Photo: Cvent

Interview Patrick Smith

“Turning a conference into a multi-stage journey”

Patrick Smith, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Cvent, about the “continuous event”, events planners as data scientists, the human desire to connect and the Cvent bot.

tw tagungswirtschaft: At Cvent CONNECT® Europe 2021, CEO Reggie Aggarwal coined a new term: the “continuous event”. What is a continuous event? Patrick Smith: The continuous event is the fourth pillar in the industry’s massive transformation since the start of the pandemic. The other pillars are the rapid digitisation of the industry; the evolving roles of planners and hoteliers; and the triple threat of in-person, virtual and hybrid events. Together, these four pillars present a new events landscape and engagement economy where the opportunities to interact have multiplied; and when you factor in that content can now be accessed on-demand, that networking online through video is commonplace, the traditional start and end dates of events start to blur. This is where the idea of the continuous event comes into play because in the digital world, engagement with your customers, employees or peers never has to stop. The continuous event is the idea that organisations can create ‘always on’ digital environments where they can engage an event community before, during, and after their events.

Are Cvent CONNECT® Europe and North America becoming continuous events? We’re absolutely starting to see the continuous event idea come to life in our Cvent CONNECT® conferences. For example, we kept each event open for 90 days post-event to allow for more people to register and consume the content on their schedules. We’ve also delivered smaller events, webinar series, and certification opportunities based on some of the most popular topics from our conferences, which have given attendees a unique opportunity to dig deeper into a trend or upskill to enhance their resume. It’s these types of post-event interactions that make up the idea of the continuous event because it turns what used to be a once-a-year conference into a multi-stage journey, and attendees become more invested in the content, and in each other. So, in short, we’re starting to explore the “continuous event” idea for our Cvent CONNECT® brand, and we’re truly hoping to eventually build a community around the events.

“We’re starting to explore the 'continuous event' idea for our Cvent CONNECT® brand, and we’re truly hoping to eventually build a community around the events.”

Patrick Smith

Do you think that event managers are ready for such ideas? Finally, the session “How Siemens Used Interactive Content to Build a Virtual Community” had only 24 viewers. While the idea of the continuous event will take time to perfect, in general, yes. Meetings and events professionals had to embrace technology to fill the in-person events void. Because of this digital transformation, organisations discovered the massive reach of virtual experiences – and the accessibility and flexibility they offer attendees and I believe there’s no going back. It’s important that event planners are proficient in managing, producing, and executing all three event types (in-person, virtual and hybrid) because we believe attendees won’t just expect it, they’ll demand it. And it’s the combination of these three event types that we believe will lead to even greater success for our industry. Regarding the second part of your question, our number one goal is always to deliver quality content that resonates with our attendees, and while session attendance is important, how we ultimately determine session success is our attendee feedback. Regarding session views, one of the perks of virtual events is that the content is available on-demand – and what we’ve seen is that virtual attendance does tend to fluctuate as people come back into the event and watch sessions that they missed. The Siemens session may have had 24 live viewers, but we have seen more on-demand views, and this number will continue to grow.

The pandemic has been a catalyst for innovation. In Reggie’s opening keynote, he said it will literally change the face of our industry. What will it look like? I think we’re already seeing how our industry will look and feel post-pandemic. While to the untrained eye, things may be starting to look like they’re going back to “normal”, the fact of the matter is, under the surface, everything has changed. Pre-pandemic, our industry was mostly based on managing and hosting in-person events. Even at Cvent, as Reggie mentioned in his opening keynote, 95% of our revenue came from in-person events. Planners, marketers, and hoteliers, all had to quickly pivot. When everything went virtual, planners had to adapt; working more closely with marketing and technology teams as the lines between digital marketing and events blurred. Planners have taken on roles as data scientists – working to ensure data flows from one event to the next and measuring event impact across the attendee journey. Attendees have come to expect that virtual events will be more engaging and informative, and even for in-person events they expect digital components that complement and enhance the overall experience.

At the same time, we see that many people just want to meet in-person and many event professionals just want to go back to normal… The enduring value of in-person events will never go away. The innate human desire to connect and interact is just too powerful, and nothing can replace the value of meeting someone face-to-face. However, there’s no question that virtual events have been a bridge to keep our industry going and our success with virtual, combined with our desire for in-person events, will lead us right into hybrid, which offers the best of both worlds. In fact, our Cvent 2021 Planner Sourcing Report: Europe Edition reveals eight in ten (80%) event planners across the UK and Europe are currently sourcing in-person events, with nearly half (46%) of respondents organising hybrid events. So, to answer your question, there is nothing wrong with wanting to get back to in-person events – after all, that’s what we want too. However, based on what we’ve seen with the advent of virtual and hybrid events, I think it’s safe to say that the “new normal” might be even better than the old “normal” because the opportunities to connect have become more numerous, more engaging, and more impactful; and at Cvent, we’re looking forward to making the most of this new events landscape.

Paradigm Shift of Live Engagement. Photo: Cvent

The new age of events is upon us with new engagement expectations. Which tools to engage participants can you recommend? Because of the digital transformation of our industry since the start of the pandemic, technology plays an increasingly central role in enabling organisations to deliver high levels of engagement and capture insights to prove ROI. Your technology should deliver high production values, enterprise-grade streaming, and multiple interactive elements that can deliver – and capture – live engagement. Given the fact that planners are now managing and hosting events of all types and delivery modes – in-person, virtual, and hybrid – having one platform that can support all these events within one system is incredibly beneficial. The event landscape has become even more complex and using three to twelve different point solutions makes it extremely difficult to manage. Without one system of record – or one platform – to manage your total event programme across in-person, virtual, and hybrid, your attendee doesn’t get a seamless experience, data gets lost, and event ROI becomes more difficult to prove. So of course, I could recommend our Cvent platform to all your readers, but that might look a bit biased. My ultimate recommendation is to find a system that can support your Total Event Programme – not just elements of it.

Cvent

Cvent is a leading meetings, events, and hospitality management technology provider, with more than 4,000 employees, 21,000 customers, and 200,000 users worldwide. The company delivers a comprehensive event marketing and management platform and offers a global marketplace where event professionals collaborate with venues to create engaging, impactful experiences. Cvent’s suite of products automate and simplify the entire event management process and maximise the impact of in-person, virtual, and hybrid events.

“When events are digital, technology is the venue.” (said Reggie Aggarwal) What five questions should planners ask when choosing a “venue” for their digital event? When hosting a completely digital or virtual event, the technology platform becomes your venue and your stage, because there is no in-person component – so it’s critical that planners are just as careful sourcing their virtual “venue” as they would be for an in-person event. Here are five questions to keep in mind:

  • Does the virtual technology platform deliver a branded, personalised experience from first invitation to registration to day-of event?
  • The content experience is critical. Does the platform deliver enterprise class live stream, pre-recorded and on demand content?
  • What type of real-time networking and engagement opportunities does it offer virtual attendees to keep them interacting with the event?
  • Does it deliver robust event and attendee reporting that allows you to understand engagement? Can those insights be integrated with your key sales and marketing systems and are those integrations deep enough to deliver data that sales and marketing can act on quickly?
  • If your virtual event includes sponsors or exhibitors, how does the virtual platform showcase their brands and deliver them leads?

At Cvent CONNECT® North America 2021 in Las Vegas you welcomed 1,300+ persons at the Caesars Forum and thousands more participants remotely. From these attendees, you had 750,000 engagement touch points. What is an engagement touch point for you? To maximise the impact of their events, planners and marketers should think in terms of attendee engagement, because our data shows that more engagement leads to better business outcomes. That means looking at every event you host, whether internal or external, virtual, hybrid, or in-person, and using every engagement touch point (or event interaction) to track the attendee journey and understand attendee preferences. We created what we call Engagement Scoring within our Cvent platform to make it easy to capture and compile engagement to quickly take action. A touchpoint can be session attendance, feedback survey completion, a question submission, a website click, a trade show booth appointment, a content download – all of these are engagement touchpoints and our proprietary Engagement Scoring functionality helps make sense of all this attendee data so that marketers and planners can prioritise leads and customise messaging that ultimately drives positive business results and improves future events.

Reggie Aggarwal, CEO and Founder of Cvent: “The pandemic has been a catalyst for innovation. It will literally change the face of our industry.” Photo: Screenshot

Is there a difference between Americans and Europeans in their approach to new technologies? And what about Germans? Whilst there is common ground, there were some interesting cultural differences. Notably, Germans are more focused on leveraging new digital tools that enhance efficiency – and we see that in our sales and marketing efforts as well. By comparison, Americans are generally more focused on technology that will drive ROI and increase attendee engagement. We tend to see that Americans more quickly adopt new event technology than their European counterparts, but that’s not to say one region is ahead of the other. While there are times when technology is forced upon us, like the forced digitisation we saw due to the pandemic, it’s generally more important to adopt technology at a pace, and scale, that is right for you, your organisation, and your event goals.

At Cvent CONNECT® Europe more than 300 participants attended in person at the InterContinental London – The O2 and more than 700 attended remotely from their (home) office. How did you address both groups in terms of content and engagement? At Cvent, we say a hybrid event, like Cvent CONNECT® Europe is one event with two unique experiences – so it was critical that we delivered that for both our virtual and in-person attendees. We worked closely with our onsite production partner, Encore, to design the main stage like a TV broadcast, with a camera tracking across the front which would give our virtual audience a dynamic viewing experience, while not impacting the in-person one. In addition, to ensure the seamless delivery of all our sessions, some of the virtual content was live whilst other elements were pre-recorded on the first day of the conference and offered on-demand during day two. By pre-producing some virtual content instead of trying to livestream a session with a camera in the back of the room, we were able to create two compelling experiences for both the virtual and in-person audience, so each experience is optimised for both the on-site and remote attendee. It’s all about balance and delivery.

Save the date:

Cvent CONNECT® Europe 2022 in London & Online October 2022

(actual dates to be announced)

What are your three lessons learnt in blending online and in-person to stage your European flagship event Cvent CONNECT® in London? Stay true to the basics but apply them differently when considering your in-person and virtual audiences. What I mean by that is even for a hybrid event, the reasons people want to attend remain the same as they were pre-pandemic: education, networking, and great experiences. But these things can look different for a virtual audience versus an in-person one. For example, shorter sessions are better for educating your virtual audience, while longer, more in-depth sessions will resonate more with an in-person attendee. Content is (still) king. We made sure to deliver a robust agenda that included a variety of topics, best practices, and industry insights. We also brought leading industry influencers to the main stage including Fred Sirieix, TV Personality and Customer Service Expert and Alexandra Willis, Communications and Marketing Director, The AELTC, Wimbledon. People are hungry to connect and interact – whether in-person or virtually – so give them plenty of opportunity to do so. Peer-to-peer networking was high on our priority list. In-person attendees enjoyed ample face-to-face networking opportunities including an evening event experience hosted at the new The Londoner Hotel. Virtual attendees interacted with other online delegates in topic-driven roundtable discussions and engaged with conference exhibitors and sponsors in a live, virtual environment.

Cvent CONNECT® Europe - Behind the scenes

Photo: Cvent

Cvent is pulling back the curtain to share their secrets to success and the lessons learned as they blended online and in-person to stage the flagship European event, Cvent CONNECT® Europe.

  • Part 1 Blending the experience: Discover how Cvent went about designing two equally engaging experiences for our two audiences.
  • Part 2 What does the future hold for hybrid? With the dust now settled on both the US and European hybrid CONNECT conferences, where can we take hybrid from here?

To attend in person or not to attend in person? This is a question that arises with the return of face-to-face events. How can we gain back our confidence in-person events? As recovery continues and more in-person events are being held, safety remains a top priority for both planners and attendees – and likely will be for some time. In fact, in our Planner Sourcing Report, when asked what the biggest changes planners will make to their in-person events, compared to pre-pandemic, nearly half (45%) said enhancing safety precautions such as on-site testing and social distancing protocols. Truthfully, I don’t think there’s a quick fix for boosting confidence across all attendees. Health and safety protocols will be important, and can help, but we will need to be patient. Going through a global pandemic takes time to recover from, but eventually, we’ll all get there because the need to meet in-person will always be there.

How can technology help to make participants (feel) safer onsite? Throughout the pandemic, we worked to deliver new solutions that could help support a safer event experience – at each stage of the planning process. For example, we have added venue filters within the Cvent Supplier Network to give planners the ability to search for venues based on safety guidelines, capacity, outdoor space and more. In addition, our Event Diagramming tool allows planners to take 3-D virtual tours and map out distanced layouts to plan attendee flow and the placement of cleanliness kiosks and sanitation stations. There is also a feature in our event app which can provide digital badges to attendees that allow them to check-in and print their badge at the OnArrival kiosk without touching anything other than their own mobile device. Tracking the attendee journey is another key area in enhancing attendee safety onsite because planners can monitor flow, avoid congestion, and with session attendance data, they can even alert attendees who may have been exposed.

By the way, as a remote participant, I got in touch with your Cvent Bot. Instead of answering my question, he suggested: “For the best experience at Cvent CONNECT® Europe, we recommend joining from one of the following browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge. If you are not using one of these – we recommend you switch browsers.” Then he referred me to FAQ. What do you tell him as his boss? ;-) Hmm, I’d probably tell him that instead of providing an incorrect answer to a question he didn’t know, to not be afraid to reach out to our expert customer service team that was working behind the scenes who were on call to help.

Kerstin Wünsch

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