Photo Credit: Saltwater Nomads


Kongres Magazine talked to Tanja Polegubic, whose projects Zagreb Digital Nomad Week and Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence won the award for the best crossover event, the audience award and the best in sustainability award at CBEA, about her opinion on events and groundbreaking projects.

Q1: What do you think about the Conventa Best Event Award competition. Where do you see it going in the future?

I was impressed by the presenters during the awards and conference day. The network that has been built by Conventa is strong, and it seems a logical step to continue awards following a week of such activity. A lot of innovative agencies are doing great things; it is important to celebrate them; it also lifts the standard for the industry.

In the future, if it is to change, I expect it might expand to specific sectors or modify its categories somewhat. By this, I mean something like excellence in an online format or focusing on certain industries each year. The format is already quite solid.

Q2: Why do you think your project convinced the international jury?

I expect the nature of the events was quite unique. Also, there were quite a lot of partners involved. One event was all about co-creation. The other was a marathon 7-day effort, with so many people included, and a real diversity of themes, unifying into the one – remote work.

I think one of the advantages was the very relatable “remote work” theme. This movement is something everyone could relate to, so there were events that spoke specifically to this moment in time; the opportunity before us all. The theme for both submissions, i.e. digital nomads, is also some form of escapism – perhaps this was appealing?
I would like to think it was because the design for each was quite robust. They were all built on partnerships, and all actually have long term goals.

On an ‘unseen’ level, the people involved were really carefully curated. It is my hope this shone through – everyone involved gave their A-Game. I know because I always really push while keeping it fun.

Q3: Do you think that event awards are important in the eyes of existing and potential new clients. Do they (still) have weight?

I believe so. There are three key things I see it brings. When they are your first awards, even people not necessarily involved in your line of work realise you are making ripples. From an internal perspective, it has motivated me even more. I am quite self-critical, so I can see ways the events needed to improve, which means the next things I choose to do now have an even higher benchmark. It is pushing me to do better, and I am grateful for that – so the impact is manifold; the output will always get better when we know what we’re measuring ourselves against. Third – you are in a position to choose who you work with more. When this happens, I believe choosing your work will mean it will be what is meaningful – how can there be anything but a great result?

Photo Credit: Marko Delbello Ocepek

“Events are a one-off experience giving us a unique opportunity to make an impact before we return to our everyday lives.”

Q4: What are the qualities and values that you want to transfer to your events?

“Transformative experiences” was a theme I heard a lot at Conventa 2021. I uphold this; I would certainly love for the work I do to make people walk away with something memorable. Not just a new contact – although this is valuable. Events are a one-off experience giving us a unique opportunity to make an impact before we return to our “everyday” lives. Events are the extraordinary world we create with a start and finish time.

What we choose to do in that time is an opportunity. The question should be, what will you do with this special window of time you’ve just created?

Q5: What are some of the most common mistakes that companies and organisers make when organising events?

Terrible food. Terrible scheduling. Terrible “tone” set from the start. There is something exciting about an invitation – I stand by the advice of Priya Parker (Art of Gathering) in that the event begins the moment the thing is announced. So, every action from that moment IS THE EVENT. This is how I now operate.

Also, a point now with hybrid, people make assumptions that it is easy or the same. It is not. Time is still valuable – whatever the delivery mode. This was a theme at Conventa I was very happy to hear about and can now confidently bring up should it be someone’s expectation.

Next – again, learning I took away from Conventa – the importance of video. Telling the story is now so important. Even a short showreel goes a long way.

Q6: Which competencies of event organisers need to be strengthened the most after the corona crisis?

– Specialisations into hybrid or fully online. Interacting with an online audience is very different.
– Again, as mentioned above – storytelling with video.
– Depending on how things evolve, some forms of security/checkpoints and current information for travellers.

Q7: You have created many amazing events in your career. Is there an event that you have particularly fond memories of and is always stuck in your mind?

The George Bass Surfboat Marathon. It is a gruelling rowing race over 7 days on the south coast of Australia, where surf lifesavers replicate the sailing feat of surgeon commander George Bass and row to new coastal towns each day. It is a wonderful celebration of community – each day, hundreds of rower teams come together at surf clubs, but also a celebration of the skill, grit and heroic efforts of lifesavers. I got to live stream it from a boat in 2006, and, while I was seasick, I loved every minute! It is a beautiful part of the world, and I made lifelong friends and memories. I was there in my role with Navy recruiting marketing.

Aside from that, the recent Dubrovnik events have been impactful, because they were the first major events I did in my new home (Croatia) and a joy to work on.

Photo Credit: Marko Delbello Ocepek

Q8: What has been the most difficult event you have organised in your career?

Probably a musical fundraiser, which we held three weeks after my father passed away. I had a director/narrator role, and someone pulled out last minute, so it was intense. He had been insistent we proceed. That one was hard. At the same time, it was one of my favourites for other reasons – the bonding among the group. Still, the person who left disappointed us all.

Q9: We are constantly talking about future trends that will shape the meetings industry. But what past trend shaped your company and events the most in the last 20 years?

That is easy. Remote work becoming mainstream, and the ability for many people to now work from anywhere. I have to clarify, I was not really in large-scale events until Covid. I regularly hosted meetups, and have previously (in my Australian life) organised or worked in several large scale events.

So, I have brought these past skills, with the subject matter expertise and network to bring in the right speakers – but also, in general, a drive and the creativity to do bigger things. I expect to see wellbeing become an increasingly large part of what I do. Not by me as a provider, but the ability to add in opportunities to reset, particularly in nature.

“I mostly work with people chained to their laptops – so I believe parks and the outdoors is a natural area to move into; a pendulum swing.”

Photo Credit: Marko Delbello Ocepek

Q10: What was your main source of motivation for choosing a career in the meetings industry? Does the profession still excite you in the same way?

Again, I consider myself very indirectly in this sector; my business crosses over into the gathering part. I do a lot of other desk work and business development. Events are more the passion part, and something I would prefer to limit to fewer, but more impactful projects.

As mentioned, I am excited about exploring opportunities to combine events in nature – I mostly work with people chained to their laptops – so I believe parks and the outdoors is a natural area to move into; a pendulum swing, as we are too charged up. Yes, technology can still be involved, but finding a way to address this need for reconnecting with nature is what really excites me. When I can combine THAT, then I have hit the sweet spot. Stay tuned!

I also find scouting for the speakers and people being involved to be a really enjoyable part – probably my favourite thing, so when this part is built-in, I know I will enjoy a project.

Q11: What are you reading, watching, listening to at the moment?

Reading: Rework (by the founders of Basecamp). It is an insightful and fast read into rethinking what a successful company is. For example, it is not about hundreds of employees – they only have 16 and are quite influential. I read Seth Godin’s blog all the time, and his works. I am also reading quite a few things about pricing and lead generation because I am terrible at this part, sales are not my thing; I am a connector.

I mostly listen to classic rock, Springsteen, Streisand and the Bee Gees. Lately, the NPR tiny desk concerts. I usually allow myself to watch one TV series a year, otherwise a film occasionally – this is usually fiction, as I mostly read non-fiction books.

Q12: What is your advice for those who want to enter the CBEA competition in the future?

I used to enter (and win) a lot of 25 words or fewer competitions, and there is definitely a formula for those. With this, it is hard to know, as the playing field is so wide.

The advice I have is to lead strong, have great visuals and always have conviction in your work – and in your application, emphasise the things you believe make it worthy for consideration. Regardless of the outcome, your work will be featured alongside other remarkable examples from your industry, and gain the respect of your peers. Go for it!

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