SISO's 2023 CEO Summit Addresses Key Issues in a New Era for the Events Industry

April 6, 2023

Independent trade show executives, suppliers and industry media convened March 20-23 for the 2023 Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) CEO Summit at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas. 

The four-day event offered content on a wide variety of topics, from a global economic forecast and an update on the Net Zero Carbon Events initiative to a study on DEI at the top 20 exhibition companies and research on next-gen event-goers.

As in years past, the attendee and speaker list featured a who’s who of industry leaders (see who attended in 2023 here). The Tarsus team, which publishes TSNN, Corporate Event News and Exhibitor News Network, was also onsite for this annual meeting of C-level executives. 

Among the many educational sessions held at the conference was an underlying focus on the state of the exhibitions industry and the challenges it faces in Q1. Here are some of the top trends we heard during several sessions. 

1. Four female CEOs shared insights on what it takes to level up at the Executive Women's Forum. 

The SISO Executive Women's Forum featured a half-day of content led by Karen Gifford, principal with Gifford Management, and the event attracted a record attendance of 93. Rachel Wimberly, executive vice president of Tarsus Group, chairs the SISO Women’s Special Interest Group (SIG), and she was instrumental in putting the program together.

A panel of female leaders shared their perspectives, preparation and practices for leveling up the corporate ladder. The panel featured Lisa Hannant, CEO of Clarion Events; Nancy Walsh, president, North America of Informa Markets; Yancy Weinrich, president, North America of CloserStill Media; and BJ Enright, president and CEO of Tradeshow Logic. 

Here are highlights:

What are the skills and qualities necessary to level up today? 

  • Data and digital skills
  • Strategic thinkers versus operations experts
  • Financial acumen

What derails a rise to the top?

  • The inability to collaborate and impatience. Stop and ask: What does everyone else think?
  • Being right versus being effective. They can be at odds with each other.
  • Communication skills: What’s the bottom line versus getting stuck in the weeds of the details. 

What’s your advice for the best way to invest your time?

  • Network and build relationships across your company.
  • Understand yourself and your motivations. 
  • Hire a business coach so you have an unbiased sounding board to advise you.
  • Be brave. You might have to jump ship to level up.

CEO Panel, SISO CEO Summit 20232. CEOs from the major independent show companies talked about trends and challenges facing the industry in Q1 2023. 

The main conference program kicked off with “CEO Panel Beyond Recovery!,” moderated by Mary Larkin, who was recently appointed CEO Americas for Arc. Four CEOs shared insights on the next three to five years and how they see their businesses evolving. The panel featured Lisa Hannant, CEO of Clarion Events; Hervé Sedky, CEO of Emerald; Nancy Walsh, president, North America for Informa Markets; and Fernando Fischer, president of RX Global Americas. 

Here are highlights:

What trends and challenges are facing the industry in Q1 2023?

  • Increasing costs for exhibitors and show organizers
  • Managing costs and increasing purchasing power through consolidation of vendors 
  • Diversity of attendance
  • Micro-journeys and experiences that can be managed and measured
  • Proving the value of trade shows
  • Changing customer expectations
  • Time is critical. Attendees want a curated experience. 
  • Digital tools for discovery and matchmaking. For example, Natural Products Expo has a new beacon discovery tool that curates, vets and matches buyers with sellers. Informa rolled out the tool at Natural Products Expo West in March in Anaheim, Calif.
  • No recession pressures yet in U.S. market, seeing some in Europe due to rising energy costs
  • Adding language about appropriate behavior in contracts, on show signage and on show websites

What’s trending in exhibitor pricing?

  • Some are staying a couple points ahead of inflation.
  • Bundling space with digital tools to add value
  • Training sales staff to be clear on pricing explanations
  • Having more conversations around pricing and value

What’s the state of talent acquisition, quiet quitting and return to office policies?

  • Bringing people back to the office varies by region and country. London is back, New York not so much.
  • Some are funding and prioritizing employee get-togethers over forcing teams to come back to the office.
  • Many have closed offices or downsized and renovated smaller spaces, which is also helping to manage costs.
  • Most are flexible about return to work. Some want employees to come to the office two to three days a week, while others are staying more flexible and suggesting employees come to the office when it adds value and is efficient.
  • The talent pool situation has leveled off, while resignations are simmering.
  • Work from home is positively impacting attendance at trade shows and events.

Robyn Duda Panel, SISO CEO Summit 20233. Leaders at three of the hottest events discussed building community, fostering networking and creating unique experiences at their non-traditional trade shows. 

During the session “The Show/Event/Community of Tomorrow What are Customers Looking for Today in Their B-to-B Events?,” a panel of industry leaders shared insights on building community with engagement at the highest level. Moderated by Robyn Duda, event strategist and experience designer for Robyn Duda Creative LLC, the panel featured Nancy Mastroianni, head of growth for HLTH Inc.; Courtney Muller, president of Manifest and chief corporate development officer of Connectiv; and Denise Medved, senior vice president of Money 20/20 USA, owned by Ascential.

What’s different about their events versus traditional trade shows?

  • For Money 20/20, only 35% on NSF is sold exhibit space. The rest of the space is used for content, food and beverage and meetings.
  • For HLTH, it’s about community and experience for C-suite attendees not the event. “We are the facilitator of the community,” Mastroianni said. “We don’t care about big booths. We are focused on engagement.” For a March show, the largest booth they had was 20 feet by 30 feet. HLTH offers turnkey booth packaging and provides curated matchmaking.
  • At Manifest, “everything is different. All badges have beacons. Think outside the booth. Think activations. You have to spend money to make money. It’s about content, networking and experience,” Muller said. “We don’t do resale or renewal of exhibit space on site. We wait until after the event.”

How do you create unique environments at your events?

  • At Money 20/20, they hire creative teams from outside the industry, such as producers from Cirque du Soleil. For one show, Money 20/20 may have 20 different experiences that you probably wouldn’t see at a traditional trade show. For example, they had a Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll content stage with a dive bar theme, including bar stools for presenters. “It was so cool, but you will never see that theme again at one of our events,” Medved said.
  •  In 2023, Money 20/20 bought out restaurant row at the Venetian in Las Vegas, and sponsors could buy activations. It’s a value to the event, attendees and sponsors, as it keeps them engaged with their community at the event so they don’t go off site to eat and drink, according to Medved. How do they price it? “We have strict margin guidelines to develop pricing,” Medved said. 

How do they create year-round community at their events?

  • Data and gated content for the fin tech audience by fin tech experts, Medved said.
  • Content via weekly one-hour webinars with sponsored thought leadership. It’s a low lift, as they are sold in advance for all 52 weeks of the year. “Webinars are not dead — despite the return to face to face. I am shocked at the engagement,” Mastroianni said.

Ken Holsinger, Freeman Company, SISO CEO Summit 20234. Exclusive research on attendee trends was presented to the SISO audience. 

During the session “Data-Informed Industry Insights,” Kimberly Hardcastle, president and chief marketing strategist for mdg, and Ken Holsinger, SVP, strategy, data solutions, for Freeman Company, presented key findings taken from recent surveys and interviews with organizers, attendees and exhibitors exclusively from for-profit shows.

Attendee trends presented by Freeman and mdg:

  • In-person events are considered the most trustworthy sources of information, with 75% of attendees surveyed ranking in-person events as the most trustworthy, followed by professional trade organizations (68%), academic institutions (65%), webinars (48%), company leaders (45%), thought leaders 36%), media outlets (12%), blog posts (9%), government/political leaders (8%) and social media/influencers (6%). 
  • The average age of an attendee is 45, down from 51 prior to the pandemic. Exhibit marketers are even younger.
  • In 2023, they plan to attend an average of 3.9 events, down from 4.4 events in 2019 but up from 3.3 in 2022.
  • DEI and sustainability are table stakes issues for the next generation of event goers.
  • Overlap of work/life: Help them reach their professional goals at events. When asked about what factors influence their participation at in-person events, 84% said the perceived value relative to professional goals.
  • Only 1% care about celebrity speakers/keynotes. 39% said they prefer innovation and new ways of thinking.
  • Keynotes are ideally about 40 minutes.
  • Gen Z is not using email. Even in business, they are relying on social media, YouTube and search.
  • When it comes to scheduling, less is more. They want more room in their schedules for down time between sessions, exhibit hall hours, receptions and other event activities.
  • For the preferred format for technical information, 73% of attendees want demos and hands-on activities.
  • For all shows, overall attendance was 87% in winter 2022 compared with winter 2019.


Andrew Carney and Meera Somji, Clusivity, SISO CEO Summit 20235. The first-ever data analysis of DEI at the 20 largest event organizations highlighted growth and declines. 

During the session “How Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Could Radically Transform the Events Industry,” Andrew Carney and Meera Somji, co-founders of Clusivity, presented a proprietary analysis of DEI in leadership at the top 20 largest event organizations. Diversified Communications is working with Clusivity to take a data-driven approach to their global DEI strategy, and Clusivity is supporting Encore to gather DEI data across its global offices. 

Key data analysis presented by Clusivity:

  • Since 2020, the number of female CEOs has grown from 10% to 15%.
  • The number of women on senior leadership teams has grown from 20% to 23%. 
  • Only two out of 151 professionals (1%) on senior leadership teams are from a minoritized ethnic group. 
  • Nineteen out of the top 20 organizers have entirely white or ethnic majority senior leadership teams.
  • There are no minoritized ethnic female professionals on any senior leadership team (a decline since 2020). For context, 66 Fortune 500 CEOs are now from minoritized ethnic groups (13%).

Download a copy of Clusivity’s white paper.   

Hervé Sedky, Emerald, and Bob Priest-Heck, Freeman, SISO CEO Summit 20236. Freeman CEO was honored as the first supplier to earn the SISO Krakoff Award.  

Emerald's Sedky, who previously served as SISO chair, presented the Robert L. Krakoff Industry Award of Excellence to Freeman CEO Bob Priest-Heck during the SISO Business Luncheon.

"Bob's innovation and creativity are equally matched with his ability to connect deeply with people around him,” Sedky said.He is constantly pushing the industry forward and is someone who always seeks to tap into people's creativity so they can excel, innovate and ultimately reimagine what is possible."

This award is named in honor of industry legend Robert L. Krakoff, who built and ran some of the most successful businesses in the exhibition industry. It is the only award that SISO gives out, and it is only given to the most impactful leaders of for-profit businesses in the exhibitions and events industry. Priest-Heck is the first industry supplier to receive the award, which was launched in 2008. A list of previous Krakoff Award winners can be found here.

When I accepted this award, I felt as if there were a legion of personal heroes and loyal colleagues standing right behind me,” Priest-Heck said in a LinkedIn article.

What’s Next for SISO

The SISO Summer Conference will be held Aug. 22-24 in Salt Lake City. The 2024 SISO CEO Summit is set for April 8-11 at The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island in Amelia Island, Fla., and the 2025 edition will take place March 31-April 3 at The Omni Barton Creek Resort and Spa in Austin, Texas.

Main photo: Executive Women's Forum, SISO CEO Summit 2023

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