What happens online doesn’t always stay there

How Heidi’s online Evolve friends became real-life business connections

Heidi Leigin, Chief Executive Guru at Mice Guru

Full transcript

Mia Masson (MM): I'm really happy to speak to you today! You’re one of our valued Evolve Community members, or Evolvers, as they call themselves.

Heidi Leigin (HL): Thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure.

HL: I'm Heidi. I'm originally from Belgium and have been living and working for eight years in Norway, where I've established my own company.

I'm the founder and chief executive guru at the MICE Guru. And the MICE Guru is originally a destination management company. So we produce all types of MICE events, from your small leadership meetings to very large scale brand activations. And now during the pandemic we've  dived deeply into digital, virtual, hybrid. We've become pioneers and forward-thinkers in the hybrid format scenarios, as well as consultants on digital strategy for our corporate clients, new companies and for destinations. 

MM: Amazing. It seems like you’ve embraced this new world that we're living in. I know it's not easy. You’re adapting to a new world.

HL: Absolutely. You have to, right? That's what it's all about. It's looking at problems as if they were opportunities because they are. It's about grasping what's happening and understanding what you can do with it. Of course it's been very, very difficult, not only for us, but for everybody in the industry. It's been absolutely devastating and heartbreaking, but we've really tried. We educated ourselves from very early on in the pandemic to re-skill and upskill ourselves, and learn everything about virtual production that we didn't necessarily know. We took new accreditation programs and certifications. Then we tested tools and technologies for the entire duration of the pandemic and attended hundreds of events, joined the teams. Then we designed our own to showcase our new services and how we are evolving in these times.

MM: I love that you just used the word "evolving." That is the inspiration behind and the name for this community. When we created Evolve back in May, 2020, we wanted to think of a name that represented what was happening in the industry at that current time, but also one that would be timeless and relevant forever.

Tell me a little bit then how did you first get to know this community? When did you join? Why did you join? Have you seen any value since then? 

HL: Of course! I attended the first event in 2020. That was my first connection with the Evolve community.

I had been checking out Swapcard for a while and testing different types of events. I made a lot of new connections. So I thought, I'll join the second edition, Evolve 2.0. That was where I met some nice people and got really inspired by some of them.

I mean, building community is all about having a network of new people that you would not necessarily meet otherwise, it's not about volume in my opinion. It's about a few, really, really good, high-quality connections that you keep in touch with over a long period of time.

I've also built several communities myself, little micro tribes of people, and these people have truly become my family in difficult times. So community has really become so much more important. At the second Evolve event, I also got inspired by one of the keynote sessions and got in touch with that keynote speaker and developed a very big keynote for our own events,  which was absolutely successful. So everything is kind of connected when you meet the right people, you always find the right tools, ideas and you can collaborate and co-create. It's all about new ways of collaboration as well. 

MM: I love that. I know that you speak a lot about communities and you build your own communities. So you're an expert on this topic. Why do you think people feel this need to join a community and, for Evolvers that are listening now that are not sure if they want to commit, what do you think is the value that they'll get out of it?

HL: You know, I call it professional therapy. It's like a group of people that understands better than no other what you're going through as an event professional, because we understand our industry.

We understand the difficulties our industry is facing. We understand how the acceleration is making things very challenging for us in terms of keeping up with new technologies and developments and being on top of things. Even getting our education in or deciding whether or not we want to go in a certain direction, right? Those are things that only people in the same industry can fully grasp and understand. You can go to your partner or your family and complain about the struggles you are facing, but they will never understand the depths of it, right?

We’re putting in effort, time and energy to keep going right now in this situation. A community of event planners, industry people and corporate planners is gold because I've noticed as well that people are not shy anymore to share what's going on in their lives.

It's ironic really, even though everything is virtual and has been for some time, I feel that the connections have become much stronger and more human to human than they were before. Because if you meet in person, you meet once and then don’t see each other for a year or maybe two, three.

If you are constantly engaging in the same community, you start meeting those other event professionals and connecting with them more regularly. You get to know them on a much more personal level. 

MM: Absolutely. That is so true meeting such interesting people from all over the world and sharing things with them that you can't necessarily share with family members or friends, or even your direct colleagues.

It opens your mind to people that are in the same boat as you. Have you had any significant challenges as an event organizer? Could you share any of the ways in which you overcame obstacles so that the other Evolve Community members might learn something from you.

HL: Of course I've had challenges, everybody has. It would be stupid to say "No, it's been an easy road for me". The biggest challenge for us was it was the shift, the hundred-percent pivot. We don't want to use the word anymore, but there it is again, for destination management, meaning only incoming projects from incoming travelers and incoming companies to Norway.

So obviously when airports shut, that went down to 0% and absolutely everything was canceled. That was the main challenge. How we faced that was by going into that education and diversifying our services, building new, virtual services. Also lots of engagement programs, building communities.

We can offer something different than we did before, all the while keeping in mind our previous clients and involving them in the process. Education is also something you need to invest a lot of time and energy into - you can't just click a button and you've got a new skill.

It requires effort. The bigger challenge is once we see all those possibilities and opportunities, how to communicate them outwards to our clients? We are talking about digital strategy all the time. We are talking about what's new in online platforms and communities and new ways of marketing.

In the way you profile yourself as a company in the digital experience economy, all those things are still relatively new to most companies and they find it hard to understand. So one of my biggest challenges has really been about ”How do I communicate this better?” We've tried so many different angles in terms of the services we are talking about and what is important to focus on now in the months and years ahead to secure your growth.

MM: I'm sure it's going to be very valuable for everyone watching. Thanks for sharing. If there's one thing that you want the audience to leave this interview with, what would that be? One key takeaway that they can learn from you?

HL: I did a speaking session yesterday for a group of event planners all about envisioning the reality you want to create for yourself. And I go back to that a lot. I'm a person who firmly believes in intuition and trusting your instinct and that first idea that comes up, and I always recommend people to immediately go for it rather than start to over-rationalize things. Very often event planners are creators. So you would get this idea and think, “Oh my God, wouldn't it be cool to do that?” And you immediately dismiss it as a dream scenario, right?

It won't work because it will be too expensive, or we can’t do that because this is not a priority. But I would recommend people to immediately act on those ideas because they're usually the best ones. Be creative and continue to bring back emotion. I talk about that a lot as well, Mia. Emo currency, like bringing back emotion to events is so important to us, especially virtually and digitally. Don't do a copy-paste series of the same events. Don't copy other people, don't make your events one-sided, bland and uninspiring. Be a little bit more crazy. Use your inspiration and your creative mad dreams and make something out of it. Create something new and refreshing. That's what it's about for us. 

MM: I love that. I hope that everyone has heard and understood the assignment, go out and break barriers, break those labels and those moulds. And think out of the box so that you can design events for your specific audience, that they are going to enjoy no matter if it's virtual or hybrid or in-person or whatever.

HL: Do it!

MM: Thank you for sharing Heidi.

HL: You're welcome.

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