Here’s one thing we know: Technology is constantly changing, whether that be in our personal or professional lives. It exists to help make our lives easier and usually more productive by accomplishing more with less. In fact, technological innovations have catapulted the meetings and events industry to a whole new level, with meeting planners relying on technology for all facets of the event-planning process. Beyond decentralizing the planning process, technology gives event planners the tools they need to produce higher quality events.
As Marvin McTaw, CEO of Sched, explains, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a decade or more of change into a few short months. The real question today, however, is how are events evolving, and how can technology support those shifts? Sched regularly surveys event planners and attendees seeking the answer to those questions.
“Our research shows that great meetings today are attendee-centric,” McTaw says. “Sched decentralizes meeting planning so speakers, sponsors and attendees can customize their roles. This saves event planners precious time, while giving them the control to manage their events, attendees and session content.”
As McTaw explains, there are three inherent areas of meeting and event planning that tech tools are significantly enhancing:
As stated, for many in the meetings and events industry, the pandemic required them to evolve. Martha Keele, meeting planner and COO at Toast of the Town LLC, says historically, every session was in person, feedback was given through printed-out surveys and most planning was done in a conference room.
“Today, teams can work remotely with project-management systems and Zoom meetings enabling planning committees to work more efficiently despite a distance,” Keele says. “Attendees can login to an event virtually if they are unable to attend in person. Feedback, networking and event materials can all take place with a powerful event app. Overall, the industry leaned in to creative solutions to keep meetings going and, they were so successful, it has stayed. What we are seeing [with these new tech tools] is what was once a workaround is now the event standard and attendee expectation.”
When utilizing tech tools in planning, always be on the lookout for more ways to use technology to make events more engaging and make the event-planning process more organized. Simple software solutions such as a diagramming tool can help you plan for seating, foot traffic and food and beverage. In addition, Toast of the Town’s project management tools for planning ensure good communication from all team members using the system and clear deadlines.
As Keele explains, this has been extremely helpful for managing client expectations, offering the capability to provide real-time reporting back to a client — which provided transparency around a project — and as all planning components are trackable and time-stamped, this offers client accountability as well.
“Technology solutions during the event, such as an event app, provides insights to the attendee experience in real time,” Keele says. They can pull real-time reports during an event to provide insights into our attendees or systems to improve mid-event, which has been an absolute game changer for the Toast of the Town team. “We use Eventbrite as our ticket registration system and love it,” Keele says. “It offers lots of customization and is very user friendly. It also allows us to brand each event and provide various login codes to give team members working on the project various alerts and updates.”
Keele says Jotform also is extremely useful for collecting speaker details. The Toast of the Town team has created systems where speakers fill out and upload all of their information so they can download everything in sortable spreadsheets. “This has also been a game changer,” Keele says. “Internally, planning on Monday.com has been a great project-management tool. Our team has templated systems for various project types that we further customize when we get started on a new conference. This helps make sure everything is up to date for our set milestones.”
And Guidebook and Slido are platforms to use for event apps and Q&As. “We love the branding, text alerts and all the information we can store — everything from speaker details, FAQs, polls, networking and surveys,” she says.
Today, events play a role in person and online. A/V is no longer limited to a screen and a microphone; materials for recording and streaming sessions for online and hybrid events are common considerations for event budgets today.
“After hosting over 25,000 events and more than 10 million attendees, we’re reasonably confident that an all-in-one event-management software platform is vital for event planners,” McTaw says. “While there are lots of options in this space, our users tell us that ease of use is a crucial feature of any package. We also hear that event planners want a platform that’s equally easy to buy, without the headache of sales meetings and configuration decisions.”
Julie Haddix, Cvent senior director, solutions marketing, says for event planners, incorporating technology into the event-planning process is crucial for three main reasons: driving efficiency, proving/growing event ROI and ensuring there is consistency. The right technology makes the planning process easier — not more complex.
“By automating manual processes and making complex tasks, like budget tracking, vendor sourcing, floor-plan design and payment processing more seamless and simplified, technology enables greater efficiency and time savings,” Haddix says.
She notes that embracing technology during the planning process can drive more efficiencies and help planners drive success at each stage of planning process. For example, the right event technology can support a more effective marketing strategy pre-event, track deep attendee insights during the event, and organize data points to enable faster, more personalized sales follow-ups post-event. These tools also can collect and organize event information — such as spend, audience engagement and overall impact — which helps planners demonstrate ROI to executives and other stakeholders. This consideration is more critical than ever in an uncertain economic environment where proving ROI is crucial.
“It’s also important to consider the fact that event programs can be hosted in multiple formats, adding some complexity to the planning process,” Haddix says. “Technology can bring consistency to the planning process regardless of whether the event will be held virtually, in a hybrid format or in person. This makes planners’ lives easier because they don’t have to learn how to navigate multiple systems depending on the specific event format.”
Haddix recommends planners consider organizing event-planning tech tools in four distinct areas. “Insurance and financial organizations, in particular, are managing complex programs with multiple event formats and audiences,” Haddix says. “Leveraging event technology is critical to creating engaging event experience for customers to interact with their brands in unique ways. Ultimately, marketers and event planners must scale their event programs and be agile enough to manage multiple event formats easily.”
The four event planning technology categories include:
While software tools are incredibly powerful, it is crucial to ensure that they are not overused to avoid overwhelming both the event planner and the audience. McTaw points out that if there’s one mistake meeting planners make as it relates to the use of technology for meeting and event planning, it’s relying too heavily on technology.
“Event technology doesn’t solve what’s most important about an event. Our research suggests that attendees really want planners to consider things such as: How do attendees learn best? How important is a speaker’s bio? Is my session syllabus a driving factor for event attendance? How much physical space do attendees need to feel comfortable? What kind of food will be served?
“Technology makes us all look good, but technology alone doesn’t make great events,” McTaw says. “There is a ton of technology that makes today’s events exceptional, including video production, push notifications, A/V, post-event content hosting, phone app and browser flexibility, the ability to easily register and a schedule that is easy to use and updated frequently.”
He also points to a few technologies that may not be as critical as they once were, such as badge printing, which can be a major expense. “It can be important, but a ‘Hello My Name Is’ sticker and a Sharpie are nearly as effective,” McTaw says. “If it means better food options, it might be something worth thinking about.”
He also suggests that livestreaming brings a level of risk to any event. “Every professional event planner has a story about what can go wrong. While livestreaming is great, the truth is, that if you are holding a hybrid meeting, you are probably better off de-synchronizing the two and using recorded sessions,” McTaw says. “Lower risk, less stress and probably better for both segments. The key technology that makes great events is the experience of understanding what’s important to attendees. It’s these listening skills that are today’s ‘critical technology’ that improves attendee reviews.”
Keele points out that the overuse of various platforms and apps can also be problematic on the part of some meeting and event planners. “Everything should be integrated for a seamless attendee experience,” she says. “Otherwise, the digital experience can be clunky, and attendees will not take advantage of the tools offered because they are too confusing to navigate. Sometimes, less is more.”
Keele says registration technology will continue to evolve with a focus on security and privacy for attendees. She also sees this as likely to advance in the events industry overall as digital options for attending, viewing, networking, etc., continues with more people sharing information online.
“We are excited for advancements in fast tracking registration from an event app as well. In addition, how attendees interact with technology at events will grow,” Keele says. “We will see new ways to use the Metaverse — or virtual reality/augmented reality — in keynote talks, exhibit halls and attendee networking over the next few years. Finally, what we do with event and attendee information will be more controlled in the future. Gone are the days of giving away important attendee demographic information. We will see more limitations on who we allow to see attendee data.”
Haddix agrees that leveraging technology frees planners from time-consuming, manual tasks so they can focus on building relationships with vendors and other key players, while also driving deeper attendee engagement and greater business impact.
“These trends will likely continue as new tools emerge. Artificial intelligence and virtual reality, for example, are quickly becoming more ubiquitous in everyday life, and there are certainly ways to implement this emerging technology more into event planning,” Haddix says. Instead of costly site visits, it is possible to take a 3D tour of venues to pick the one that fits a planner’s needs, saving time and money when it comes to choosing how to organize the layout of an event.
“For the financial and insurance industry in particular, technology will increasingly be relied on to track sustainability efforts from meetings and events programs,” Haddix says. “Meanwhile, data privacy and security will remain a top priority, as legacy insurance and financial organizations continue their digital transformation to compete with industry disruptors. Overall, planners will have to prioritize the customer experience and continuing change in demand for meetings and events.” I&FMM