Behind the Scenes of the Thrilling C2 Conference

By Hayley Panagakis, January 16, 2018

C2 ConferenceImagine a business conference where round tables are swapped out for swingsets flying high above the conference floor. In lieu of catering service, on-site restaurants serve inventive dishes from cargo containers. Traditional decor like draperies and floral arrangements are succeeded by mesmerizing, high-tech video mapping. It may sound like fiction, but it’s what you’ll find at C2 Montreal, one of the world’s most innovative and imaginative business conferences. It’s held each May at Arsenal Montreal, an art gallery where thousands of leaders, creatives and thinkers from around the globe exchange ideas on commerce and creativity.

The brainchild of two CEOs, Cirque du Soleil’s Daniel Lamarre and Sid Lee’s Jean-Francois Bouchard, C2 Montreal was created six years ago to reinvent the way industries convene, and to put Montreal on the map as a hub of innovation and creativity. Planners who attend can’t help but wonder about the secret behind C2 Montreal’s imaginative approach. To satisfy your curiosity, we chatted with Martin Enault, chief operating officer of C2, who shared behind-the-scenes details about the event and gave us a glimpse into the future of C2.

What does C2 aim to do?

C2 was founded on the premise of mixing different types of people and understanding that innovation happens best when you mix those who might not necessarily talk to one another. When you put these people together in a room, you see different perspectives and ideas that bring you outside your comfort zone and make finding new innovations and solutions more probable.

How do you come up with such inspiring ideas year after year?

We do this in the same way we do for our attendees: [We take] people from different industries, backgrounds and environments [and mix them together]. It’s not as complex as most people think.

What challenges come with planning C2?

Finances are one of the biggest challenges with as much as we do. We stretch dollars extremely well and do a lot more with every dollar than most people. We don’t give crazy budgets to our teams; we make them try to find solutions that are more effective, not necessarily more expensive. Even then, doing an event the scale of C2 Montreal costs upward of $12 million. An event of that scale and with that budget in Montreal, and even in Canada, in our field is unheard of.

Do sponsorships help ease the burden?

We refuse to do traditional sponsorships. Everything we do with partners is custom activation based on their needs. We don’t take any shortcuts and don’t sell client data. We build C2 by making phone calls, traveling the world and shaking people’s hands one at a time.

What goes into the setup of C2?

Building the event is definitely not easy or simple. We use existing infrastructure in ways, but we push it to an extreme that has never been done. [It can take] quite a few engineers, architects and a production team working for months on a solution. Then we [need] permits and approvals and [to ensure safety]. We do everything with a carbon-neutral approach, so all of that together makes everything we build extremely complex.

What precautions have to be taken to ensure these out-there setups don’t accidentally cause harm?

Everything needs to be as secure as a permanent theme park. The people we work with for our installations are riggers who either work with Cirque du Soleil or another major organization. Their usual job is adding netting and rigging equipment that can sustain the most extreme conditions, but what we do with them is quite simple because people don’t swing all that much—and they don’t jump from 50 feet up into a net. We always have two different riggers who specialize in checking the equipment on-site and inspect everything five times a day during the event.

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In the Lab

Innovation starts with letting go of old ways of thinking, shifting your perspective and having the courage to take risks with new ideas—and C2 Labs are designed to do just that. At this year’s event, six very different labs were set up to take people out of their comfort zones and help them build a tolerance to taking chances. Here are three of the most notable ones and the thinking behind them. 

CAKE

Objective: What happens when everyone pitches in?

“Where’s the cake?” was the question on everyone’s mind when walking in on day one to find an area labeled with the word cake in foamy, frostinglike letters. Over the course of the event, teams in each of the many sessions produced a layer of cake that resulted in a monster creation (at least 10 thick layers) that was later served at the closing reception.

BLUEPRINT

Objective: How can city planning guide us through the maze that is business?

If you were to play SimCity without a computer, Blueprint Lab would be it. The workshop was all about business lessons that can be learned through city planning, but instead of working with a drawing board, attendees used Mega Bloks to design a metropolis of the future.

SKY

Objective: What happens when great minds lift off together?

By far the most popular (and Instagrammed) workshop, Sky suspended attendees nearly 20 feet in the air to discuss a problem. Three groups of five dangled above the rest of the conference, took a step out of their mental comfort zones, and shot ideas back and forth in search of a solution.

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