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ICSC CenterBuild 2020 & Virtual Conference Lessons

January 20th, 2021

By Dwayne Furukawa

As the Chief Development Officer at Steiner + Associates, ICSC CenterBuild covers exactly what I do on a day-to-day basis—that is, the planning, development, design and construction of shopping centers and retail-focused initiatives. My passion and enthusiasm for CenterBuild led me to join its Program Advisory Committee in 2017, and I have assisted in planning the annual event ever since.

Here’s what happened behind the scenes to get the conference off the ground in 2020, and a look at the state of meetings in 2021.

Virtual CenterBuild Execution in 2020
For CenterBuild 2020, we used an online event platform called Bizzabo and, since ICSC held several other conferences prior to ours, organizers were past the guinea pig stage and able to give committee members several training sessions to help us understand the technology.

Once the conference was set to begin, a dedicated ICSC IT team was part of every presentation, allowing us to fix issues in real-time if anything went wrong. This turned out to be a tremendous help in ensuring the conference went off without a hitch and is something I’d recommend for every virtual conference or event in the future.

Many of the sessions featured lively discussions amongst participants—a level of engagement that would perhaps be lower if the same session were held in person. Many of the presentations were also pre-taped prior to the conference, which allowed us to better control the content, presentation, and deliver the best quality experience for attendees.

Lessons Learned for 2021
Once CenterBuild 2020 was over, the committee agreed that nothing beats an in-person conference. One of the main reasons people attend the event is for networking purposes, and it’s just not the same when translated into a virtual environment.

On the other hand, there were some portions of CenterBuild 2020 that worked fantastic virtually and may be revived for future in-person dates. By hosting the event virtually, both attendees and presenters could stay home and still attend, which helped bolster the number of registrants. Particularly, when it came to securing speakers and presenters, we were able to get noteworthy executives that may not have participated had there been travel involved.

Planning is already underway for CenterBuild 2021. With the vaccines becoming available in greater frequency, there is optimism that we’ll be able to host the event in-person in December. Regardless, we are envisioning a hybrid physical/virtual conference that blends the best of both worlds to offer a premium experience for attendees.

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