How technology is changing event businesses, and why the future is mobile

He will present a deep-dive masterclass at the FIPP Middle East& Africa conference (taking place from 10-11 February in Dubai). See the programme here or view the overview here [PDF]. To attend FIPP MEA, register here

Tell me about Cvent – what you do, where do you operate, what are your specialisms…?

Cvent is the world’s largest meetings management software company. We’ve been in business since 1999 and we’ve got a number of offices – we have our headquarters in Washington DC and offices in India, London and Australia, to name a few. The key, however, is that we sell to a global audience. What we bring to the table is a platform, and there’s a host of solutions within that platform to cater for the entire lifecycle of an event – an end-to-end events management system. That means if somebody wants to find a venue for an event, then we have a sourcing solution that means they can simply go to the website, type in the city where they’re planning their event and make contact with the properties that they’ve shortlisted. It saves a lot of time and generates good pricing. From an event-management perspective, users can store their contact data, market their events, create websites, and offer online registration, payments and automated refunds. So the planner can simplify the entire event process and focus on engaging their audience. We also have mobile applications and a cloud-based solution that allows for the creation of custom apps to be used at events, conferences and meetings.

Your session is about how technology can help events. What is that telling us about the demands and needs of event planners and attendees?

We’ve been operating for 16 years now and Cvent is a publicly listed company with a billion-dollar-plus market cap. Our focus is to use technology to automate everything for a planner – meaning that the days of using Excel spreadsheets, manual payments and chasing people over the phone and on email are gone.

Gone also are the days when you put an event together and just expect people to come along. Nowadays, people demand ROI. They demand that there’s more networking, more knowledge. They want to increase their learning and see how an event can help them professionally and personally.

More specifically, what does it tell us about the experience attendees want from events?

Perhaps the best way to summarise that is through our use of mobile apps. If you think about the old way of attending an event, you would get brochures covering two or three days, then you would have your own agenda and schedule, you would carry this thick guide around, having to find where you need to be. That’s all frustrating, right? And on top of all of this, you want to network, so you are walking around with business cards looking for the people that you want to meet with. A directory cannot help you with that. So we use apps – with a digital brochure that lets you see your entire schedule and lots of smart, personalised features to engage the attendee. It’s automatically synchronised, so if you get an invitation to the event, it’s easy to register, to select your agenda, select who you want to meet, see your appointments, all within a few seconds. What’s more, I can see which people are coming and I can filter them, by profession, for example, and look at those attendees’ profiles to decide if I want to message and connect with them – all inside the app.

Even more than that, I can discuss the event on social media and the app connects with my social media accounts and shows all conversations happening on the event hashtag. This is all going a long way in increasing the attendees’ participation, improving their experience and therefore improving their chances of coming back again.

So it sounds like the demand is for relevance and convenience – a bit like content?

Absolutely. It’s all about relevance and making it easier for attendees to engage and network, and easier for event planners to co-ordinate events in a way that reduces the chaos and delivers better visibility of what’s going on.

When the digital world emerged, everybody got very excited and suggested print publishing would die. It didn’t and, in a similar way, there was a lot of talk that physical events would be replaced by virtual events. But, again, they are surviving. Why is that?

One of the most intrinsic parts of an event is the experience – the experience of meeting people, the experience around understanding and consuming the content. I don’t think the physical element can ever be replaced. Virtual meetings are happening more and more, but the whole idea of meeting with people, going to an event, listening to a speaker personally rather than over the phone – is very hard to replace. Wouldn’t you rather physically meet someone, shake their hand, share your information and establish a personal connection, than just talking on the phone? Virtual events work on top of the physical one, extending the reach of the content and allowing people to engage between the physical events, creating what we call ‘hybrid events’ which combine the best of both on and offline.

Tell me about the role of content at events – both in terms of attracting delegates through content marketing and in terms of the content produced at events…

I think that’s very important. There’s always a purpose as to why a delegate would want to attend that event. And, of course, the learning you promise people at an event is often delivered by content. Content at the point of delivery and post-event follow-up content are really important because a lot of events have repeat audiences – so it’s essential you are delivering on your promise around content, otherwise people won’t come back. It’s essential for your event brand, especially in a market like UAE (where FIPP MEA takes place), where it’s a very close-knit market.

Lots of the technological developments you reference seem like common sense – so has the events industry been quite slow in its uptake of technology? Has it been slow to maximise its potential?

Yes, it has taken a while. We expected technological developments to pick up very well in the early 2000s, when the whole dotcom boom happened – and some of them did, such as email booking and web promotion.

But there’s an education issue here. People had to realise that events management is not just about emails and registrations. There are so many elements to it, so many different things that can be automated and I think as people are seeing it happen gradually, so they are becoming more intrigued and keen to learn what else technology can do for them. The Western world, in particular the US and Canada, are still leading the way in terms of the adoption of technology, and obviously Europe is moving that way. But you might be surprised that in the Middle East and South Africa we are also seeing a lot of success with our products, because people are open to new things as a result of having experienced pain from the old ways. Event planners want something that can help take the pain away.

What on the horizon of event planning excites you right now?

One thing that excites me a lot about the future of events technology is mobile – because, I’ll tell you right now, there are more smartphones in the world than human beings and this technology still has a long way to go. I think of a time when you can connect people much faster, much easier, have all your reports at the click of a button, run dashboards on your smartphone – and that’s something that excites me a lot and that definitely has a strong future.

Share some of your own background with us. How did you come to be involved with events planning?

I’m actually an engineer by trade. I did software engineering and I wanted to write code. However, it didn’t interest me much, so I moved into banks. I was doing loan underwriting and risk management for a US-based bank. But for the past 10 years I have been with Cvent. I started in sales and have experience in many different markets, but find events are the most exciting part where people connect and great things happen.

Join Will*, 30+ other speakers from around the world and your international media colleagues in Dubai. FIPP MEA takes place on 10-11 February – register here and/or contact Claire Jones and/or Natalie Butcher if you are interested in sending a delegation (five or more people) at a discounted rate.

* Will Kataria, Associate Director Sales Middle East and Africa, Cvent, UAE

This post is sponsored by Cvent.

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