In the meeting and events world, talk of the latest tech trends carries serious weight in the news cycle. A quick Google search finds countless blogs, eBooks and infographics dedicated to helping readers leverage technology in order to “stay ahead of the competition” and “go big” with their events. What’s more, in the past five years, the number of event tech providers has skyrocketed, with hundreds of vendors touting their wares to a global industry that brings in more than $1.07 trillion a year from business events alone.
I should know—as the founder and CEO of Attendify, I’m one of them. I’m not knocking any excitement about event technology trends; I sincerely believe that event tech is paramount to the industry’s success and growth. But the truth is this: In a marketplace that has always been commoditized, it’s getting harder and harder for most providers—a large swath of whom have overlapping offerings—to differentiate themselves.
Why? Because they’ve lost sight of the human side of event technology. In their excitement to grow and innovate, many vendors have misplaced the fact that behind every product and feature is a human being who’s going to have to use it. More than 1.5 billion humans, to be exact (and that’s just the number who attended business events in 2017). Each of these individuals has a different reason for their event attendance, a unique level of technological prowess and varying amounts of patience for adopting the “next big thing.”
“Technology is relatively easy, as any veteran CIO will tell you,” a Deloitte consulting team writes in The Wall Street Journal. “It’s people that are hard. For all the technical challenges that accompany the introduction of new systems or products, human factors are most likely to determine their ultimate success or failure.”
Adding to the challenge is the fact that “humanizing” event technology is not something vendors can do in a vacuum—or overnight. It requires thoughtful consideration of the distinct needs of both event organizers and their attendees at every step of the innovation process. And—in my experience—a hefty dose of attention to the three points below.
Intuitiveness: A deal-breaker in event tech
Research shows that attendees choose to go to events for three main reasons: onsite networking opportunities, educational sessions and the chance to visit enticing destinations. Notice how all of those reasons revolved around human interaction, and none of them included the chance to learn new event technology. That being said, attendees are increasingly demanding instantaneous engagement from event technology via interfaces that mimic the mobile platforms they use every day.
On the other side of the user equation, event planners often carry annual event rosters in the double digits. More often than not, they don’t have a moment to sit down for lunch, not to mention the time to manage complex software. Having “people skills”—not technological know-how—is the number one professional trait they say drives their success. As such, while they value event technology because it vastly drives attendee engagement, their number one purchase consideration is that it’s “quick and easy” to set up.
Unfortunately, up until recently, many vendors have been blind to the fact that the sale of event tech is actually a B2B2C play, the long-term success of which depends upon attendees’ willingness to adopt their applications. This is because for too long, the UI/UX needs of end-users were overshadowed by the RFP-style decision-making process of buying committees. Event vendors were told their platforms had to do X, Y and Z or bust, and as a result packed in features that didn’t work well together, didn’t share data and were as a whole poorly designed.
The good news is that as more options have come onto the marketplace, event planners are taking a stand for both their own UI/UX needs and those of attendees. Bringing the humanity back to event technology means software providers need to ask better questions and design applications around actual event experiences, not some random checklist.
Human nature: Planners want to try it first
It shouldn’t be a surprise that event platforms offering free trials (or freemium models) are more successful than ever, even in the enterprise segment. No software user in their right mind would prefer a solution that doesn’t let you try before buying. This goes double for the classic event planner mindset, which demonstrates a keen attention to detail, is constantly prepared for a variety of contingencies, and is passionate about bringing a winning attendee experience to the table.
A flood of marketplace messaging selling everything from facial recognition software to simple lead scanners is undoubtedly overwhelming for event organizers, who often balance limited budgets with unlimited stakeholder expectations. “There is a disproportionate amount of attention on things that are exciting and new, but [organizers] don’t really know what to do with them yet and they’re struggling to find some value,” James Johnson-Miller, director of event technology at IMEX Group, told MPI.
Event tech vendors can “put the human” back into their sales process by allowing event organizers to get hands-on experience with their software prior to committing. Doing so is really the only way for planners to know if a platform’s solution is a good fit for the distinct needs of their administrators and attendees.
Support + transparency = brand advocates
Another signal that the human element is a crucial component of the event tech equation? A full 59 percent of event professionals surveyed said that support offerings were the primary reason they went with a particular provider. What’s more, studies have shown that with the mass adoption of smartphones, calls to live support lines have significantly increased. “Even as artificial intelligence becomes embedded in everyday interactions, human conversation remains the primary way people make complex purchases or emotional decisions,” writes Gregg Johnson, CEO of call intelligence company Invoca. Savvy event tech providers not only offer customers a variety of channels where they can seek help—automated and live—they foster context continuity between all of them.
Trust and understanding are two other basic human emotions that can stand in the way of event technology adoption. “There is a social truth universally understood but difficult to admit,” writes business emotional intelligence consultant Meghan Butler. “We don’t like what we don’t trust, and we don’t trust what we don’t understand.”
The answer—and I’m going to put this bluntly— is that event technology providers just need to provide honest answers. This pertains not only to the concerns of their current customers but also to the challenges and goals of prospective clients. Every sales consultation should start off with a rep taking the time to understand the unique needs of the event professional and their associated attendees before offering a personalized demo. To further transparency, vendors should:
- Make public a product roadmap that shows exactly what products and features the company is researching, designing and developing
- Show potential users exactly what they’ll be getting by posting current product screenshots, giving them open access to help centers and offering links to genuine customer reviews.
- Be up front if they don’t think their solution is going to meet an event professional’s needs
Event tech has the capacity to completely revolutionize an event experience, drastically increasing return on investment for event organizers and attendees alike. But let’s not forget that the value of face-to-face interaction is what built the industry in the first place. Technology should respectfully enhance the human element, not override it.