The Pixilated Podcast

Irina Graf | The MICE Blog | Pixilated Podcast Season 2

July 27, 2022 Patrick Rife Season 2 Episode 12
The Pixilated Podcast
Irina Graf | The MICE Blog | Pixilated Podcast Season 2
Show Notes Transcript

Irina’s background in tourism, hospitality and events, combined with her expertise in content creation and management for digital channels, is what made her become known as a ‘digital influencer’ in the MICE sector. Her blog, The MICE Blog was launched in 2011 and is a go-to resource for thought-provoking and innovative content that provides event professionals with knowledge and expertise to help them grow and do their jobs more effectively.

After graduating with a BA in International Events Management from Regent’s University London in 2015, she turned her passion into a full-time job. Irina understands the intricacies specific to the MICE market when producing content for digital channels. Irina is uniquely positioned to provide results oriented, online coverage from the event, highlighting MICE’s offerings.

In 2014, she founded the #eventprofstalk Twitter chat, and one year later the Event Planners Talk live event series for the global events industry. The Twitter chat, which takes place every Monday, focuses on a single topic for each 1-hour installment. So far, she has led more than 100 chats on themes ranging from innovation, sustainability and education to personal development and event technology. Through her innovative combination of both Twitter chats and events, Irina has connected the online community to forge business relationships. By extending the event life cycle, she has created a source of continuing education for event professionals.

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Website:
https://www.themiceblog.com 


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Patrick Rife:

Hello and welcome to another episode of the pixelated podcast. I am your host, Patrick rife. Pleased to be joining all of you again, thanks for tuning in and listening. We have another great interview queued up today that I hope everyone is going to enjoy. So, without further ado, today we're going to be speaking with Irina Graf. Irina, welcome to the pixelated podcast.

Irina Graf:

Hi, Patrick, thank you for having me. I'm very excited to be on your podcast. And thank you for the great questions that we have for today. So ready to start?

Patrick Rife:

Yeah, definitely. Well, you know, like, So full disclosure, Irina is, as in Europe, so it is very late for her while it is just late in the afternoon for me. So thank you, again for being willing to stay up with us and have a rockin conversation. So, Irena, before we get into the questions that you refer to, why don't you let everybody know that's listening kind of a little bit about yourself, and I'll predicate it with this. This year's this season sorry, season two of the podcast has been really about trying to intentionally pick event professionals in in very specific veins, and to really get a chance to talk about what's unique about what they do. Our most recent episode was with Devin Pasha, and she works in the higher education space. So we really like focused on that. So really, let us know a little bit about you and kind of you know, like the the bio of your journey and then and then we'll dig into some questions after that.

Irina Graf:

Yeah, so I believe most of the people know me from the mais blog, that's a blog that I started in 2011. It started as a as a side hobby because I started events. I loved attending events, I love documenting my journey as part of the events management degree. And while pursuing my events management degree in London, I worked on the blog, I built my network with destinations, with other event communities, other event professionals. And upon graduation in 2015, I decided to focus on the blog full time. But at the same time, I also created the event planners stock community in 2014, which started as a Twitter chat. So I was looking for more ways to engage with my community and Twitter seem to be the right platform to host a weekly Twitter chat. So I started hosting these chats every Monday, in the evening, here in Europe at 9pm. And we we still have this, this chatter still going. We have weekly conversations about current industry topics. And I also evolved this video chat. So we had virtual events. We have live streams on LinkedIn, and YouTube. And we had also a couple of live events back in 2016, and 15, in London. So this concept is constantly evolving as well. I like to describe these two projects as events on a stock being more basic knowledge education for event professionals. So anyone who is new to the industry wants to build their network to learn what are the current trends. And the minds book is the more advanced knowledge for event professionals who are already working in the industry and looking for very specific destinations to host their events. Want to learn about certain case studies from other event professionals and want to do learn about applicability of certain trends.

Patrick Rife:

Awesome. Awesome. All right. That's a lot. That's a lot. So I know that I've got these questions teed up, but immediately, one came to mind and it's not there. And I'm going to ask it anyway, because I feel like we're just not getting to this point where it's a relevant question to ask. So again, apologies for being off the cuff but you know, like in light of the last two and a half, three years How did it fare for you like now that, you know, like, we're not in it anymore right now. It's no longer about like, are you pivoting you know, like, like, all of the The party line that's been there for the last two years is is aged out, right. And now we're at this place where, you know, whether we're post COVID, or not everyone is operating in a post COVID world. And we've certainly had our own experience, and we've come out of it certainly changed. But I'm curious. In what ways have you come out of it changed? And and how do you see it from a contextual point of view? Is it for the better? Is it for the worse is it? You know, even though,

Irina Graf:

um, yeah, so I experimented a lot during this time. And I hosted several virtual events, I, I always had a strong virtual component being on social media, doing a live coverage of events and social media. But I haven't hosted virtual events until this point. And the first virtual event, I believe, was in April 2020. And it was a great success. And it was, it was really good positive experience. And then I hosted the second 1/3. One, and I recognize my strengths in, in virtual. But only virtual before it was more hybrid, it's going to an event and reporting about this event, online. But now it's virtual only. And I love live events, and I will go to live events, but I know that my strengths has been always virtual. And that's why I decided to going forward focus only on virtual, I'm also a small business. So I don't have huge resources to have to do hybrid or to do live, because we all know that the costs are increasing. So for me, the way forward is virtual, I do see the benefits in it as it's very inclusive. For my community, it's, it's a very niche product, offering education for certain groups that might not be any able to travel, it's a phase in their careers that they don't want to travel. So I do see myself as someone who is able to fulfill this need for people to learn and network their children.

Patrick Rife:

Alright. So one of the things I'm curious about, you know, like, as you have, you know, like, what, from the outside, looking in appears very intentional, your, your journey and kind of what you've done, I'm curious to hear kind of, you know, like, what does career at this point mean to you, you know, like, I feel like, very much. So in the events world, there are so many freelancers, there's so many people that and even if they're not freelancing, right, they're their contract workers, or there's all these different iterations of how you can be working within the ecosystem. And that was already, you know, table stakes, pre COVID, I feel like post COVID even more. So this idea of being able to freelance or to be a consultant. So what you know, like, what does it mean to you? Like, how are you putting, you know, like, the steps together that is creating career?

Irina Graf:

It's a great question. Yeah. So career for me, it's beyond the job that I do. It's feeling fulfilled with what I do something that inspires me, somewhere where I can have influence and have impact, so I can also support others and share my knowledge with others.

Patrick Rife:

So, you know, like, do you feel like, you know, are those your principles? Are those are those the guidelines that you that you use to create boundaries for how you move forward? You know, like, do they? Do they inform when you say yes, and when you say no,

Irina Graf:

so yes, to what?

Patrick Rife:

I don't know, whether it's the opportunity, you know, whether it's, it's a new client, whether it's a new, you know, a new challenge to take on?

Irina Graf:

Yeah, definitely. So it has to be fulfilling, it has to, to bring me forward because I want to grow as an event professional. I want to also innovate with my project. So if it's, for example, a project that I don't see that I can add value, or it does, it's not innovative, it's not sustainable. It doesn't meet my values and their way, then I would not pursue this opportunity. I think it's important to, to have this fulfillment and do projects that correspond to your values and your passions and keep your couriers keep you motivated, where you can grow. And then you can pass this knowledge and inspire also others. Yeah.

Patrick Rife:

Yeah. So So tell me a little bit. You know, I know, in your opening, you kind of mentioned how it came to be, but, you know, expound a little bit more on on mice blog, like, like, you know, what, what you, you know, maybe, maybe, maybe, like, when you first launched it kind of what the vision was, and then how it's changed. You know, over the years.

Irina Graf:

Yeah. So, when I announced it, it was simply when I got inspired to share my story. Back then it was Facebook, and I was sharing a lot of photos from events on Facebook. And I realized that most of my close friends are not really interested in corporate events. Then I said, Okay, if I start a blog, maybe that will bring me helped me to find community of other event professionals interested in corporate events. So that's how it started. And then I realized that I can build network. With my blog, I was approaching destinations and showcasing my content. And they were interested, and they invited me to fam trips or regional events, when they were hosting them in London. And that's how it started, it started, I became a media outlet. And around the time it was 2014 1516. Now it was earlier, sorry, it was around 2012. Also, that's when the social media influencer marketing started. And I got to meet other influencers, and learn how they work with other destinations. So slowly my blog. So the brand partnerships that I started to build, they were more towards influencer marketing. Then the content started to evolve, then Instagram came and video content became more popular more in demand. So my content evolved in a way that it's not just the blog, a lot of the information shared, it's on social media. So that's how it evolved. And now i i see myself evolving towards video. So it's all started with the written word, which will remain it's very important, but I do see myself in the coming months working 5050 on written and video content.

Patrick Rife:

Okay. So in terms of in terms of, you know, like, leadership within the events, industry, and how you stay abreast, like, aside from a reoccurring theme has on this podcast has been that, you know, COVID Definitively broke all of the rules that had previously been previously been in place. And I think the events industry is so I don't want to I don't want to describe it as fractured because I don't mean it to be disrupted, but fragmented to mean that it is comprised of so many little teeny tiny pieces, and there's no single definitive font from which information spreads from. So a big part of, you know, the conversation in this podcast has been, and I think that, you know, part of the point of this podcast is to take this conversation between you and I right, and to publish it so that way, our thoughts and ideas are mixing with all of our other colleagues that are listening, right, and maybe there's some clients that are listening along as well that are looking for clues. But that being said, you know, like the messaging has been we need to rebuild these plans and these best practices together because we're all dealing with very different perspectives and challenges for getting back moving in the right direction again, so, you know, that said, from you know, whether, whether you call it leadership or whether you call it your colleagues that you look to for support and for queues but you know, like, where do you look, where do you where do you gather that community now?

Irina Graf:

I read the conversations on Twitter. I I read what event planners are saying I read the conversations and part of the of the conversations. And I also talked to many people who are not event professionals who go to events as attendees. And I tried to understand their needs. And I learned from other sectors as well, not just from the events industry.

Patrick Rife:

So any predictions for for you know, like, some of the evidence says, So much has happened, right, like so many billions of dollars have flown into r&d for events, platforms. We're seeing it now. Right? Like, like the foundation is shaking. I mean, was it who was it two days ago is that who blew like two or three days ago that had all of those massive layoffs? I hope I'm not Miss Miss labeling the company. I was hoping it was happening here, right. It's the other eight H H company. But you know, like that being said, you know, it's happened today. It will be someone else tomorrow, and it was someone previous to happen, you know, like this is the way that it works. So like, there's going to be a lot of m&a Right, there's going to be all of this kind of, there's gonna be a lot of companies that aren't there. Because to be quite frank, there are a lot of virtual platforms that sprung up over the last few years. Any prediction but that being said, like without wanting to be negative, because that's sad, and it's terrible. And the way that we get to innovation is a lot of people trying things out and not everyone makes it like that's, that's just the way that it goes. But that being said, you know, like any predictions on the evolutions that have started that aren't quite at their at their final point yet and where they might go. And now a word from our sponsors.

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Irina Graf:

Think we need to redefine the way we see events. When it comes to virtual event platforms. For example, a lot, many events during the pandemic they were scheduled over one, two or three days. And now we know that it's very difficult to follow an event for an entire day and to be focused just on screen. And we discussed it many times that can virtual events be Netflix, but they can't. It's not Netflix, no one is going to binge watch a corporate event for 12 hours. So I think we need to redefine how we organize events. And that's what I am doing with my next event which is happening already and will continue until the end of the year until December is that it's an event series. It's not a whole day of sessions, the sessions take. These are singular sessions that take place throughout the months. There are different formats like key keynote presentations, networking on on Mira, for example, we have a board where we just everyone puts their thoughts on a certain topic. There are lounges and there are rooms where people can come on camera. So people have a choice. We don't know we shouldn't assume that everyone wants to be on video. audio content is becoming extremely popular and I host weekly Twitter spaces and they are a massive drive for business. I met I made new connections. I also material there on Twitter spaces. That's how we establish this connection. So when we talk about meeting new prospects, Bill The industry influence networking, or for learning, we need to think outside the box, there might be a format that is not a traditional event format as we know it. So have a mix of many different things, have a Twitter chat, have a Twitter space, have a LinkedIn live, and then have your event on close platform, virtual platform, and then also have a live event for the maybe for the 10% of highly engaged audience. So the moment we understand our community, how it works, and where to reach our audience, then we will have different conversations.

Patrick Rife:

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I agree with you so much. And it's, it's, it's what I, it's what I anticipated. Brands would do, what I what I thought would happen in which didn't happen. But I really thought that the context of being, you know, no one was able to, like, go roll into COVID, and take their live event audience and just bring them onto a virtual event platform, like, that's not the way that it works, you know, like you, you probably had, I don't know, the numbers, and I'm just, you know, spitballing, but you know, like, probably 20 to 25% of your audience, you could expect to maybe check it out, which just opened up the need to build new audiences, right, which was great for whatever, we'll say that, you know, there's a massive, you know, brain cancer nonprofit that is based in, you know, Kansas City, Missouri, that could very well engage a global audience, because the work that they're doing and the information that they're that they're, you know, sharing is relative to people all over the world, but because of their geographic location, right, they are only really networking for those people. But then when they moved into the virtual space, all of a sudden, their ability to find a much broader audience was there, then what I hoped would happen would be a more wholesale embracing of this idea of your your digital audience, and not so much come to our virtual events. So much as we are having ongoing education, we're having ongoing content, we invite you to, you know, we've got a forum, we've got this place where you can belong to a member and you connect can connect with other people across the globe, that you have shared interests and, and I really thought that it was this huge opportunity. And also that it would be the prudent decision because to spend so much money to have built that virtual audience to fill those empty seats. You know, like, you wouldn't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater once it came back. But I think that for whatever it it is, that community side of it wasn't it wasn't placed as much of a focal point and just getting something done and getting something out there seem to and I wonder, you know, how much of the opportunity got missed? In regards to that?

Irina Graf:

Yes, agree there's a huge opportunity to provide content, and education all year round. And this leads to networking opportunities, and building solid leadership and industry influence. So definitely there is there are many opportunities.

Patrick Rife:

So I'm curious, do you see any, any kind of obvious gaps in the technology that that is there? Right, so so we just said, like, a whole lot of money and got invested into the technology ecosystem. But a lot of it got invested into building the same tool by a broad swath of different companies and builders. I'm curious, you know, are there are there obvious gaps that you think exist?

Irina Graf:

During when using tech platform?

Patrick Rife:

Yeah, tech platform, and and, or how that platform works with other tools to make it you know, like, so like, for instance, I know that there was a few platforms that popped up where, you know, part of the problem was, you know, you attended an event on happen, and you have to create your whole profile. And then like, they are trying to create, like an internal ecosystem there. But then as soon as you like, go to another event that's over on like, who below or whatever, then none of those people are the same thing. It's like, you know, having to DM somebody on LinkedIn, and then also DMing them on Twitter and those conversations, ideally, right? They're stitched together and there's like a master mailbox where you can like, answer all your things, but that's not the way that it is. Um, and I know that that was kind of, for a lot of people that were looking for that connection and for that business development and way to reach out to people directly. It was like, you know, every time you went to a new platform, you're starting all over again.

Irina Graf:

Yeah, that's an interesting question. I think that we need to look from the perspective of people who are not event professionals, because a lot of people who make such comments, they are also event professionals who attend many events, we all attend so many events, and try all these different different platforms. But if you talk with a person who attends maybe two or three events per year, they might not be facing such problems. Also, we are looking at it from a very sales perspective, but many people they go there for education, I spoke to some people from the medicine from the medical sector, and they are very grateful, whereas they can watch the streams just to watch the streams or online. They're not necessarily looking for networking opportunities. So it's very sector dependent. It's very community dependent. I am hosting my event on who belong, and I'm very satisfied with all the functions and the features that they provide, because they make my life easier. For example, they I can stream the sessions directly from who belong, and then I can then download them, which makes my life much easier, I don't need to send an extra zoom link, for example, or have another integration. On the other hands, they have very cool integrations such as mirror board, for example, which is a, it's not built in there. So it's an external app that you will need to integrate. So this is a very cool feature. So a platform that makes my life easier that I also have my ticketing there, my registration there, and that is they can choose what they want to use, this is my role as an event organizer to offer them two options. They will have the lounge for more networking style, and they will have the main sessions for the more educational style. Not everyone wants to heavily engaged. And I think we should stop thinking that everyone wants to engage people engage in different ways. And just by watching a video for 30 minutes, I would say that's an amazing engagement. Because, you know, the attention span is pretty low, when it comes to watching virtual sessions. So yeah, I would just look at the sector and not try to expect everyone to be very, to engage very heavily with every feature.

Patrick Rife:

Fair enough. So I'm curious, I mean, knowing that you're, you know, largely working in the virtual event space at this point, but, you know, a lot of changes happening in Europe, right, over the last few years, you know, COVID aside, like, it's it's a changing place, and in a lot of ways, I'm curious if, you know, if there are any kind of obvious differences with with planning events in the EU, and, you know, if things are changing, and if so, what, what is the real impetus behind that, you know, I think like over in the States, right, we hear about, you know, how Brexit has like a large impact on the way that like the broader EU is operating. But, you know, like, you seldom get a chance to see how that trickles down and actually impacts the direct ecosystem. So anything observational there that that's worth sharing.

Irina Graf:

Seeing in terms of hosting events in the EU, I think we have a very strong rail system that you can travel to events by train, and that's, I think it's a huge advantage because airports I haven't taken a flight since beginning of COVID. And I was not looking forward to because I hear people need to come to airport for hours before the flight for the check in that luggage get lost. And if you take a train that's A less you don't face these challenges, let's say, yeah. Yeah, so you the choice of destination, it's becomes wider because for example if you're based in Germany for me, it just under six hours to go to Switzerland, Austria, Netherlands, France for example. So all by train so I think also when we talk about sustainability and traveling that's also a big issue for business events.

Patrick Rife:

Yeah. Yeah. And we're in Germany are you based

Irina Graf:

and based in Hyderabad, which is one hour from Frankfurt.

Patrick Rife:

All right. All right. So we we tend to have like a, like a fun handful of questions toward the end of the interview. So Should one of the listeners today find themselves coming to your town? What should they eat? Like, where? Where should where should they go?

Irina Graf:

To eat? There is a very nice place here called demand. And there are three branches in Heidelberg. So definitely recommend the month for branch.

Patrick Rife:

Okay. All right. And is there something on on the menu there? That is a go to,

Irina Graf:

because they always change the menus. So, but definitely the pancakes are really good.

Patrick Rife:

Okay. All right. And Did you are you are you German? Did you grow up in Germany?

Irina Graf:

No, I'm not actually I was born in Russia.

Patrick Rife:

Okay. And how long have you been in Germany?

Irina Graf:

Um, I didn't exchange semester here. Now, I did an internship here. 2011. Then I did extend semester here in 2013. And then I moved here with my husband in 2016.

Patrick Rife:

Okay, all right. So your, your, what's like an earliest memory of coming to Germany?

Irina Graf:

And Oktoberfest?

Patrick Rife:

Good answer. Very on brand.

Irina Graf:

Yeah. Because actually, I did my events internship in Unix. So I started it actually during the October festival. Okay, great time now.

Patrick Rife:

Fair enough. So How about how about a recent book? Any recommendations for something to read?

Irina Graf:

Yes, definitely. I read an amazing book called humor seriously. I can highly, highly recommend. And this book was recommended to me by Victoria Matej, who is an expert in web psychology. And this book talks about how we should integrate more humor in our corporate environment, but also in life in general. And just not to take ourselves too seriously.

Patrick Rife:

Okay, awesome. Good recommendation. How about something to listen to? Are you are you a music fan?

Irina Graf:

I'm not just say to direct you.

Patrick Rife:

Fair enough. Fair enough. How about about podcasts? Do you listen to podcasts? Do you consume information in that way?

Irina Graf:

Yes, occasionally, I don't have one favorite podcast, but I will check couple of them. I will check. You know if I have colleagues interviewed on podcasts and I would listen to podcasts to the episode. Occasionally I listen to Tim Ferriss. I think he has really nice insights there. And also lots of book recommendations there. Yeah. And yeah, that's all

Patrick Rife:

of you read his books.

Irina Graf:

I read The Four Hour Workweek long ago.

Patrick Rife:

Yeah. Yeah, me too. Me too. It's been a long time. A long time. So single greatest thing about a career in in the events were all about being about being able to fully use the event prof hashtag.

Irina Graf:

Yeah, so I think you can develop your career you can make it what you want it to be. You can build your career. You can grow as a person and you can grow professionally and develop your skills on an ongoing basis. You get to see truly unique places that you go to as part of a fam trip or part of organizing an event. And these are truly unique experiences that open your your Horizont they make you couriers and they make you inspired.

Patrick Rife:

Love it. Good answer. Irina great If this has been the best chat, I really appreciate again, you you carving out some time for us. We should probably wrap it up. But before we go, why don't you let it right? That's listening No, like, best place to connect, follow along, you know, whatever the case may be let people know how to get in touch with you.

Irina Graf:

Yeah, so I'm demised blog on key social media channels on Twitter on Instagram. On LinkedIn, I have a company page and even a graph on LinkedIn. My personal then on Tiktok. I, my handle is BS events. And then the event letter stock is on Instagram is event on our stock on Twitter, its demise book HQ, and LinkedIn page event planners stock. And I'm posting my events series now. It's a virtual event. So everyone can join us. We just started now in July and we'll go until end of the year. Summer is rather quiet period to get familiarized with the program, and the platform and then the main sessions will start in September.

Patrick Rife:

Awesome. Awesome. Wonderful.

Irina Graf:

Thank you for the opportunity.

Patrick Rife:

Yeah, no, thank you for sharing, sharing your insights, your your ideas and points of view like it's, it's, it's wonderful to get to connect, but also I know that our listeners are going to benefit tremendously from getting to learn from you. So Irina, on behalf of us and all the pixelated podcast listeners. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you. Alright guys, so that about does it for another interview of the pixelated podcast. As we mentioned earlier at the beginning of the show, all of the links that Irina just just took you guys through, we will link out to them in the show notes. So if you want to go ahead and click those and follow along, follow her on social media, follow her company and personal profiles. So that way you can continue to join her community, attend some chats, check things out, maybe I'll see you in in a Twitter space. So that being said, without further ado, I am Patrick rife, CVO here at pixelated and I will talk to you next time. Peace