Originally published October 2019 in Insurance & Financial Meetings Management

Using Tech to Elevate Event Engagement

by Christine Loomis

There are many ways to evaluate and increase attendee engagement, one of the critical metrics for determining the success of a meeting, program or other corporate endeavor. But technology is by far the most comprehensive tool, and it comes in many forms.

These days, it’s almost impossible for planners to keep up with technology. Not only is it evolving at breakneck speed, the scale of its evolution is mind-boggling. Who 10 years ago would have thought we’d be talking about widespread use of artificial intelligence (AI) among event technology providers, planners and the general population? But that’s exactly what we’re talking about — and more. It’s important to note, however, that just because new technology exists, doesn’t mean it’s being used by every planner or that it’s right for every planner or group. Just as importantly, the existence of new technology doesn’t instantly render older technology useless.

In fact, it’s most likely a combination of old and new that planners are working with today — with the help of event technology providers — who are typically on the cutting edge of new developments and products.

Mary Ann Pierce, founder and CEO of MAP Digital Inc., says events have to be designed “with the attendee at the center ... to execute the intended attendee experience.”

Mary Ann Pierce, founder and CEO of MAP Digital Inc., says events have to be designed “with the attendee at the center ... to execute the intended attendee experience.”

ENHANCE THE EXPERIENCE

“After over 20 years of event tech operating in silos, we need to integrate, reduce complexity and make event tech deployment simple.”  Mary Ann Pierce,  Founder and CEO MAP Digital Inc. Mary Ann Pierce, founder and CEO of MAP Digital, Inc.

“After over 20 years of event tech operating in silos, we need to integrate, reduce complexity and make event tech deployment simple.”

Mary Ann Pierce, Founder and CEO MAP Digital Inc.Mary Ann Pierce, founder and CEO of MAP Digital, Inc.

Mary Ann Pierce, founder and CEO of MAP Digital Inc., has brought the digital space to financial industry conferences for clients such as Deutsche Bank, Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley. She has been a speaker for PCMA and MPI and taught digital event design at New York University. Today, one of the top three worldwide banks is among her clients, and she has provided technology, networks, webcasts and event software for them for more than 20 years.

“The most important aspect for conferences and events is to make technology serve-up a curated experience for our client’s customer, the attendee, by using any application that enhances their experience.”

Pierce says the path forward must include stakeholders in the meetings and events industry working together to “embrace the API economy” — the application programming interface economy — described as a set of business models and channels based on secure access of functionality and exchange of data.

In short, she says, “The events industry must have standards in which to interconnect technology so that our clients can build the tech stack that serves their conferences and event objectives. The current situation is a ‘Tower of Babel’ that does not serve the planner or the technology provider. Our industry is missing out on the rich opportunities of utilizing analyzed data and content as a digital asset to fuel new relevance and new revenue streams. After over 20 years of event tech operating in silos, we need to integrate, reduce complexity and make event tech deployment simple.”

Pierce says events have to be designed “with the attendee at the center, and then technology is found, fused or fashioned to execute the intended attendee experience.”

As an example of how Pierce and her colleagues have boosted engagement and more at a meeting, Pierce points to work for a major financial services client. “We were tasked with building MetaMeetings, an integrated, compliant and interactive event content and webcast management platform with one login so that attendees, speakers and staff could access, upload and share the conference content. The bank also wanted to serve up personalized content and 1x1 schedules to its attendees, thus differentiating its conferences from other banks. Because MetaMeetings is one integrated content-management platform, the bank has access to all the in-depth metadata on each attendee’s journey throughout the conference, whether they were on-site or on the web. And our clients continue to challenge us to build better software so they can do better business. Our MetaMeetings platform pushes and pulls data within their internal platforms, prints name badges and enables dynamic agenda signage. We are also working on integrating a cost-efficient IOT capability for future conferences.”

Pierce also utilized a MetaMeetings platform at an international Masters & Robots Conference, and partnered with two other top technology providers to create an experience for attendees and enhance and track engagement. “We fired up a MetaMeetings platform, brought Live Shells on-site so that our team in New York could capture video webcasts using AWS (Amazon Web Services), and partnered with two of the best-of-service technology providers: GRIP, which uses AI to match attendees, and Vivastream to analyze the event data to map the attendee’s journey.”

Attendees were shown how to use the platform to make connections, review matches, schedule meetings with fellow attendees and so on. They could also view and share video sessions posted from the previous day.

What was learned? A lot, says Pierce, not the least of which was that the attendees were “hungry for meaningful connections and content, especially the how-to session videos and slides. We analyzed the GRIP, MetaMeetings, registration and evaluations data within the Vivastream platform. We could then show the organizer, sponsors and exhibitors the metadata generated in digital space around the event, including who was meeting, what their interests were, what themes were trending and where there were opportunities for a sponsor to invite specific attendees to a special event, meeting or workshop based on their behavioral data and interests.”

Tim Groot, co-founder and CEO of GRIP, says planners need to focus on the solution as opposed to the individual features of a tech product.

Tim Groot, co-founder and CEO of GRIP, says planners need to focus on the solution as opposed to the individual features of a tech product.

Tim Groot, co-founder and CEO of GRIP, says technology comes into play in different ways for different meeting organizers, but that in every case it should be about, “An increased value offering through cutting-edge technologies that drive a better Return on Time (ROT) for visitors and a higher Return on Investment (ROI) for exhibitors.”

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Like Pierce, he says planners need to focus on the solution as opposed to the individual features of a tech product. “Talk about the goal you would like to achieve by using your technology and the overall experience that you want to provide.”

Perhaps most importantly, he says, keep it simple. “Many events overcomplicate the setup of their event technology, which often results in a more cumbersome user experience and less engagement. Less is more when it comes to meeting technology. Try and keep the setup simple; both the digital part and the on-site meetings are best kept in a dedicated meeting area where you can maximize the impact and engagement and directly act on no-shows and/or any other issues.”

“The new metric of success for many of our F1000 corporate customers is attendee and customer insights.”  Nick Fugaro,  CEO Vivastream

“The new metric of success for many of our F1000 corporate customers is attendee and customer insights.”

Nick Fugaro, CEO Vivastream

Whichever technology planners currently use, one thing is clear: The ways of measuring success have changed. Nick Fugaro, CEO of Vivastream, puts it this way:

“Our first recommendation for planners is to revise and evolve their metric of event success. Traditionally, event metrics of success were based on number of attendees, anecdotal information and the small percentage of survey responders. The new metric of success for many of our F1000 corporate customers is attendee and customer insights. This answers questions: What content are our attendees consuming and how can we as event planners become more effective with delivering relevant content based on their behavior?”

He says technology that best captures engagement include session scanning, lead retrieval, mobile, surveys and ibeacons. “Technologies like Vivastream exist to help event organizers understand engagement before, during and after the event by leveraging behaviors and data from the multiple technology implemented from events — not simply a single data source.”

Additionally, he says, post-event “trip reports” are now prevalent. “Trip Reports are a personal URL embedded within the “Thank you for attending” email commonly sent to each attendee following an event. When attendees click the link within the email, they’re presented with their unique personal webpage that highlights their personal journey, interests, and engagement during the event and recommended relevant resources based on the content they consumed.”

Plus, Fugaro adds, the Trip Report link can easily be shared with managers, team members and social followers. “We’ve seen as high as 300% increase in thank you email responses and engagement when Trip Reports are included.”

It may seem overwhelming for planners, but the positive outcomes with new technology are many. Noting that he’s one of the world’s top-10 technophobes, Robinson says, “I do realize the importance of technology and the far-reaching shelf life it provides to our meetings.”