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Kongres Magazine talked to Zsolt Kassai, General Manager of Special Effects International, who was recently named among the Most Influential Meeting Service Providers in 2021. Zsolt shared his greatest achievements in the meetings industry so far and expressed his opinion on the future of events.

Q1: What does the title of the industry’s most influential individual in the region mean to you?

My job is similar to that of a chef-patron: keep an eye on everything and everyone. My responsibility is to create momentum, to bring out the best in others, to encourage, support and protect them. People may know my face and name in this industry, but it is the team, after all, that makes the magic happen. In some positions, you can only get ahead by putting others first, and this title means just that. You cannot be influential without others. That is why I dedicate this recognition to my ride-or-die team and to those committed professionals who did not hesitate to join forces when times were tough. Building and leading a team, uniting people and finding common ground are great challenges. Perhaps I may take that part of the credit to myself.

Q2: Can we say that you are a newcomer in the meetings industry? What inspires you?

I certainly would not call myself a newcomer, no. As I mentioned earlier, live event services or the industry, as a whole, is a people’s sport, not a solo sport. It is not my priority to become a professional celebrity, not that I have anything against those who do. However, creating value and long-lasting experiences inspires me the most. Speaking of newcomers, I love working with the younger generations. I am open to listening to them and learning from them. I do not mind being an apprentice, but I am also happy to be their mentor. I find both very rewarding.

Q3: You have contributed a lot to the development of the meetings industry. What would you say was your greatest achievement so far?

The biggest accomplishment I was lucky enough to be a part of was undoubtedly the Power of Live Events initiative. That campaign has sparked amazing results. It opened up communication within the industry, created opportunities for collaboration and connecting minds, and allowed participants to express their feelings about the profession they love (and not to forget our beloved city of Budapest). It gave us hope that we could trust each other and lift each other up; at the same time, it enriched our lives with new friends. Back then, during the pandemic, it meant everything, and it had a long-lasting impact. The Power of Live Events was big and loud because it united people. However, I believe more in smaller actions, doing something meaningful yet staying “invisible”.

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Photo Credit: Special Effects International

“I truly hope that, in the near future, clients will choose balance and quality over hustle and quantity.”

Q4: What changes would you like to see in the meetings industry in 2022?

Honestly, I want real values to come to the forefront from all perspectives. You need time and space to develop, test, produce and deliver great achievements. Clients need to trust and value the work of professionals who have decades of experience and literally live for events. They want the best, they want every event to be a success and see the organiser happy and satisfied. I truly hope that, in the near future, clients will choose balance and quality over hustle and quantity. A certain increase in expenses may be expected, but let’s look at it as a fair compensation that motivates those service providers who never abandoned the industry.

Q5: What is your prediction for the future of meetings?

I believe that people and human values will continue to be the focus in the future. The careful and wise selection of content will create amazing experiences and unforgettable memories. The aim is to engage participants in a way that they enjoy and appreciate their time spent at an event rather than feeling it mandatory. We will strive for fewer but larger and more complex projects with broad participation. As much as I would like to see more live events, I believe hybrid solutions remain an exciting and practical option.

Q6: What is your advice for young colleagues making their way in the meetings industry?

Be open, stay curious, and soak up information like a sponge. Get involved in different areas to gain experience and more easily identify your interests, strengths and weaknesses. Stay humble, but have the confidence to stand up for yourself assertively. Follow the window/mirror model, which can help you build credibility: look in the mirror and take responsibility for failures, but look out of the window and give credit to those assisting positive outcomes. This may seem difficult at first, but in reality, you can learn much more from losses than from wins. While it is important to keep up with technological advances, never forget that meetings are about people and their relationships, feelings, emotions and experiences. You can be tech-savvy AND a people person at the same time.

“We will strive for fewer but larger and more complex projects with broad participation. As much as I would like to see more live events, I believe hybrid solutions remain an exciting and practical option.”

Q7: Were you more exposed in public after being placed on our list? Do you see this as an opportunity to reinforce the prominence of our industry in general?

When the list of nominees was released, it was exciting to see many local and/or familiar names. I know everyone has been chosen for a reason, and I respect all they do or have done for our industry. I also received warm congratulations from my team, and that alone made me feel like a champion. All in all, the professional exposure brought on by Kongres Magazine’s project is significant. Raising awareness of the impact of the meetings sector is more important now than ever. Bringing people together for face-to-face meetings is not just for fun; it massively contributes to the global economy as well.

Q8: In your opinion, who deserves the title of the TOP influencer if you had to choose from the finalists yourself?

While it is a great honour to have the opportunity to do that, I do not want to take that away from you, Gorazd. Seriously, each and every one of us deserves the recognition, so I am glad I do not have to choose.

About Zsolt Kassai

Zsolt Kassai has more than two decades of experience in the international hotel, hospitality and meetings industry. Before joining Special Effects Ltd. in 2010, he worked for the Budapest Marriott Hotel and the Hilton Budapest. After eight years as Director of Sales and Marketing, he was appointed to be CEO of the company. Special Effects, as one of Hungary’s major event service providers, has grown significantly under Kassai’s leadership. Currently, the company employs more than 100 people and serves thousands of events worldwide each year. As a firm believer in teamwork, Kassai co-initiated and co-organised the Power of Live Events campaign in 2020, the largest collaboration of the local MICE sector so far.