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PCMA Convening Leaders 2024 Breaks Attendance Records

Maddy Ryley, Managing Editor
PCMA Breaks Attendance Records at 2024 Convening Leaders

SAN DIEGO — The Professional Convention Management Association’s (PCMA) annual Convening Leaders, held Jan. 7-10, 2024, at the San Diego Convention Center, brought together 5,000 industry professionals in person and online for education, networking and memorable programming.

With approximately 45 learning experiences and more than 125 speakers, this year’s event challenged professionals to “Think Bigger,” by finding ways to be bolder, dream bigger and think deeply about the future of business events. During the Jan. 8 morning session on the main stage, attendees enjoyed a performance from the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus, and Mayor Todd Gloria gave remarks before PCMA President and CEO Sherrif Karamat came onstage.

“Ten years ago, we started on a mission. We wanted to transform an industry because we realized the power that we have can transform society,” Karamat said during opening remarks. “That journey meant that in order to transform an industry, we had to transform ourselves.”

Karamat emphasized the importance of learning how to use AI to progress forward, solve issues of burnout in professionals and increase productivity, and that the industry needs to focus on sustainability initiatives.

“Still today, with all the importance of what we do — think about this, our industry is worth more than $1 trillion — it’s still not being recognized,” Karamat said. “If we were a country, we’d be the third largest country by GDP. We need to own that power, and we need young people to understand that there’s a very bright future in our industry.”

Education and Keynotes

Convening Leaders’ programming focused on important topics for event organizers, including technology and innovation, event strategy and design, DEI and accessibility, and marketing and sales among other relevant areas.

AI was a hot topic throughout the event, with Mo Gawdat, author and former CBO at Google X, speaking about the technology that is rapidly evolving and proliferating through society. He encouraged leaders to figure out what their area of strength is and find ways to incorporate AI into their intelligence in that area to stay at the top of their game. Then, AI expert Nina Schick took to the stage to talk about AI further, and emphasized just how quickly the technology will change human society. The major takeaway from Gawdat and Schick was that AI is not going to take your job, but someone who uses AI to perform the job functions will.

Another keynote on the main stage featured President Bill Clinton and 67th Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a fireside chat about the challenges society faces in 2024, leadership and making impactful decisions. The two leaders also shared the importance of face-to-face events as channels for decreasing divisiveness, exchanging ideas and fostering connections, as well as the need for leaders to seek solutions together and compromise.

During another session, Ken Holsinger, Senior Vice President of Strategy at Freeman, and Howard Givner, Senior Vice President of Knowledge and Innovation at PCMA, gave an exclusive look at the findings of a Freeman survey about attendee sentiment in 2024. It was reported that there is a 50% decrease year over year in those who plan to attend few events, with an 11% decrease in those citing budget changes as the reason for attending fewer events. It was also revealed that women and next-generation event-goers are particularly impacted by decreased travel budgets, inflation and perceived safety of a location.

The closing keynote featured Mayim Bialik, author, actor and neuroscientist, who discussed the intersection of professional life and mental health. Bialik shared a variety of methods to thrive including quality sleep, nutrition and breathing techniques to better calm the mind and body. She also discussed finding a balance between leading with openness and vulnerability and having healthy boundaries in place in a world that is increasingly focusing on and talking about mental health. Bialik said it’s key to understand when someone is sharing something with you that requires support that you cannot appropriately give.

A Marketplace for Industry Professionals

The District, the trade show floor of the event, featured companies displaying their products and services as well as offering unique activations and lounge areas. There were four themed areas in the space, providing an easy-to-navigate, immersive attendee marketplace.

Attendees got aura readings at Caesars Entertainment’s booth and played pickleball at Visit Seattle’s exhibit. Sherrif Karamat and incoming PCMA Chair Leonard Hoops played a pickleball match, with Hoops earning the win. The District also featured a happy hour event and PCMA Puppy Park, where attendees could relax and play with dogs.

The Tech Lab sessions at The District had an expanded footprint from its launch at EduCon 2023, with technology companies providing real-life solutions to challenges in the industry for attendees.

Related. Think Bigger with PCMA at its 2024 Convening Leaders

City-Wide Networking

The opening reception of the event took place at SeaWorld San Diego, sponsored by the San Diego Tourism Authority and SeaWorld. Attendees adventured around the park that was still glowing with holiday displays and lights and enjoyed drinks including hot chocolate in edible cookie cups. The event also allowed attendees to get up-close with orcas and learn more about the animals during the Orca Encounter show. The reception concluded with a grand fireworks display overlooking SeaWorld.

Companies and organizations held a variety of special events and dinners for employees, clients, colleagues and peers throughout Convening Leaders, too.

The annual Party with a Purpose, a charity event presented by GES and music sponsor Visit Austin, brought together attendees at Nova San Diego for a night of live entertainment, dancing and connecting with other industry peers, for the benefit of the PCMA Foundation.

Overall, Convening Leaders 2024 raised more than $400,000 for the PCMA Foundation.

The last night of the event featured a performance from R&B group Boyz II Men at the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, where attendees enjoyed a night of music, a drone show and fireworks to close out the annual event.

Reach Sherrif Karamat at

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