Sissi Lygnou: Professional Congress Organizer

Skift Take

Sissi Lygnou reveals the unique intricacies and challenges of the PCO role, highlighting the need for innovation, recognition, and education.

Sissi Lygnou, CEO of AFEA, advocates for the professional congress organizer (PCO) sector. She serves on the IAPCO Council and presides over the Hellenic Association of Professional Congress Organizers (HAPCO) in Greece. Lygnou illuminated the intricacies and challenges of the PCO industry, highlighting the need for innovation, recognition, and education. “Our industry is not sexy enough,” she admitted, stressing the imperative to make the meetings world more visible and attractive.

A Legacy of Meetings

Lygnou was immersed in the world of business events from a young age through her family’s company. “Meetings have been part of my life since I was a little girl,” she said. She now leads the company but looks back at a period away from the family business as foundational. From 2001 to 2004, she held a key role with the organizing committee for the Olympic Games. She attributes this role to the start of her professional journey. “This is actually where my actual career in the events industry started. This was an amazing experience, one in a lifetime experience,” she said.

The Evolution of PCOs

The PCO landscape has advanced significantly, according to Lygnou. She described PCOs as “much more” than organizers, likening them to maestros of an orchestra. With over 40 professions involved in creating a successful event, Lygnou argued that PCOs must be acknowledged for their comprehensive expertise in managing all the different professions. “Only an expert in this field can coordinate all the suppliers or key stakeholders, the venues, the needs in the most successful way,” she explained.

Lygnou candidly discussed the barriers to industry growth. One of the most pressing challenges is the lack of education in professional meeting planning and talent retention. “We need to search for or create new talents,” she stated. Further, she suggested that cross-industry education and practical training are crucial for industry sustainability.

Vision for the Future

Lygnou is very aware of the carbon footprint of meetings and events. However, she also sees significant benefits of meetings, many of which are aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She is excited about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) but cautions against losing the human touch in events. “We need to pay attention to that [AI] and use it to our benefit,” she said.

Looking ahead, Lygnou envisions a transformed industry within five years, with AI playing a more central role. She anticipates more creative event formats and greater integration of technology in all aspects of meeting planning and execution. However, she also maintains that the “human element” will remain crucial amidst these changes.

Recommendations for the Industry

Stress management and mental well-being are priorities for Lygnou and her team at AFEA. Work-life balance and mental health are crucial in an industry known for high pressure and tight deadlines. “We try to reduce their stress factors,” Lygnou said. She has implemented several initiatives to support staff well-being and personal development.

When reflecting on her aspirations for the industry, Lygnou expressed a desire for broader recognition of the PCO profession. “I would really like to see young professionals asking to be part of our industry like crazy,” she mused. Additionally, she hopes for infrastructure improvements in her hometown of Athens. The development of a larger convention center is needed to attract more and bigger events to Greece’s capital.