This series is dedicated to learning from event experts on various topics. We cover event technology, meeting design, and much, more more! Today, we are pleased to interview Brian Silverman, CEO of NiceMeeting.com
First of all, please tell us a little about yourself. What do you love to do?
I am a widowed father of two, ages 20 and 17. One off in college and one at home with me who is a junior in high school. I am a self described dreamer. I tend to not focus on why things are the way they are, but rather think about how things could and hopefully should be. In a previous life, I was a Co-founder and CEO of a company called Five9, which has become the largest cloud based call center company in the world. It was the dream of several Cisco engineers to build a call center over the internet using early VOIP technologies, and make the capabilities affordable on a SAAS model basis for $99 per month. Essentially, what Salesforce.com
became to CRM and support, Five9 became to the call center industry. With a team of great people I was blessed to work with, we changed the call center world by introducing highly disruptive technology that allowed people to do much more for significantly less. We took on the likes of Cisco and Avaya, and won. In the developing nations, we helped create a middle class that previously did not exist and provided excellent well paying steady jobs for people who desperately needed them. We coined the term "compassionate capitalism" in the Philippines, where we demonstrated to people that we could return shareholder value while at the same time doing good for the communities we served and worked in. At the same time, we continued to hire in the US and insured that the higher paying more value added jobs remained and grew here at home. Since you asked about me and what I like to do, the best way I can sum it up Liz, is to tell you what influences me most and how I try and live my life both personally and professionally, is by JFK's most notable saying. He once said, "Some men see things as they are and ask why, I dream things that never were, and ask why not." I have always truly loved those words.
There is a huge focus on audience engagement in the events industry which is great. We (event planners) know that our audience is chock full of experience and great ideas and we're doing what we can to harness that. I know Nice Meeting has something called Second Screen that helps this process. Can you expand a bit?
With respect to second screen technology (SST), my dream is that in time, all live events will be Second Screen Enabled. I dream this for a number of reasons. At the core of Second Screen Technology is the ability to engage one's audience. By taking what is on the main screen and being able to mirror it on attendees devices, we open up a entire world and range of ways audiences can collaborate, interact and exchange information and ideas with one another. Our belief is that in doing so, we help the event organizer dramatically increase or enhance the experience for all those who attend and participate with this new set of capabilities. For purposes of clarity, our platform which starts with Second Screen Technology allows attendees to communicate with other attendees as well as bi-directionally with the presenting companies. Specifically, attendees can take notes during the presentation on their hand held devices on a slide by slide basis. They can review the slides at any time, by scrolling backward if and when they choose to and then immediately return to the slide the presenter is on. Presenters can allow attendees to download their slides as well as any relevant information such as bio's and/or white papers, essentially creating a paperless environment for the event.
Attendees can submit questions to presenters or moderators at any time, and have their questions answered in real time. Both these questions and answers can be displayed on the main screens if the presenters wish to do so. Additionally, the Q&A's can be downloaded and attendees can walk away from the event with very valuable information of what was asked and answered by all at the event. Reciprocally, if presenters want to poll the audience and get instant feedback to their questions, they can do so, and the answers are collated instantly and can be shared in real time with the audience. Attendees can also chat with other attendees privately or publicly at the event, and any inappropriate public chat can be shut down so as not to erode the event or create any form of negativity. Sponsorship recognition can be made available as well, allowing presenting companies to offer their sponsors a way to share their message and information with audience members. As social networking becomes more and more pervasive in our daily lives, NiceMeeting will shortly allow attendees to post interesting slides and/or notes during presentations to Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook.
Liz, when I first took on this position at NiceMeeting, I was interested in gaining an industry perspective about our offering and how relevant what we had was relative to solving problems the Live Event industry faced. From senior executive colleagues at GPJ, Oracle and Cisco I learned a number of highly relevant things. I learned that one key challenge for companies who spend significant dollars on putting on events annually, was trying to figure out how to convert prospects who attend their events into paying customers. The answer I received was that NiceMeeting's Second Screen Technology and Audience Engagement tools at the end of the day really allows us to market and speak directly to the prospect in the seat. They said you allow us to capture their attention and total mindset and as a result of increasing their focus on us via high engagement touch points, you help us to increase the probability of turning them from a prospect into a paying customer. Another key problem the industry faced was with respect to the Paid Conference Oranizer market. The information I gathered was that this segment of the market was seeing a significant erosion of paid attendees not returning to the same conference the following year.
What we were told was that NiceMeeting was an interesting platform for them as they believed our solution set really enhanced the value and experience of the conference and this enhanced experience would heighten the chances of paid attendees returning the following year to the event. The last challenge we learned about had to do with Corporate Meetings that were highly educational in nature. What we learned was that in the majority of these companies events, they viewed education and knowledge transfer as the common denominator for their events. They believed that highly successful education in nature events correlated directly to increased sales and higher customer satisfaction. The problem they were witnessing was due to the proliferation of smart phones and tablets in the industry, more and more people were bringing them to events and were spending considerable time on them checking email, facebook, twitter and the like. As a result of this, their belief was that more and more people due to this distraction were taking away or retaining, less and less information from the presentations at the event, and their ultimate concern was that they would see a softening in sales and potentially greater customer support issues. These company's believed that NiceMeeting plays a vital role in eliminating these distractionary factors caused by the mobile phones, due to the fact that when the attendee is using NiceMeeting at the event, the person is completely focused on the message the presenting company wants them focused on, and as a result, does not have the time nor where with all to leave the second screen and check email, facebook etc.
As the CEO of Nice Meeting, you know all about event technology. In your opinion, what are the top 3 trends for 2014 when it comes to event technology?
Liz, I am not sure I am qualified to share my views about the top 3 trends for 2014 as it pertains to event technology. What I can tell you is that in my opinion, the event industry has spend considerable time, resource and money on Registration Systems, Logistical Support and Scheduling (Mobile Apps). Whilst these are clearly key areas for events and will continue to be so, our feeling and focus at NiceMeeting is really about EVERY THING THAT HAPPENS ON GAME DAY. In other words, whilst its important to know who is speaking and in what room and how to get there, our view is that it is equally if not more important, to enhance the experience of one's attendee, ONCE HE/SHE IS IN THE ROOM ATTENDING THE PRESENTATION. We think that this is where ultimately the rubber will hit the road, so to speak. You might say that I am biased, and you would be correct. With that admission, our view is that once the attendee is a captive audience member for you in that room, it is incumbent on you as a presenting company to do everything in your power to enhance your brand, your message, your sales and support and your overall image as a company. We believe that NiceMeeting is leading the way with these goals in mind, via our second screen technology and audience engagement platform.
So to answer your question about the top 3 apps pertaining to the Events industry a little more directly, I would answer it this way. First, mobile application dealing with scheduling and logistics will continue to grow at a rather rapid rate. Second screen and audience engagement platforms such as NiceMeeting will become adopted throughout 2014 by industry giants who will pave the way for others to follow and a consortium of sorts will emerge, asking companies if their event is second screen enabled. Lastly, I believe that something that is not yet spoken widely about will start getting discussed, and emerge as a national conversation in the Event arena, and will have to do with Big Data.
To be a little more specific, think about the following for a moment. Right now as you correctly state, everyone is talking about Audience Engagement. Everyone in corporate events, industry planners is starting to catch the fever, and is trying to figure out what to do, where to start and how to proceed and with who. As the value proposition is so strong, eventually the trend will get maximum lift and it will over time become the way people conduct events. From our perspective, while this may seem like the holy grail to many, in our mind, it is merely the tip of the iceberg. Our view is that while there is enormous value in enriching the attendee experience, there is even more value to be had in what one does once all the data is captured at an event. Think about it. What NiceMeeting does is capture every piece of data uttered at an event; notes, comments, questions, answers, chats, postings etc. When you filter and collate all that data, you have the beginnings of sentiment analysis in real time from your constituent base at your finger tips. If I utter a positive comment at an event, I might very well be a great sales lead and should be funneled immediately to sales. If I am trash talking something, I should be ushered immediately to someone on the support side. This data is captured by NiceMeeting and is actionable…….So in time Liz, I believe the next big trend resulting from engaging your audience will be actioning the data to truly capture a very significant ROI from one's event.
What is your favorite app?
My favorite app is Facebook…….It allows me to see how much more my high school class mates have aged compared to me :
They say tablets will overtake the market and laptops will be irrelevant in a few years. What is your take?
No comment on tablets vs laptops other than it seems that Tablets will win over laptops…….Just look at Starbucks in the morning and who has what device…..Always a great litmus test for those with low research budgets.
Inquiring minds want to know. What has been your biggest tech mistake?
Biggest tech mistake comes in two flavors…..In my younger years, found myself trying to sell a "nice to have versus a must have". Really don't want to play in the "nice to have arena" again if I can help it. Second biggest mistake is more about the timing of introducing technology than the technology itself. Bottom line, great technology doesn't necessarily win. Timing and existing ecosystems weigh heavily on ultimate success and this needs to be understood when introducing new technology into the market.