Back to the future at ECEF with Greg Topalian and more

Stephanie Selesnick marks our card for what is in store at this year’s, 23rd ECEF in Washington DC in May:


The 23rd ECEF is coming up 29 May in Washington, DC, with over 200 for profit and association exhibition executives expected to attend. Having attended a few of these one-day conferences over the years, it’s a favourite. Sam Lippman, president and founder of Lippman Connects and producer of the event, always challenges himself and the team to bring in speakers not usually on the exhibition circuit – and this year is no exception. There is a good mix of expo industry professionals and outsiders/expo-adjacent on the agenda.

The day ahead of ECEF, MDG, a Freeman Company, and SISO will present an AI for Events primer, a subject that seems to be more and more relevant daily. The day after ECEF, the Exhibition and Conferences Alliance (ECA) will hold Legislative Action Day where industry members will visit Capitol Hill to lobby the US Congress and Senate about important issues, such as improved wait times for business visas.

Sam says this year’s programming is about, “Spending less time looking in the mirror (of our industry), and more time looking outside the window.” There’s also a lot of research data being shared, from Freeman to Google to Hargrove (Encore).

Ken Holsinger, senior vice-president strategy, Freeman Company will present the first two quarters of their research on visitors, exhibitors, and sponsors. Ken is one of those people who has a unique gift of tying research numbers into understandable inferences.

Keynoter Melissa Medina, co-founder of eMerge Americas, will present: ‘Unlocking Innovation & Fostering an Ecosystem: How One Show Helped Transform a City’. Over the last decade, she founded, together with her father, a company launching one event which grew into Miami’s annual Tech Month. Their innovative use of working with outboarding events should give delegates something new to think about.

How many of us have done the research for a client, presented a sponsorship programme (or idea), been greenlighted, only to hear the ‘budget is No’ from the client’s CFO? We will hear from CFO’s who are sponsors and exhibitors how they make decisions on where monies are spent. As Sam says, “Let’s hear from where the buck [dollar] stops!”

Later, Teena Piccione, senior director Google, speaks on “Implementing Transformative Change: How a Fortune 100 Executive Nails It”. She’s going to share the results of two surveys Google gave to its employees and to Cloud Girls (a diverse community of female tech leaders helping to narrow the gender gap within the technology industry about events). Expect some unexpected data – and suggestions on implementing changes based on said data.

My curiosity has gone into overdrive with the second-to-last session of the day, ‘Heads Will Spin 360° When This Fearless CEO Dusts Off His Crystal Ball’. Clarion North America’s newly minted chairman, Greg Topalian (pictured), spoke at ECEF ten years ago boldly predicting where the expo industry would be in 2024, while helming RX’s ReedPop division. This year he grades the accuracy of those predications and moves on to give us new ones for 2034.

The last session of the day, ‘Begin with People: Designing the Event of the Future’ with Christine Kiesling, vice-president, Customer Experience, Hargrove from Encore, who will present the results of proprietary research. Using tech and creativity, how can and should we help facilitate the experience and interactions of our event goers?

Also expect tech demos and many networking opportunities over breaks and meals during the day.

Sam’s hope is that the 2024 ECEF will “Spark ideas and creativity.” I think they will.