Happy Fifth Birthday to Us!

Happy Fifth Birthday to Us!

This month, the C.KAY International team celebrates five years in business. Five fabulous roller-coaster years of creating and delivering conferences and events all over the world. High five to my team and our amazing colleagues and clients across the globe!

The traditional gift for a five-year anniversary is wood. Seriously? Wood? Surely celebrating five years in the event planning business deserves something a bit more… fizzy? A round of champagne for all, I say!


What a Five Years

Five years ago I took a deep breath – and the plunge – into entrepreneurship and created C.KAY International. It’s been a whirlwind. It feels like yesterday, and a lifetime ago, that I jumped in and opened my business bank account.

In those five years, my team and I have traveled all over the world to deliver events I believe were extraordinary for the top-notch clients we’re honored to work with. Those events couldn’t have happened without the partnership of the most talented, creative, and service-obsessed professionals in the events world: production crews, caterers, mixologists, film crews, venue staff, security teams, ice carvers, plus donkeys, kittens, and a litter of puppies (I love my human partners, but those puppies stole my heart…)

Our roller coaster ride has had many high points: sales meetings in Berlin, an executive ski retreat in Montana, eSports events in Ukraine, massive conferences in Las Vegas, holiday celebrations in Seattle, a press conference in the middle of Texas, award ceremonies in Vancouver, B.C.  and a special thrill for me as a Brit living in the U.S.: supporting the U.K. government in welcoming the Red Arrows (the Royal Airforce aerobatic team) to the U.S. That was a high-flying evening!

The five years also had low points. Unimaginable violence in two cities where we were holding events, and of course, the pandemic. Like all our colleagues in the global event, hospitality, and travel industries, our business came to screeching halt practically overnight. We lost every bit of business we had on the books in the blink of an eye.

A New Turn on the Roller Coaster

Another deep breath and another plunge – into the world of virtual events. We quickly bounced back from the shut-down of in-person gatherings and came up with new and creative ways to bring people together. We became virtual event maestros. Our team has become broadcasters, producers, online stage managers, show callers, pet parade organizers, and online technology gurus.

We’ve now delivered virtual events for almost two years:  globe-spanning online conferences, executive briefing broadcasts from desks, keynote addresses, panel discussions, a symposium for cancer survivors, executive whiskey networking nights, wine tastings, investor and start-up summits, press conferences, and puppy cams (I had to find a way to get those puppies back!)

Riding That Roller Coaster

Being an entrepreneur has its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Like many business owners, I find myself lonely at times. But I’ve worked hard to surround myself with fabulous colleagues. I have a great team that keeps me going and fills me with positivity.

We’re constantly pondering what’s next. What can we take on? What should we walk away from? We’re a team that takes risks. Life is too short to not take them.

We’re excited to be moving forward as COVID thankfully begins to decline globally.  We’re shedding our work-at-home PJs and slipping back into business casual.

Right now I’m on a site visit for a potential live event for a client. Live events are back! But virtual events aren’t going away. We’re looking ahead to the promising future of hybrid events that offer the best of the in-person and virtual worlds.

Thank you to everyone for an amazing five years: to my team, colleagues, clients, friends, and especially my mum, for always being there, through all the ups and downs. Now, onto the next five years and beyond!


Founder: Caroline Kay. Photo Credit: Mallory MacDonald Photography

How to Avoid Becoming an Online Meeting Zombie

How to Avoid Becoming an Online Meeting Zombie

“No…not another Zoom meeting!” cry people everywhere, almost every day. We’re all feeling it. The dread of getting on another videoconference. The detachment and brain fog we feel while the meeting drones on. And the exhaustion that hits when we finally get to click “Leave the Meeting.” 

The nickname for this syndrome is “Zoom fatigue,” but it’s hardly fair to blame it on Zoom. This is the actual physical and mental drain that comes from attending a series of videoconferences throughout the day. It’s the curse of the online meeting zombies.

Photo Credit: Chris Montgomery

Online Meeting Fatigue is Real

The exhaustion you feel actually is in your head: the “cognitive load is much higher in video chats” reports a study conducted at the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab. Basically, your brain has to work harder in online meetings to send and receive signals, to read people’s facial expressions, and interpret tones of voice. You get brain drain. 

Other reasons for online meeting fatigue are more obvious: we’re tired of looking at ourselves on screen. We’re expected to “on” at all times. We sit for too long. We’re distracted and pulled by life going on around us. 

So how to fight becoming an online meeting zombie? Here are some tips.

Get off camera, if possible. If it’s acceptable to turn your video off during the meeting, do. You’ll have less pressure of being “on,” you can move around, you can make faces, and do some stretches during a co-worker’s monologue.

Treat your ears and eyes to good equipment. High-quality audio and video can improve your online experience. A good headset will help you hear the conversation, reduce distracting noises around you, and you’ll come through more clearly to others in the meeting. A ring light will handle lighting issues on your end, so you can relax (and look great!) 

Reduce on-screen distractions: Close windows or apps other than the videoconference tool to reduce distractions and the temptation to multi-task.

Schedule screen-time breaks. Try to keep some open time between online meetings. When you’re not in a meeting, get away from the screen when you can. You may have to schedule an off-screen escape. Perhaps work to reduce your overall screen time outside of work.

When the meeting’s over, move! Get up and stretch when the meeting ends if you can. Or wiggle in your chair and do sitting isometrics. Take a tour around the block. Do jumping jacks. Do something to get your body moving. Here are in-chair moves you can do even during the meeting and a 7-Minute Standing Workout to boost your energy.

Photo Credit: Caroline Kay

Get outside whenever possible. A walk outside between meetings can help to clear your head. Even popping outside for a few deep breaths of fresh air can diminish mental cobwebs. C.KAY President, Caroline Kay’s go-to remedy for online meeting fatigue is a quiet cup of tea in fresh air, away from all screens.

Online meetings are here to stay. You might dread that next Zoom meeting, but it can save time, money, and even stress. No commute, no parking, no fancy pants or shoes required. Just a respectable-looking head, perhaps enhanced with impressive headphones and a light ring no one will know you have. Turn off the video and you can dance while you’re in that meeting. 

Zoom on!







More Ways to Improve Online Meetings 

  • How to plan and host a successful online meeting
  • We’re excited to be producing an increasing number of in-person and hybrid events. Get tips on how to deliver a great hybrid event.
  • Do you give a lot of online presentations? We have some tricks and techniques to make you an on-air pro.  Give us a buzz

C.KAY International has been producing virtual events, and in-person events with virtual components, for a long time. We’re here to help with event coaching or ready to plan and deliver your entire production. Contact caroline@ckayinternational.com


Online or On-site: Make Your Events Sustainable

Online or On-site: Make Your Events Sustainable

April 22 is celebrated around the world as Earth Day, but shouldn’t every day be Earth Day? When it comes to planning and producing events, C.KAY International views every day and every event as an opportunity to maximize sustainability. We keep our eye on an event’s impact to the environment and community in addition to a client’s business goals and bottom line in every event we produce. That goes for online, hybrid, and the in-person events we are happily starting to work on once again.

Here’s a snapshot of the guidance we give our clients to make their events as sustainable as possible. We emphasize that sustainability is not only good for the planet, it’s good for your bottom line.

Keep going virtual. Online and hybrid events are here to stay, even when big in-person events are possible again. And that’s good news for the environment. Reduced travel means reduced carbon footprint. Online events mean less paper, fewer “trash and trinkets,” reduced energy consumption, and no refreshments left on platters and wasted. Online and hybrid events offer great possibilities for effective, highly sustainable meetings.

Laptop for virtual events

Photo Credit ~ Samantha Borges at Unsplash

Make sustainability integral to the event. When planning the event, consider all elements through the lens of sustainability. Include sustainability as an agenda item of event planning meetings. How can you make each aspect of the event more sustainable? What are the sustainability needs and practices of your clients, vendors, and sponsors? Consider offering event content such as featured speakers and education tracks that tie to sustainability.

Involve attendees in sustainability. In your event communications, highlight what you’re doing to make the event more sustainable and enlist attendees to support the work. You might utilize technology to provide attendee portal to reward sustainable attendee behaviors. Philosopher Marshall McLuhan says it well: “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.” Engage your attendees as sustainability crew.

Choose sustainable venues. When planning an in-person event, look for venues that incorporate sustainable practices in their space. Examine the venue’s recycling program and how it works to reduce and manage food waste. Consider what meaningful certifications the venue has such as LEED, Green Business, and the ISO 14001:2004 environmental certification.

Avoid throw-away materials. Work with suppliers who have sustainable options for giveaways like swag and name badges. Think about swag from a sustainable point of view. Will it be just another trinket that gets tossed after the event? What might be retained and will further your goals for the event? Make the swag useful. For example, offer water bottles that attendees can refill onsite and continue to use after the event. Corporate or event branding messages and sustainability information can be provided on the label.

Lady waiting for the train with a reusable water bottle

Photo Credit: quokkabottles at Unsplash

Minimize paper usage. Put as much event information online as possible to reduce printing resources and paper consumption. Instead of daily printed schedules, can you offer a QR code to direct guests online for event details? If you’re running an expo as part of the event, encourage your exhibitors to put product/service info online rather than provide reams of product brochures that often end up in the trash rather than someone’s files.

Support local. Work with locally owned and operated suppliers whenever possible. If attendees are coming from out of town, encourage them to stay in locally owned hotels, B&B’s, Airbnb spots, etc. Look for local vendors such as caterers, A/V teams, and transportation suppliers who focus on sustainability practices.

Get sustainability guidance. C.KAY International can advise on a variety of strategies, tactics, and resources to make your event more sustainable. Sustainability and industry organizations, such as the Sustainability Event Alliance and the Events Industry Council offer excellent resources and many local Visitor and Convention Bureaus can point you to suppliers that focus on sustainability.

If you’re interested pursuing innovative, affordable, and effective ways to make your next event more sustainable, we would love to discuss your event goals and ideas.

“Sustainability is not a goal to be reached but a way of thinking, a way of being, a principle we must be guided by.”
— Giulio Bonazzi, Chairman, Aquafil Group


I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

“I’m still standing, yeah, yeah, yeah,” proclaims my friend and event management colleague, Marcus White, in this blog post. It’s his victory shout about dealing with the changing world of events management, and life in general, since COVID-19 hit. He offers brilliant insight that I agree with completely. (And good luck reading the title without Elton John singing in your head!)

As a lot of us are saying, it feels like my world has been turned upside down since March. I feel like I’ve been shoved into a washing machine on a continuous spin cycle with soapy water still pouring in.

I started 2020 totally optimistic—and full of beans. I had just rented a flat in Boston after two glorious years as a nomad, running my business from whatever place I landed for a short while. I was settled and ready to hit the ground running! Then came March, and there went all my business. Live events were all cancelled, as quickly as blowing out a candle.

Things looked grim. I had just committed to a rent. My small business didn’t make the cut for the first round of PPP loans. I felt like things had completely bottomed out. I spent the early weeks in complete denial about COVID 19—going through the stages of grief and the change curve multiple times. Thank heavens for my Mum. I called her at least three times a day. “You’re a great survivor,” said Mum. “Everything will be ok – you have many strengths”

Then…enough’s enough! Enough fighting the water in that washing machine. Time to get out of the spin cycle. A friend recently told me I had grit and that I’m resilient. It was time to put those attributes to work. My superpower is planning, so it was time for a plan. Time to focus on controlling the controllable.

Here’s what I’m doing personally:

  • I have kept to a routine and for the most part I stick to it. Even getting out of bed at a standard time helps. (Though there have certainly been days when even getting up was just too much and I hid under the duvet.)
  • I’ve taken up meditation and yoga. These never seemed like my kind of things, but I find they really help in keeping me steady and calm.
  • I love to travel (check out my travel blog, Have Fizz Will Travel.) Since we’re all on pause with travel, I’ve been traveling virtually by creating travel plans of all the places I want to visit or re-visit.
    And I love the website WindowSwap which lets you peek out windows across the globe. A similar vicarious experience on Facebook is View From My Window. I might not be able to visit these spots right now, but I get a glimpse of life through other windows, other eyes. It’s the next best thing to traveling there.

Here’s what I’m doing professionally:

  • The concept of virtual events isn’t new, but it’s obviously the new normal. I’ve been creating and managing virtual events for quite a while as organizers of live events wanted to extend their reach. That experience is invaluable now. I’m working with several clients to transform the live events they had planned into online experiences.
  • I’m constantly learning about virtual event resources and best practices. I’m consumed with researching technology platforms, engagement tools and techniques, streaming services, and more. It’s like the Wild Wild West out there!
  • To channel that experience and resource knowledge, I created an Event Coaching service to guide clients in creating their own virtual events.

Luckily, the events business is a social one. I don’t see other people in my industry as competitors, they’re possible collaborators. We’re colleagues who support each other, co-create, and partner to provide clients with additional skillsets. In the constantly changing world of virtual events, having an abundance of expert resources on hand is a godsend. As my friend Marcus says, “Community is key…if you’re running, do it with people that inspire you and can teach you.”

After all of this, my word for 2020 is “hope.” I have hope for the future of my business and that big live events will eventually be possible again. In-person events will be different: in their size, the way they’re set up, and the way guests interact. But we’re social animals. We will be back!

Navigating the Tricky Waters of Virtual Events

Navigating the Tricky Waters of Virtual Events

The world of event management has gone full virtual. I think it’s safe to say we’re now in full swing with virtual experiences. Over the last five months, we’ve all watched and experienced how companies, non-profits, government agencies, and more have shifted their in-person events to the digital world. Some nimble organizations were able to transform their events to virtual in less than six weeks. (I say this as someone who has been working feverishly to support clients who had to turn on a dime, or a euro, to go virtual.)

Virtual events aren’t new. C.KAY International has been producing virtual events, and in-person events with virtual components, for quite some time. But the digital arena is new to some event planners. Here are some tips and tricks on how to successfully navigate the tricky waters of virtual events.

Event Plan:  Whether an event is in-person or virtual, a solid Event Plan is a must. It doesn’t have to be the length or detail of War and Peace—even a one-pager can be make the difference between a successful event and a flop. Running a virtual event is different than an on-site event and your plan needs to address that difference. Who is your target audience? (You have a wider potential reach by going virtual.) Why are you holding the event? What are the key metrics you will measure and shoot for? Will you have sponsors? If so, what’s in it for them? Your Event Plan should be the hymnal that everyone understands and is singing from in unison.

Budget: Have a clear grasp on your budget. If you’re repurposing the budget from an in-person event, don’t just delete the food and beverage line item. You may need to move that money to your technology budget or for other elements you’ve never had to deal with in an event, like recording, captioning, or translations.

Platforms:  It’s like the Wild West out there when it comes to technical platforms for virtual events! One size and technology doesn’t fit all. The platforms, some with app versions, have improved a lot in the last five months, making it easier for the users to navigate. User demands have broadened too. People use multiple devices to engage with virtual events—you can’t assume they’re watching from their laptops.

Broadcast: With the advances in platforms comes the ability to do so much more than a boring webinar! I have several clients who have moved to the broadcast model—using their own website with an audio-visual team to support streaming and recording. This is more expensive than the more traditional streaming approaches, so organizations with major budget limitations may find standard streaming platforms a better fit for their event.

Pre-recorded vs. Live Events:  There is a lot of discussion and differing views on whether you stream pre-recorded content or conduct a live event. Pre-recorded is less risky. You can load up the recorded video days before your event and your speaker can interact with the audience in real time on the chat feature. But when your attendees know you’re there with them live, they’ll be more likely to stick around and engage with you throughout the presentation. The downside for live events: it takes a large amount of personal energy to provide engaging content since you don’t have audience interactions and feedback like you would at an in-person event. Speakers need to generate a large amount of enthusiasm.

Whether your event is pre-recorded or delivered live, your content and technology need to be rock solid. Plan to run ample tech checks and rehearsals. Have moderators assigned to help with the live chat or Q&A.

Audience members think of virtual events like any content that’s on the internet or TV. They’re busy and they want fast, easy access to content. So having on-demand options set up and readily available post event, or even during the event, is key.

Engagement: The old saying is “Content is King,” but content isn’t everything. You’ll need specific tactics to keep your attendees engaged. My friend and colleague, Dana Pake, (a.k.a. the “Queen of Creativity”) says this about audience engagement: “Before COVID, event designers used to take to Instagram to find inspiration for immersive experiences. In these #newtimes, look to what TV does to compete for attention and engagement. Your job now is to ‘edutain’ your audience — provide creative formats that deliver the right message to the right audience in non-traditional ways. For instance, rather than a simple panel discussion with moderator and panelists, consider a game show or cooking show format like Chopped, where participants are performing under pressure while answering questions. It puts your audience on the edge of their seat to see what happens next. The tl;dr: Your content delivery should both inform and entertain.”

But that doesn’t mean you can slack on content. Never hit a dead end on a virtual event—keep the content coming. It should feel like a TV broadcast.

Communication:  When planning and producing any kind of event, I’m a huge fan of over communicating with all stakeholders—clients, vendors, audience members, behind-the-scenes support staff, on-screen talent, etc. Excellent internal and external communications are essential, especially if you have stakeholders who are new to virtual events.

Ensure communications are clear. Remember that even in this new world of virtual events, not everyone knows how to operate every platform. Event staff and audience members will appreciate a “Know Before You Show” document that offers user guidance, screen shots, and common trouble-shooting tips.

You may have noticed that a lot of these tips for virtual events apply to in-person events too. So perhaps apply another standard event strategy: hire an event management expert. Having a professional event planner help you navigate these new virtual waters might just help you cruise to a box-office hit!