“Thank you,” an attendee whispered to me on her way out of PYM LIVE Austin last week, “I’ve never been able to eat dinner at an event before.”
She has Celiac’s Disease, which means she has to avoid consuming gluten or her body will start to attack itself. Creating gluten free menus is easy. So is asking attendees if they have an allergy or dietary restriction. Clearly, she’d never been asked.
Another attendee indicated stairs were a problem when she registered. Upon arrival at our host hotel, the first thing people see is a gorgeous staircase that leads to the event space. Knowing that she wouldn’t be able to climb the steep incline, I sent her an email with instructions on how to find the lobby elevator. She wrote back: “You my dear are a GEM! I truly appreciate your consideration and look forward to seeing you.”
These are but two examples of the many ways in which data can help you customize the event experience. But attendee data also can generate exhibitor/sponsor ROI, save you money, and help you leverage concessions.
Generating value for sponsors/exhibitors
The No. 1 trade show trend is one-to-one appointment setting. Trying to match people by hand is a time-consuming and mind-numbing experience. But many tools allow you to collect data beforehand to automate this process. If you want to learn more about it, there’s a free webinar on the topic June 12 (after the live broadcast, you can watch on-demand here).
Another way to generate sponsor/exhibitor ROI is to track attendee behavior while they’re onsite. RFID/NFC name badges and scanners are one option, but the hottest thing right now is beacon technology. If you need a crash course in what beacons do, read this. When embedded in your event app, beacons not only let you customize information you can “beam” to attendees, they tell you who interacted with whom (or what), and where they were at all times. It’s a creative way for exhibitors to deliver custom messages to people onsite and a fantastic way to show exhibitors how attendees reacted to their messaging, and how effective (or defective) the event flow was.
Using data to save money and resources
If knowing your group is the goal, having data on what they like, dislike, want to have or will never try is key to helping you eliminate waste and save money. Don’t have historical data on hand? Start tracking now and enlist your hotel to help you measure Wifi data consumption, total attendee spend and energy consumption (if going green is a priority).
Don’t know what your attendees like to eat and drink? Keep tabs on what people send back to the kitchen untouched and have the banquet captain collect corks and bottle lids to anything you’re paying for on consumption. This will help you create less wasteful BEOs next time.
Aren’t sure which speakers or destinations attendees will prefer? Why not let them determine it by popular vote the way SXSW and SoMeT have? When attendees feel like they have a voice, they’re more likely to show up and see how things turn out. If the idea of leaving the professional development or host decisions up to the crowd makes you squirrelly, let them vote on something like a room set or signature drink. Anyone who participates in the voting is a potential marketing asset you can engage with on social to help spread the word and generate excitement about your event.
Leverage data during negotiations
Data also helps you negotiate stronger and more effectively because you know your group, their historical spend and what that means in terms of value to your potential hosts. You need to divide your concessions into three categories: must have, would like to have and could live without. Make sure the “must haves” are in the RFP and then work with the hotel or venue to negotiate a compromise on the “would like to haves.” Sub out anything offered that your group doesn’t need for something they do.
Consider including performance-based clauses that reward you for meeting your minimums. For example, if you know you’ll hit that $25,000 F&B minimum, tie an additional set of concessions you’ll unlock when you pass that threshold.
The data your hotel and venue sales contacts collect can help you, too, so take an interest in what they can tell you about their strong and weak dates, how they make money on group business and what might help them make their quotas. If you can help each other out, you’ll not only create a more attractive group pricing package, you’ll forge a lasting relationship.
And isn’t that what this business is all about?
Alright Betty, put the event binder down and slowly back away. That 40-lb. albatross is weighing you down and destroying the environment. How many trees have to die before you acknowledge there’s a better way to plan and manage your meetings and events? Don’t believe me? Check out these digital project management systems.
- Cost: Free 60-day trial. $20/month for up to 10 active projects and 3 GB of storage; $50/month for up to 40 active projects and 15 GB of storage.
- Who it’s best for: People who know what they need to do, but need an easy way of keeping track of what’s been promised, achieved and must be done in a way that they can see on a calendar.
- What it’s good for: Setting goals, managing deliverables, eliminating email chains, creating project checklists, keeping all your documents in one place.
- Why it helps: You can assign tasks to specific team members and they’ll receive alerts when assignments are due. Aren’t sure if something was done? You can click on the task or the person and start a conversation and copy anyone else who needs to know.
- What you need to do: Give uploaded documents labels so you can find them easily. Teach team members the difference between to-dos and discussions, and train people how to communicate via Basecamp instead of using email.
- Mobile friendly? There’s an iPhone app, and mobile web versions for Android and Windows mobile users. Slightly tweaked versions of the system are available as iPhone, Android and Window Mobile apps as well.
- Cost: Free for up to five employees and five external team members. $9/month per employee beyond that with free external team members. Enterprise versions also available.
- Who it’s best for: People who don’t have procedures in place or who are charged with handling many elements at once (e.g., event design and marketing strategy).
- What it’s good for: Helping you visualize all the components of the event, assigning tasks to team members, tracking the deliverables and creating marketing or client retention strategies.
- Why it helps: Rather than being checklist-based, Podio is centered around workspaces that can be pre-populated with free templates from its app store. This is a boon for newbie planners or ones who are trying something new, like using social media to promote their event or entering data in CRM systems. Another advantage Podio has is it integrates with Google Drive, so you can share your Google Docs with team members and know that everyone will have the most up-to-date version.
- What you need to do: Before you invite anyone in, create your workspace(s) and sketch out your deadlines. Then take plenty of tutorials to understand how best to use the platform and train your team.
- Mobile friendly? Podio apps are available for iPhone and Android mobile devices.
- Cost: Free 30-day trial. $50 for each event binder, including event website, marketing and registration capabilities.
- Who it’s best for: People who are perfectly happy with their Outlook calendars, but who want to manage all of their event info online and who would love to have an all-in-one solution for promoting the event, registering and managing attendees.
- What it’s good for: Sure, it’s a great place to park your BEOs and essential event information and you can share it with others, but the real attraction is having a DIY way to create an event mini-site, send invitations, conduct registration, track sales and manage attendee data for peanuts. Ability to set dates for tasks is coming, and if you already have a registration system you’re using, it can integrate with EventDawn.
- Why it helps: If you like doing things by the book, you’ll love EventDawn, which is organized to be compliant with the Convention Industry Council‘s APEX Standards. They’ve literally taken all the pages of your binder and put them online, so it is an easy transition from paper. (And, yes, it does give you an option to print it out.)
- What you need to do: Once you start your event, create “functions,” which are the agenda items comprising the event. Then you can add details and assign elements to staff members from there. When you’re ready to publicize the event, “publish” it and start marketing.
- Mobile friendly? The website features responsive design so you can use it via mobile, but there’s no specific app for phones or tablets.
Are there alternatives to the above? Of course! I know planners who dig Asana as a project management tool and Liz King has written much about eTouches, which offers a suite of tools to source, plan, promote, market and matchmake at your events. Tied to your tablet and phone? Then you might prefer planning using these apps. And there are seven other event management software companies you can research on this site.
Just remember: Online project management tools are only as useful as you make them. If you don’t like the user interface, or if you don’t understand how it will save you time, you’ll never use it. Similarly, it’s no use committing to a platform without training your team on best practices. So set yourself up for success and build in time to learn before you plunge in.
I love technology and face-to-face events. Thinking about how to meld the digital and live event experience makes me weak in the knees. But, there’s a lot of stupidity I see on the sales, venue and planner side. So in the interest of being less grinchy next year, these are my seven wishes that I think will make things better for everyone.
- #Eventtech salespeople: Do your research. Everyone has a competitor. If you’re an event app, you may have 50 competitors. Tech is a really crowded space. Don’t you dare say, you’re “the best” or there is “no one like” you. We all know that’s hooey. Show what differentiates you from the rest. And figure out how to explain how you will add value in a meaningful way to my attendees and my stakeholders.
- Meeting/event planners: Ask more questions. When you’re given a directive to include more technology into your meetings, ask “why?” Not in a snotty way, but in a way that helps your stakeholder define what the objective is for doing so. Too many meeting planners hear “incorporate technology,” and decide that adding an event app checks that box without ever thinking through what they’re trying to achieve or what the best tools for achieving that objective are. What a colossal waste of time and money.
- Salespeople: Talk to your developers. I can’t tell you the number of salespeople I speak with who have no idea how the tech they’re selling works. All they can do is go by rote during a pitch or demo. That doesn’t help anyone except the deeply vague and easily convinced. If I ask you about customization, using APIs or something else that might be off-script, you need to be able to improvise in an intelligent way, my friend.
- Planners: Develop an attendee communication and adaptation strategy. If you don’t communicate what you’re doing that’s new or what you expect your attendees to do, they’ll do nothing. And that’s a sure way to flush all that money you spent on #eventtech down the toilet. Draw out a marketing strategy that targets your attendees’ behavior. Outline the value proposition for their engagement. Define when and how you’ll communicate the benefits of adaptation to them. Make it as simple as possible for them to engage.
- Planners: Don’t expect people will do what you wanted. No matter how cool you made that game or app or digital collateral, chances are, your attendees won’t try to download it until they’re at registration. So what do you do now that you’ve got 1,000 people who didn’t read your pre-show marketing? Make sure you have an on-site training session or concierge set up to walk people through getting set up and engaged.
- Venue salespeople: Be honest about your broadband and WiFi capabilities. Stop assuming that a 100-person event means 100 connections. Estimate that means a minimum 300 connections (three devices/person) and be honest about whether or not your hotel or facility can handle that kind of traffic. If it can’t, be prepared to know what the solution for temporarily beefing up your service is or acknowledge that another venue might be more suitable.
- Planners: Realize that shiny and new = expensive, but that you do have options. Yes, having a hologram of your CEO stepping out onstage to welcome people would be awesome … if you have $100,000 to spend. You don’t? Then set up an augmented reality experience attendees can trigger with their phones to deliver the same content for a fraction of the cost. Again, it comes down to goals: If you know what you’re trying to accomplish, you’ll see options. If you just focus on the tool rather than the reason why you want to do something, your new year will be filled with obstacles.
What do you wish people would start or stop doing? Tell me in the comments below.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because no one expects me to buy them crap. It’s a time where we can take a break, reflect on what matters and count our blessings. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are some things I’ve been thankful for this past year.
- Face-to-face meetings. I can surf the Web all day for cool stuff, but it’s only in conversation with people that I truly discover anything useful. At PlannerTech, I stumbled upon some interesting tech tools. At IMEX America I finally got face time with people I’d been social media dating for years. At SoMeT there were brilliant ideas about connecting and activating your social communities. At PYM LIVE and the many events I educated at I got to talk with my audience and find out what challenges the meetings industry faces and some of the possible solutions. Even the big fat turkeys — the stinky, creaky, old-school events I suffered through — were worth going to because of the conversations I had and connections I made there.
- The power of communication. Whether it’s spoken, emailed or typed up and hung on a wall, words are incredibly powerful. They can educate, set a mood, affect behavior, get people excited, piss them off, close a sale, comfort someone in grief and make a friend for life. I’ve always valued it. But this year more than any other, I’ve realized how difficult honest communication can be for some people, especially those in leadership positions. And that’s made it easier for me to be compassionate, patient and willing to help people articulate their thoughts and plans of action, both internally, at home and in the field.
- Obsession with content. In marketing circles, this has been the year of “content marketing,” which means that people are now trying to sell you things with stories. As annoying as that is, it’s great for self-educators because there’s a wealth of free material, including fantastic case studies and how-to guides floating around for you to consume on topics ranging from using hybrid meeting technology, to creating social media calendars to, yes, developing your own content marketing strategy. If you stop and think about why you sign up to receive what you want to read and how you stumbled upon it, it will give you fantastic ideas on how to bring potential attendees to your events using little breadcrumbs of content.
- Rise of the storyteller. From the world of event marketing, the importance of having a story for your brand and your public experiences is bleeding into the everyday world of meeting planning, which is very exciting for me to watch. Because it means that in addition to dates, rates and space, everyday planners are beginning to think about the experience people will have at their events and how to weave that storyline through their communication strategy, meeting design and execution.
- My health. Not to be maudlin, but many family friends have passed away this year. More are battling cancer. And most shocking of all, a meeting planner I knew recently died of pneumonia in her sleep while on-site at an event. From what friends told me, she had bronchitis but didn’t take the break she needed to rest and recuperate. The result: an annoying cough turned into something fatal. I don’t take my mobility or my health for granted any more. And now I’m obsessed with taking frequent breaks to de-stress and recharge. I hope you do the same.
Are you counting your personal or professional blessings? Share them with me in the comment section below.
Some things I love: Oysters with champagne, 10-mile walks, traveling without reservations, having time to read and paint, my family, my work. I’m certainly not doing what I expected to 10 years ago. But I think I’m much happier because I found a way to make money doing something that people seem to appreciate; something I feel is making a difference in some way.
Speaking to a college hospitality class last week, a student asked me about my career path. Recounting it, I was struck by how absurd it sounded. When I graduated college, I only wanted to act. Out of necessity, I learned the basics of graphic design to support myself and landed a temp job customizing sales presentations for a ladies’ magazine. After meeting Oscar-winning actress Joan Allen and being told she’d been a temporary secretary until she was 35, I went on kind of an anti-theater bender. I took up improv, performed in comedy festivals, started playing rugby.
I landed on the injured list pretty fast, but a story I wrote about why women play the sport was purchased by NY Sports Online. Suddenly, I was a professional writer. That story was given to the editor of Rugby Magazine, which had never covered women ruggers. He commissioned me to expand my 500-word blog into a 5,000-word feature, which made me quasi-famous in that world. Shortly after, I landed my dream job — improvising at Boom Chicago Comedy Theatre in Amsterdam — and assumed that after I finished there, I’d follow in the footsteps of fellow alums Seth Myers (Saturday Night Live), Jordan Peele (Key and Peele) and Ike Barinholz (The Mindy Show) to become a famous actor/writer/comedian.
But life doesn’t follow a straight path. After my time in Amsterdam, I stopped in Atlanta, where my family is, to prepare for a move to LA. I took a job as an assistant editor to make some gas money, lined up some theater jobs … and fell in love. Needless to say, I stayed. From an assistant to associate to director, I found myself advancing in an accidental career that I really enjoyed.
Now, I spend about half my time on the road, talking to meeting professionals about where the industry is going, sharing my insights about technology that can help them save time, money and create more engaging experiences. But that, too, was an accident.
Six years ago, our VP of Sales came into my office after attending an off-site sales training. “We need a representative who can be the face of the company and raise awareness of who we are by educating people,” he said. Because I had a performing arts background and had been interviewing meeting practitioners for years, he felt I was the best candidate. “What would I speak about,” I asked. “How to prove your worth,” he said, “that’s what people are worried about right now. I’ve already booked you a gig in Houston. You leave in five weeks.”
I was terrified, but I loved it. As the years passed, it became just one more thing I did. Every year, I developed something new to share, something built to address current industry challenges. Eventually I discovered my sweet spot: Technology. I became the gatekeeper and ideation manager at my company — the person who evaluated what we needed to build, what it should look like, how we wanted people to feel when they engaged with us, nurtured our online and face-to-face communities, and explained to sales why we shouldn’t indulge in random acts of marketing.
I took a deep breath as I finished the story of my crooked career path. In the heavy pause that followed, the professor spoke up. “They moved your cheese,” he said. I’ve never read that book, but I think I know what he was saying. Shift happens. And your happiness depends on your ability to pivot with or without warning to reposition yourself and find joy in what it is you need to do to make a living.
My father is fond of saying: “You want to live to work, not work to live.” As years go by, you will end up spending more time at work than you spend with your family or friends. Your work will take up more time and energy than anything else in your life. So why waste time? I ask you: Do you love what you do? If not, maybe it’s time to move a little cheese…
If I had to pick a responsible party, I’d blame Zumba and the Zombie Run. Because both of those things have forever changed what I’m willing to accept as a meeting designer, speaker and attendee.
The Importance of Making Meetings Fun
Catching up on business reading last November, I stumbled upon an article about the worldwide exercise and business empire Zumba. By focusing on three words — freeing, electrifying, joy — they built an enthusiastic, hip-shaking army of brand evangelists and consumers.
Because I handle audience engagement, content creation and live event strategy at my company, I started to think about “freeing, electrifying, joy.” How could I make a trade show fun? How would I create a feeling of community at our events continue 365 days a year? How should I change my model of engagement as an educator? What would make things more fun for our social, print and online audiences?
Then I stumbled upon a Facebook post a friend had shared about a Zombie Run. There were hundreds of likes, comments and shares on what, essentially, was a save-the-date post. Curious, I clicked on the link and read a teaser paragraph about the Atlanta event. Essentially, it was a 5K that involved running away from zombies. I’m a consistent mid-distance runner, but I’ve never wanted to run a race. But being chased by zombies? That seemed like a lot of fun.
I clicked back to the post, read through the enthusiastic, often hilarious, comments and found one that was kind of sad sandwiched between them. The author said that he’d love to come, but he couldn’t because there was a 5K he had to attend that same day, 20 miles away. By the way he included links to the event registration page and went into great detail about the charity it was benefitting, I suspected he also was one of the event organizers.
I say it was a sad post, because I could tell he was afraid that his charity run would be totally eclipsed by the Zombie Run. It was obvious that, in this case, doing good just couldn’t compete with having fun.
That was food for thought, too. There are so many demands on people’s time; so many stressors in everyday life and at work. If you want people to attend your event, it has to be fun, it can’t just be filled with “value.” Otherwise, you’re offering the event equivalent of broccoli to an audience that prefers ice cream.
The Quest for “Freeing, Electrifying, Joy”
For a brief moment in San Francisco last week, I felt like I finally achieved my event design goal: an experience that created a feeling of freeing, electrifying, joy for our attendees, exhibitors and sponsors.
Along with panelists Jeff Hurt, Paul Salinger and John Chen, we created a free-flowing, interactive hybrid discussion about the nature of engagement and the future of meetings. We liberated our attendees and exhibitors from the traditional trade show model with a round of speed-networking that they didn’t want to end. And the conversations during the group challenge were punctuated with the sound of joyous laughter.
What I had made were small adjustments to the design and format of our PYM LIVE Events, based on new things I was trying in each city. Not every experiment was successful, but adjustments were made until we achieved a peak of engagement at PYM LIVE San Francisco May 8. But my work’s not over yet — which brings me to two ideas I stumbled upon this morning.
Information vs. Ideas. Best Practices vs. Next Practices.
The first is the idea that currently, we are designing our meetings to be a marketplace for the exchange of information. Intel Creative Director Joe English proposed on Event Alley’s May 7 broadcast that the meeting of the future needs to focus on helping people exchange ideas, instead. I loved hearing that because I felt it described what I’ve intuitively been doing this year.
The second idea is that “best practices” look backwards. What our industry needs more of, Adrian Segar wrote, is the development and proliferation of “next practices.”
So what I’m wondering now is: What are those next practices? Do you have any ideas? Share them with me @PYMLIVE and tag them #yaypym.