Charlie and Ryan: the men, the myths, the legends behind Innovation Fair
Charlie Tsao and Ryan Sigouin are waiting for me at a table in the recently renovated, National Arts Centre, where the large windows provide the nicest of natural lighting, perfect as the setting of this year’s Innovation Fair. It’s ironic: these two gentlemen are the organizers of one of the biggest Government of Canada (GC) events and they are swamped with the fair right around the corner—yet they have not only graciously accepted to take the time to chat with me, but they are also right on time.
I notice that Charlie seems a bit nervous for this interview and when I ask why, he tells me, “I like to be in the background,” which is exactly where these two men have been since the birth of this event—working tirelessly to ensure that the fair runs smoothly. Given its success in past years, the bar is set high.
A new venue
This year, a huge new factor comes into play, creating both interesting opportunities and challenges for the pair; it’s the first year the event is being held in a non-government building. “Suddenly, we’re outside of the public service sphere, and there are different agreements required, and new logistical considerations,” Ryan explains. Though it’s the fifth year for the event—and Ryan has been a part of them all, with Charlie right behind him at four—they tell me that there’s no playbook on how to conduct the fair. “It’s complex,” Charlie says, “we need to cater to as many people as possible because this event is for the public service as a whole.”
Innovation Fairs across the regions
In addition to planning the Innovation Fair in the capital, Charlie and Ryan are also providing advice and oversight on the theme for 16 additional fairs across the country between May and June. These events used to all be held on the same day, but they tell me that attendees wanted to experience more than just one fair, prompting the transition to different dates, which gives the regional fairs their own identities as well. “It’s become a collaborative process, we seek input from the regions and we share best practices with each other,” they explain.
Working in the digital age has also added new elements in the event’s preparation. The shift is mainly on the means of communication, and the need to be more in tune to social media. “We have to be strategic in the way we send out our messages,” says Charlie, “Twitter is a big platform for communication today and we need to make sure we are leveraging that to get the word out to our audience.”
“While not everyone may necessarily physically be in the nation’s capital, we want to make sure that attendees can still experience the atmosphere of the day and participate in the events just the same, even if online.”
Technology allows the organizers to easily connect with their remote colleagues—such as the coordinators for the regional fairs—with the click of a button, using platforms such as Google Hangout, Slack, and Webex to host virtual meetings. The connectivity is important—it fosters collaboration among the team, which is crucial to the success of the event. Additionally embracing digital allows the event to be live-streamed on the web and enhances the focus on the user’s experience. “While not everyone may necessarily physically be in the nation’s capital, we want to make sure that attendees can still experience the atmosphere of the day and participate in the events just the same, even if online,” Charlie says.
“My favourite part of all of this is seeing the looks on people’s faces at the end of the fair—everyone’s a little tired, but they are inspired because the spark is re-ignited and they are reminded of what it means to be in service to your country.”
Planning Innovation Fair and coordinating such a large-scale event for approximately 40 departments and agencies across the GC sounds incredibly stressful to me, but Ryan and Charlie tell me that it’s all worth it in the end. “My favourite part of all of this is seeing the looks on people’s faces at the end of the fair—everyone’s a little tired, but they are inspired because the spark is re-ignited and they are reminded of what it means to be in service to your country,” Ryan tells me.
“We laugh any chance we get, sometimes nervous laughter…but laughter nonetheless.”
To manage the pressure, Ryan and Charlie tell me that the most important way to remain calm, cool, and collected, is to be light-hearted and crack jokes whenever you can. They have developed strong bonds with their colleagues as well as with other departments that they work with in this process. “Our team finds humour in the stress,” Charlie says, and Ryan—proving this trait—jokingly adds “we laugh any chance we get, sometimes nervous laughter…but laughter nonetheless.”
Charlie and Ryan are living and breathing the Innovation Fair together, to the point where they are beginning to finish each other’s sentences. “The amazing thing about the fair is that people want to be there,” they both echo. The dynamic duo can’t wait to see how things will come together in the new space.
As our chat comes to an end, we step out onto the street where it begins to drizzle. Something catches my eye and I look down at Charlie’s feet. I notice that he is wearing galoshes over his fancy dress shoes. “What are those?” I laugh. His response: “What? You’ve got to be prepared to face anything!” Just the attitude one would need to take on an undertaking such as Innovation Fair.
Innovation Fair will be on May 22, 2019 this year. No registration is required, and it is open to the public.
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