Staying up on the latest tech can feel like learning a whole new language. Many event strategists find it daunting to keep pace with the rapidly changing world of hardware, software, apps, and platforms. Everyone has a different comfort level with technology, so while some face the challenge with excitement, others find themselves reluctant—even fearful.
The best way to develop a better relationship with hi-tech is to embrace it. And one way to do that is to recognize technology’s value to the meetings and events industry. After all, hybrid and virtual events have kept the industry afloat during the pandemic. Another way to breach that mental barrier is to accept that technology is not going
away and just dive in.
Best friends with technology
Chris Dyer, president and CEO of Conference Catalysts in Gainesville, Fla., has a healthy relationship with technology. “I would consider us very close, almost best friends,” Dyer says. He credits that, in part, to his experience in the meetings industry and having the flexibility it takes to be a successful planner.
“There is no question that my time in the event industry has helped us adapt to the current COVID crisis. Every conference and event has something, and sometimes many things, that doesn’t go as originally planned,” he says. “It is an industry that requires contingency planning for many different facets and requires extreme adaptability under normal circumstances. The adaptability muscle is one that I think has been training more than any other and ultimately helps me look at challenges through an optimistic, creative lens.”
Those characteristics run deep in planners, and that gives them a leg up. “Planners across the board are rising to the challenge of developing a better relationship with tech,” Dyer adds. “It
has become a prerequisite of the job, so if you do not have any technical proficiency, it makes it very difficult to be successful in this industry today.”
Having confidence in his technical knowledge also has helped Dyer, whose company created CONFlux, a virtual meeting platform, early on in the pandemic. But Dyer doesn’t have a specialized technical background. He made it a priority to educate himself and keep up with event tech.
“This ranges from event website design to complex onsite AV setup and execution,” he says. “This has allowed me to think and communicate strategically.”
A new way
Michael Gunn, senior vice president of the Greater Birmingham CVB in Alabama, agrees planners are adapting to the rise of technology.
“Technology is here to stay, and I think planners are starting to embrace it,” Gunn says. “They’re trying to develop and learn as much about it as they can and find out what works for them and what doesn’t. Tech will definitely be part of their planning moving forward.”
The Greater Birmingham CVB has a seasoned staff with an average tenure of 17 years, Gunn says, but they’ve adapted to new technologies. “It has been a challenge, but no one has said, ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I don’t understand this,’” he says. “Tech is something different, and people like a challenge. It’s a new way to embrace doing business.”
As for his own relationship with technology, Gunn says he’s somewhere in the middle. “I’ve gotten accustomed to Zooming and needing more broadband space, but tech keeps changing almost weekly. I get emails every day from someone else with a new kind of technology that they want to introduce to make it easier on meeting planning. It’s hard to keep up.”
Gunn doesn’t think technology will replace human interaction, but many of the changes brought on by COVID-19 are permanent. Like it or not, planners aren’t going to be able to hit restart and return to pre-pandemic meeting styles. So, even the most tech-averse planner has to learn to incorporate online elements into events.
The Tech Whisperer
The suddenness with which the move to hybrid and virtual was forced on the industry didn’t exactly start the technology relationship on a positive note. Then there is the money. Investing in technology can require significant budgets, while planners already are dealing with supply problems and staffing shortages.
But meeting planners who are leaders in the technology field say it is possible to stay up on changing trends regardless of budget. And it might be as simple as asking the right questions.
Tess Vismale calls herself a tech whisperer. The independent planner has long been a proponent of incorporating tech into events to take them to the next level. For those who might be on the technology fence, she has a bit of advice.
“The first thing I would say is breathe and relax. It’s okay,” says Vismale, founder and CEO of iSocialX in Atlanta. “Most people have been in your place before, so don’t think that everyone who’s encountered technology knew it all or knows it all now.
“You always want to start with yourself and take a good litmus test of what skill sets you have,” she continues. “Oftentimes, people will go out and feel overwhelmed. And it’s because they don’t know what they know currently.”
Vismale says the things that make people successful planners are the same things that will make them successful at using technology:
– Understand yourself and what you’re planning
– Take an inventory of what you currently have
– Look at what you gravitate toward and what works well for you
– Visualize the end result and plan backward
– Consider the attendees’ viewpoint
Online resources to help you get started are a click away, Vismale says. YouTube is filled with free video tutorials that offer a quick way to learn what options are available. LinkedIn serves as a resource for finding experts in the field. And a search of event tech companies can help planners find a tech-savvy team.
“It’s okay to hire someone outside of yourself to help. This is why there is a rise in the role of the event technologist,” Vismale says. “That’s someone who can look at what technologies you have in place and what you have been doing and what you’d like to do and help those things marry.”
Event tech and information technology work hand in hand, but they are different, Vismale says. The best person to help planners, she says, is “someone who understands the event world, who knows technology well enough to put the pieces in place.”
‘Where the magic happens’
Preciate, an online meeting and events platform company headquartered in Dallas, has had more requests than ever for virtual meeting help since the pandemic started, says Jody Dubuque, the firm’s director of channel sales. Among Preciate’s offerings is hourly live event support, with a goal of building customer confidence in the technology.
“Event techs are definitely becoming a more prevalent part of the industry,” Dubuque says. “They are key to innovating and delivering new ways to hold meetings both virtual and onsite. If planners don’t have the expertise internally, they are turning to virtual-solutions partners to deliver delightful experiences. Every customer Preciate has is evolving post-COVID and looking at new ways to meet, even if technology is new to them and the learning curve is high.”
Relationships are complicated. They require trust and give and take. For technology novices, partnering with an event technologist can become their secret weapon. But it requires acknowledging what you don’t know, admitting you need help, and relinquishing a bit of control.
“A meeting planner, at their core, is an A Type personality who can see how to plan every detail of a meeting to the T and how they want it to flow,” Vismale says. “If they would just allow themselves to step back from that plan for a moment, see that the plan doesn’t have to be manual, then turn to the event technologist to say, ‘How can I make this tech-enabled?’ A real dream team would be the marketer, the event planner or strategist, and an event technologist—those three working together. Each of them has their expertise, and they should let it flourish. That’s where the magic happens.”