To Devin Cleary, working in the events space for the the past two years have been like riding a bike down an unpaved hill with lightning speed.
“Everything is flashing past you. There are huge bumps along the way,” the vice-president of global events at Bizzabo said during the firm’s Event Experience Summit on Wednesday. “And you have to learn as you go all the while that it’s a thrilling ride.”
Thrilling, perhaps, in the sense of what it means for those putting together in-person conferences, virtual sessions and hybrid events. While the Event Experience Summit is obviously intended to help those planning and producing a variety of gatherings, Cleary suggested the way forward will mean a transformation of their role.
Much like those leading customer experience (CX) initiatives within a brand, he said events managers have an opportunity to reposition themselves and develop as “event experience leaders.” Instead of constantly thinking about the next event coming around the corner, Cleary said the journey to event experience leader begins with recognizing the body of knowledge that’s been gathered and how to continue adding to it.
“We’ve had to understand what an API push is and how it works from one martech technology to another. We’ve had to learn what an RTMP stream is,” he said, referring to real-time messaging protocol technologies. “We’ve even had to step in and actually lead as a creative producer or executive designer. All of this to say we’re very limited with the amount of time we can professionally develop ourselves and invest in our teams because we’re constantly on the move.”
Cleary presented several trends that could help inform the way event experience leaders enhance their skills, which were developed in partnership with Daphne Earp Hoppenot, founder of event industry marketplace The Vendry. These included:
1. Distributed Teams
It’s becoming clear that at least some degree of remote work is here to stay, though this could also make it even more important for organizations to bring people together in person for in-depth collaboration or team celebrations. Event experience leaders will play a natural role in helping such gatherings be successful, Earp Hoppenot said.
“There’s so much institutional knowledge that builds up in your head over years of knowing which private dining room your CEO loves the most or why you don’t use that venue because the elevators slow,” she said.
At the same time, event experience leaders should ensure they establish a central knowledge base for your team, where they can keep track contracts, supplier information, backgrounders on technology providers and more. This will ensue consistency in terms of business processes, even when new employees were welcomed onto distributed teams.
2. Creating Connections
As Cleary pointed out, many companies are still recalibrating in terms of whether they will restore business travels budgets to where they were prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020. That doesn’t mean those firms aren’t sending people to events, however, or hosting fewer of their own.
In fact, Earp Hoppenot suggested that event experience leaders should think beyond their traditional clientele of marketers and look to other stakeholders, such as chief people officers, who are using events to educate employees in the new normal as it exists within their organization.
“I think a lot of companies don’t know what their new cultures are going to look like,” she said. “I think it’s an opportunity for event professionals at all levels to step up and offer their ideas, be willing to support everyone up to the CEO level who frankly like doesn’t know exactly how this is going to play out.”
This calls for not only leadership but advocacy, Earp Hoppenot added — advocacy in terms of what internal events to hold, and who should be given the microphone.
“it’s often just the executive level gets to stand on a stage like this and practice their public speaking skills,” she said. “You could take somebody that’s junior in the organization and help build them up as a team as a leader on stage at these events.”
3. New Attendee Expectations
“We have so many invitations we’re receiving a day to attend or participate in events,” Cleary said. “It’s only a matter of time, but the individuals who really use personalization and uniqueness are the ones that are going to drive the audience numbers.”
Earp Hoppenot added that with many people moving away from major urban centres or showing an increased preference for virtual options, event experience leaders will need to reimagine what future gatherings will look like.
“Event professionals have always been creative. But again, it’s a bit about documenting that creativity and trying to think about the attendee journey with an extra level of nuance,” she said. “Your ability to meet people in person and get to them is either going to require going local — with maybe smaller, more intimate, and curated events — or to have a real wow factor that gets them to come in.”
Either way, the workload for event experience leaders is unlikely to get much lighter, Cleary said, which means they need to carve time out of their schedules to think beyond whatever events are about to take place.
“Nine out of 10 times we’re just not able to do proper ideation — to really take the time with our teams to get creative or sourcing the right inspiration,” he said.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.