Which forces are shaping the events business?
Content is king, and it has changed the way events are run. We understand that, if we’re asking attendees to make a commitment and visit for two or three days, they expect to learn something new about their industry, and not just about the exhibitors’ products and services. We will sell out events with insightful and original thought leadership content, but, if the content isn't strong, we’ll struggle to attract attendees.
The experience economy also has great influence in the B2B world. People expect an event to mirror the experiences they are having as consumers. I have an app to tell me when my next bus or train is coming. So, when I'm at an event, I expect to have an app to tell me when my next session is.
Taking both trends into account, we need to make sure that what we're offering is educational and informative, as well as an exciting and fun experience that attendees want to share via social media or with their colleagues.
What kind of experiences resonate most with audiences?
Anything where people can have hands-on experience and interaction with other attendees is very popular. For instance, we like to mix up live polling with questions through an app, to keep different people engaged throughout a session. Some people don't really want to stand up in the crowd and ask a question, while others are quite happy to do so. Inviting people to play a game and have a bit of friendly competition is another way to keep them engaged. This is especially helpful at networking events, as it encourages face-to-face interaction.
We are doing something called “The Planner Personality” which is a quiz that people take to find out what kind of event planner they are. Once they complete it, we'll offer them a mocktail or a cocktail. This experience is fun and engaging, but also gives my team a chance to open a conversation with attendees.
I recently went to the MPI’s EMEC in The Hague, and it was quite a small event, probably 350 people, but the content was fantastic. They created different learning journeys that took people offsite, which was really unusual. They used the stage in different ways for the keynotes. When the unexpected happens, that’s when attendees are going to really remember an event.
What can give one venue an edge over another?
You are more likely to book a venue where you've built a really good relationship with them over time, where they've become your partners, even your friends. Venues also realise that it’s a lot easier for an event planner when the technology is ready to go, rather than having to bring in extra AV and negotiate added cost.
How can technology fuel people’s experiences at events?
Interactive technology can be hugely engaging. But people sometimes use it to avoid talking to each other. We recently surveyed 1,000 people from the UK, the US and Germany, and discovered that millennials were finding networking much harder than other age groups. I think that’s because they are used to connecting with people through an app or social media as opposed to talking face-to-face.
At the same time, older generations tend to be more willing to try new technologies at events. One of our clients reported a 97% download and networking engagement rate via our app at an event where the audience was made up of very senior people such as managing directors and CEOs.
We try to have as much polling and social media interaction as possible, because it's about keeping your audience entertained; no-one wants to be talked at for hours.
Which are the best ways to measure ROI?
Everyone needs ROI from an event, but you need the technology and team in place to make sure that you're delivering. It’s not just about running the event in the same way year after year; you need to take a strategic view of your objectives and how they fit into your annual events programme.
Audience data is critical. For example, we compare the number of people who register to those who have actually turned up. If the attrition rate is low, that’s a good sign that the event was successful. Then we would also look at the percentage of attendees who have actively engaged at the event – whether they have downloaded the app or spoken to people. For instance, at Cvent CONNECT Europe, all our reps will have scanners, so we will be able to track attendees throughout the event and find out which sessions they have attended, and which particular products they have seen.
We also conduct a post-event survey, getting feedback on whether the event has met people’s expectations. We also have ways of tracking what business has resulted from people seeing us at events.
Which factors can limit the success of an event?
Bandwidth and budget. You start out with ambitions to segment the audience and target particular content. And, as you get closer and closer to the event, dealing with the nitty gritty, that can become a nice-to-have. But if you had double the amount of people in the team, you could make it happen.
Planners can also be hung up on the amount of people they want at an event. But if they're not the people that are going to make business decisions, or network effectively, are they the right people to be there?