How Canva Evolved an Internal Keynote Event into an External-facing Festival of Creativity

“We don’t want to be the normal tech keynote; that’s not our style. We aim to put on a show and to entertain. Our keynotes and the content are always very whimsical, colorful, theatrical, fun and entertaining. That’s our brand and who we are.”

–Jimmy Knowles, Global Head of Experiential, Canva

Canva Create 2024_1. Event EntranceBrands are spicing up the traditional keynote and putting a fresh spin on the announcement-focused event. From HPE hosting the first corporate keynote at Sphere in Las Vegas to Taco Bell putting on a live-streamed, Crunchwrap-infused mainstage media event over Super Bowl 58 weekend, brands are getting creative (and taking inspo from big tech) to capture the attention of customers, partners and press. Last month, Canva entered the scene with the sold-out Canva Create 2024, its largest event to date, to rally its community of users and get them excited for the graphic design platform’s newest features and workplace tools.

What started as a themed keynote followed by a vibrant afterparty, geared primarily toward an internal audience of Canva’s employees, known as Canvanauts, Canva opened the doors to an external audience for the first time, evolving the third iteration of Canva Create into a daylong festival of creativity at YouTube Theater/SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA, on May 23.

An event of firsts, it was also Canva Create’s first time in the U.S., as the brand hosted the first two events in Sydney where it’s headquartered, and recast the keynote via a virtual experience for millions of global users to view news on the latest products, tools and features. In addition to its usual lineup of speakers from the leadership team, Canva brought in several thought leaders, including Disney ceo Bob Iger, actress Mindy Kaling and author Adam Grant, for keynote conversations. (Plus, the Canva Enterprise rap performance from the keynote went viral…)

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With a “Work Redesigned” theme, Canva Create leaned into content and activities that showed Canva as a tool for the workplace, highlighting collaboration, productivity and uses across a variety of industries. The event featured three stages with over 30 sessions throughout the day and more than 50 speakers. For the Design and Innovation Stage, Canva partnered with Forbes to curate content centered on trends that are shaping the world of business and the future of work, such as AI and visual communication trends. One of the most popular spots, the Canva Learning Studio, offered attendees the chance to get hands-on with its new products and take 20-minute how-to lightning sessions. The Canva for You Stage presented customer stories and showcased Canva’s repositioning for an enterprise environment.

Additional touchpoints included the Headshot Hub, the Canva Canteen for lunch, networking opportunities, photo moments and the Canva Consultations support desk staffed with employees to answer questions about accounts and features. A hit with attendees, the DIY Swag Shop gave away dip-dyed tote bags with corporate lingo and fun phrases like “Let’s unpack that,” “Totes a good idea” and “Low-hanging fruit,” which could be customized with patches. (Agency: Public School)

Jimmy Knowles, global head of experiential at Canva, describes Canva Create as “a jam-packed day full of electric energy,” and the event exceeded attendance goals with more than 3,300 participants. Since 2022, Knowles has seen Canva Create’s evolution from internal event to festival of creativity. Below, he delves into the event’s shifting priorities as Canva enters the b-to-b space, and the nuances that come from tailoring a keynote event into a full-day external-facing program.

Take a Photo Tour of Canva Create:



Event Marketer: How did Canva Create start, and what was that first iteration like?

Jimmy Knowles: Canva Create as a platform has been on a little bit of a wild journey. At Canva, being an Australian company, we broke down our yearly cadences in terms of the Australian seasons. At the beginning of each, we would have the season opener, an internal-only event that was an opportunity for us to talk about the goals that we crushed that past season, give an outlook into what different teams across the entire company are working on for the next season, what products we’re launching, what we’re developing, what events we’re going to host, all of that. They would become these massive events that would always be themed; everybody would get dressed up. It ranged from Canva Land that was candy and sweets themed to one that was themed around the Roaring ’20s and “Gatsby.” There were these elaborate sets, and it was this really fun, whimsical way for how the company and leadership were sharing updates.

We wanted to shake things up and turn this on its head. We also wanted to bring a little more of this magic externally to the community to show them how we do things at Canva and give more of our personality. So my first six months at Canva were spent building what would become the first-ever Canva Create hosted in Sydney in September 2022. Called “The Future is Visual,” it was really meant to be an evolution of our season openers. We had 2,500 Canvanauts in Sydney come to the Hordern Pavilion dressed in neons, sequins and costumes, and we had what would become our first major public keynote presentation that launched the full Visual Suite to the world. It was done in a way that was very Canva—it was colorful, loud and over the top. There were pyrotechnics, confetti and a rap.

Canva Create 2024_12. Confetti Full Stage


EM: How has Canva Create evolved from year one to year three?

JK: “The Future is Visual” was the first time that we were able to really land the messaging around our Visual Suite in a big way that was able to be digested by press and by our community and get people really excited about the future of Canva and what we were doing. It was such a massive success for us that we turned around six months later and held a second Canva Create in March 2023 called “Brand New Era.” We saw this shiny thing that got so much attention, buzz, excitement and chatter on social media, and it was like “OK, let’s double down on this.”

As soon as it wrapped, we quickly got to thinking about what the next version of this looks like. And there were a couple of things that we knew were really important. One, the United States is a massively important audience for us. Two, we were looking to land the narrative around Canva being enterprise-ready and being a workplace tool—so this shifting perception from Canva the tool that you use to make your save-the-dates, birthday party invitations and fun social media graphics, to Canva the tool that’s powering your entire workplace and your entire team to collaborate to create content at scale. With that in mind, it made sense for a strategic shift to the United States to “fish where the fish are.”

I think sharing some of that magic of what happens internally translates so well to an external audience, so we decided with this 2024 iteration to open up Canva Create for the first time to an external audience and to invite our community and sales prospects through the doors to experience that same magic and to get hands-on with the product and to interact with Canvanauts from across the globe.


EM: What were some unique challenges that came with opening up Canva Create to an external audience?

JK: In how we present and how we talk about some of these things, all of that had to change and become a little bit more external-friendly, like some of the inside jokes that we might have used in season openers don’t necessarily translate to an external audience, so you have to do a little bit of a shifting of that content. That comes with a significant change for us internally to think about how we still maintain that sense of what everyone loved about season openers. It became more of a marketing objective for us.

Beyond just the great keynote, how Canva Create first started out, there needed to be more substance and content for the day. We saw this very clear opportunity to create different touchpoints for people to not only get involved with the product, but bring this highly creative community together, to learn from each other, to learn from thought leaders, to be inspired. Not everything we did at Canva Create was solely and exclusively about Canva; it was ways to get them thinking about AI and what that means for creativity, looking at things like typography and design, dissecting different elements of collaboration in the workplace, and what it means to create your personal brand.

Now with Canva Create 2024 under our belt, the sentiment and the outpouring of love, excitement and appreciation from the community for opening the doors for them to experience it for themselves has been so overwhelmingly positive and exciting. And it helps us realize and know that the decisions that we made were the right ones, and it feels like we’ve cracked a really nice formula.


WATCH: Canva Create 2024

Photo credit: Public School

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