware, it’s impossible to please everyone!
At the “Monday Luncheon” of the Go West Conference, the organizers decided to have a meatless theme. All the food was vegetarian, including barbecued zucchini, cauliflower, zucchini and other vegetables. The concept of barbecuing your vegetables was creative and unique. However, this limited the options for carnivore lovers and many of them were not fond of the meatless meal. Despite this, Sharon found the decision to have a vegetarian theme to be risky, and daring, yet very creative. While the choice of meals was not everyone’s favourite, it showed a bold move towards promoting smart sustainability and environmental food choices.
The breakout sessions at Go West 2023 were very well-received by Sharon Bonner and other attendees. These sessions last for 30-45 minutes each and some were on repeat several times throughout the event. This gave participants the flexibility to attend at different times.
The format allowed attendees to dive deeper into specific topics and engage with speakers in a more intimate setting. Bonner appreciated the opportunity to learn from experts in the field and network with fellow attendees during the sessions.
Overall, the breakout sessions were a valuable component of the event.
Sharon Bonner’s favourite part of the Go West Conference was the Experiential Hall. She enjoyed the layout and the food, which included meat and was outstanding. However, she felt the learning corner was hidden in the back corner and liked it better when it was front and center in previous years. Still the concept of intimately listening to event experts was brilliant!
Another observation was the limited number of seating pods available in each row or at the end of the row. There was a huge seating area in one corner of the hall but smaller, more frequent seating would work better. Despite this, Sharon appreciated the opportunity to engage with exhibitors and learn about new technologies and services in the event industry. Overall, the Experiential Hall was a positive aspect of the event and contributed to Sharon’s memorable experience.
In conclusion, Go West 2023 was an overall pleasurable experience for Sharon Bonner and the attendees and well worth attending. The cold and dry weather didn’t dampen their spirits. The event had several highlights, including the Experiential Hall, Breakout Sessions, and Keynote Speakers. Seeing old friends and industry colleagues is always a reason to attend the event. And finding new event partners like David Beaudoin in the cheese workshop and learning from experts like the LinkedIn Lady Leanne Calderwood, always adds value.
The organizers have announced that the next Go West event will take place between January 28 – 30, 2024 in Edmonton, Alberta.