What is the one thing you and your clients want more of? No, it’s not more swag. We all want more time. So why is it that so much time is wasted standing in line at conferences? And why is the task of following up on hard-earned leads so painfully tedious? It’s all about having the right tools for the job. That means technology, of course.
Ask just about any meeting planner about their favorite technology tool and it’s a good bet Twitter tops the list. It’s an affordable and effective way to reach potential clients and attendees. That said, technology experts report that meeting planners are sometimes reluctant to embrace newer technology, but it’s because they are just too busy to learn something new. Remember clients are also learning as they go, so it’s a good time to embrace new time-saving tools together. Fairly quickly, the newness wears off and these techie techniques become old hat.
NO MORE LINES
Registration is the biggest challenge faced by event organizers. When the wait is short, no one thinks about it; but when it’s long, it’s always the organizer’s fault. The second biggest frustration is keeping track of possible leads. Ian Gotts wants to change all that with self-service check-in and seamless lead generation. Gotts, the director and co-founder of Zuant—a technology company for meeting planners—stood in one too many lines waiting to get information from a booth, only to never hear from the company. “It’s all very 1980s,” Gotts says, “and it’s hardly the first impression you want to present.”
There isn’t much difference between the information a conference host collects on registered attendees versus the information your vendors want from the same people. It’s a matter of scope, which is why Zuant integrates both into the same technology for large and small events. Clients like Boulder-based Emerson Process Management use Zuant technology for self-serve registration. At the booth, the cloud-based program (no Wi-Fi needed) stores all relevant sales materials for quick access, captures attendee contact data, sends an immediate follow-up email and integrates the information into Salesforce.com and Eloqua (Oracle’s marketing platform). The system also collects real-time reporting of lead generation to keep track of the team’s progress. It’s not only a time-saver for registrants and attendees; it’s a time-saver for vendors.
DRAG AND DROP SALES TOOL
Once upon a time, generically written e-blasts were a relatively painless way to get new leads. It was the buckshot approach—blast enough people, and you might get some decent hits. “Over the years, we’ve seen a decline in effectiveness and open rates with B2B marketing and lead-gen newsletters from 30 percent down to 2 percent,” says Theron Gore, CEO of ThirdSocial in Vail. “It’s impersonal and most often irrelevant to the client’s actual needs.”
Gore developed ThirdSocial so users can focus on getting quality leads by creating marketing pieces and client proposals that are both relevant and personal. Imagine you have a potential new client and they are shopping for a 100-person meeting in Denver. On a phone call, you quickly jot down every need and want. After hanging up, you scour files and pull together a quick proposal with big, broad strokes. This is followed up by more calls to pin down the specifics and, hopefully, the final contract is signed weeks after the first conversation.
Now imagine a different scenario with ThirdSocial. While on the first call collecting the requirements, you drop and drag—from your personal library—hotel and meeting space options, restaurant suggestions and evening events into a personalized email proposal sent directly to your phone. “It’s no more than a minute process,” Gore says. “For clients who want information right now, the system puts your company’s proposal ahead of the others.”
SAVE THE TREES, THINK VIDEO
All too often when planning a conference, printed onesheets and marketing brochures are the starting point. Glenn Thayer, Colorado-based television host and conference moderator, says think video first. Thayer uses video to gain attendance, record key points and keep the messaging alive long after the conference. However, he warns that video should be edited and well produced to focus on the most compelling information, “otherwise it’s not better than watching a city
Video plays a significant role in keeping attendees and potential new attendees informed and well-connected throughout the year. An impressive example of how video can be used effectively was the World at Work Total Rewards conference (worldatwork.org/conference). At a conference in Philadelphia, Thayer captured seminars, key points, hot topics and end-ofconference recaps. “We focus on content, not happy faces,” he says. “The content we capture on-site is used not only to drive attendance for next year’s conference, but is also used to market new membership and gain attendee retention for upcoming events.”
For instance, the video from the 2013 Philadelphia conference was used to attract new attendees for a Dallas conference in 2014 and will continue to do the same for upcoming events in 2015. “Video helps both attendees and those who don’t attend find value in staying connected to the event or association,” he says. Both are vital to association memberships and future event successes.
CURATING ORGANIC CONTENT
At Denver Comic Con 2013, 61,000 attendees and conference organizers posted 15,700 YouTube videos, plus an untold number of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest postings. Keeping track of all this content is an unwieldy task. This is where content curation tools help. Comic Con used a social media aggregating tool called Storify by Livefyre to pull all related content into a single source page. Followers could access videos, images and news stories. How else could attendees know that TSA agents confiscated Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew’s light saber?
“At large events, your attendees are already sharing what they’re seeing across major social networks. By using Storify, you can turn them into a fleet of reporters covering the event to help create content on your own site and also recognize the best contributors,” says Burt Herman, co-founder of Storify and vice president of editorial at Livefyre.
A similar tool from Conferize collects content and allows attendees to pick and choose the conference talks they wish to follow and handselect attendees for networking. In August
2014, the Denver 360|iDev conference for iOS developers used Conferize to attract registration, create attractive marketing incentives and call for submissions. Attendees were able to begin networking and establishing valuable relationships long before the conference started.
SAY HELLO TO SMARTPHONES
Many people know about the value of mobile apps for show floor and education directories. But there is so much more that a smartphone can do when thinking of it as an engagement tool. The mobile app Join Speaker lets conference attendees use their smartphones and tablets to participate in audience responses at seminars. Imagine the possibilities with dynamic brainstorming meetings and interactive breakout sessions that allow everyone to see ideas on a big screen.
Near field communication (NFC) is another smartphone possibility. In short, NFC is a close-range wireless technology that allows data exchange between two devices. Smartphones with NFC are used most often for registration and seamless entry to conference sessions and social events. However, with one tap, it also can be used to accept mobile payments for food and merchandise.
The world of technology is growing faster than anyone can imagine, and although it’s daunting to think about keeping pace, the success of meeting and event professionals may depend heavily on how they adapt. It may take a little time to get familiar with how to get the most from new technology, but in the long run planners, suppliers and clients will appreciate the flexibility and efficiency it provides.