Monday, May 30, 2016
Québec City Business Destination spoke with Caroline Lepage, President and CEO of AGORA, a Québec-based company that helps organizations manage their meetings, conferences and conventions.
For over 20 years, her team has organized thousands of events around the world and carved an enviable niche as a pioneer in leveraging technology to facilitate event logistics, improve participants’ experience, and provide clients with useful attendee data.
“Technology has slowly made its way into the meeting planning industry, but for the past five to seven years, it has really taken off—completely revolutionizing the way we do business,” Caroline explained. She shares her advice and the benefits she has received from using technology.
“Take registrations, exhibitor guides and attendee programs; just a few years ago, everything was still very much paper-based. For one, you had to print way in advance, which was already costly enough. Then, as many seasoned event planners know, changes were bound to be made. We had to invest yet again in re-printing documents, inserts…the whole gamut. Now, more than ever before, everything is being transferred online and integrated with various other event components.”
More and more event planners are factoring in larger budgets from the get-go to develop dedicated event websites and/or mobile apps so that everything can be performed electronically and updated on-the-fly in one place, including attendee registrations and payments, exhibitor purchases and reservations, and sponsor information and marketing content.
“These tools create an event ecosystem, which saves time and eliminates hassles for event goers, planners, exhibitors and sponsors alike,” Caroline said. Everything is centralized and coordinated—in real-time. In addition, data is no longer compromised, misinterpreted, or duplicated. And those all-elusive papers that get lost? A thing of the past!
“The industry is abuzz with finding new ways to improve delegates’ experience and keep them engaged—particularly in this day and age with time-strapped professionals being solicited for their attention,” said Caroline. “Everybody nowadays has a smartphone; with a mobile app, it becomes easier to send information, push notifications upload speaker presentations and provide ways for attendees to network with each other, promote and engage with the event using social media.”
All of these combined go a long way to keeping attendees interested in your event. “The key is to develop a timeline so that any communication you send out is not viewed as intrusive,” she added. Pertinence, timeliness and usefulness should be your three guidelines.
Another added benefit? With technology, you can customize delegates experience like never before. Imagine tailoring exhibitor lists as well as programs and schedules based on attendee interests. “It certainly ups the ante with respect to relevance,” indicated Caroline. “The more relevant information event goers receive based on their needs goes a long way to keeping their attention spans from waning.”
Analytics and revenue opps
The days of clunky business card readers and badge scanners are numbered. Hello Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) event bracelets and iBeacon from Apple, a wireless technology that provides location-based information and services to iOS-based devices. “These are wonderful means to greet attendees, help them navigate through an event, and receive ads and promos based on their location at the event and user profiles,” said Caroline. They can even offer an easy way for participants to purchase gifts, merchandise and products to increase event revenues right on the spot!
On the flip side, for planners, this type of technology can be a powerful solution to provide better analytics to stakeholders, exhibitors and sponsors, particularly if the event is held on a regular basis. “You can now tell your client, whether internal or external, and sponsors the performance levels of your event right down to the nitty gritty detail,” she added.
Planners can pinpoint areas to be improved for lineups and exhibit-hall dead zones. Sponsors gain better insight into their event visibility; event organizers can also access marketable data to better promote the event to potential sponsors. “This business intelligence, unprecedented in the event planning industry, is just brimming with potential,” concluded Caroline.
How to make it happen
So how can event planner integrate technology in an upcoming convention or conference? Caroline advises that you detail your precise needs and solution criteria before looking for the tech. Talk to your venues to explore what options they have and never underestimate the importance of relying on a tech-savvy pro to help you steer clear of tech marketing hype that over-promises and under-delivers.
Are you concerned about budget? “It’s important not to fear the dollar sign,” Caroline explained reassuringly. “There are a lot of new solutions out there—both web and mobile app—that have driven prices down and democratized the development process. Make sure you do the math: traditionally, print costed a fortune. By transferring the budget over to technology, you may actually save in the long-run and reap the added benefits that only technology can afford.”
Finally, Caroline recommends developing an implementation plan to make sure the tech solutions you’ve opted for are maximized during your event. “In order to ensure quick and widespread adoption, we put together a SWAT team to greet delegates upon arrival and give friendly advice on how to take advantage of our mobile app, for example. Gamification, or rewarding delegates for using the mobile app for specific uses, is also a great idea.”
No one can deny that technology will continue to influence how successful events are carried out. “For all the naysayers out there, there’s a great stat to remember. According to Smart Meetings (October 2015), more people own a mobile device than a toothbrush. That’s a definite testament to the future of events,”Caroline said with a smile.