Incentive Experience Events: Present & Future

Incentive Experience Events: Present & Future


In this episode we talk with Tahira Endean, Head of Events at SITE Global about the future of incentive events.

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Cvent CONNECT is going virtual

With our current environment, several companies are taking preventative measures to limit exposure to employees, so what is the future of incentive meetings? Tahira Endean, Head of Events at SITE Global, talks to us about the state of incentive experiences for top performers. Hear her unique perspective on how companies can still keep incentive events alive during these times and how we can continue to provide that red carpet experience people have come to expect. Listen in to hear how companies can think about rewarding those people who are working hard in dangerous situations and some creative ideas to give top performers a meaningful reward.


  • Tahira Endean, Head of Events at SITE Global 


  • Brooke Gracey, Senior Manager, Demand Generation, Cvent
  • Cody Liskh, Team Lead, Event Quarterback Team, Cvent

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Cody Liskh 

Alright, Tahira Thank you so much for joining the podcast. And before we get started, can you just briefly tell us a little bit about how you became the head of events at SITE. 


Tahira Endean 

It's actually a great story because I had to quit my job, which was the best day ever. And went traveling and my plan was to just travel for six months and sort of figure things out. After that, and pretty soon into that trip Maybe 30 or 45 days into that trip, I found myself walking on a beach in the valley with our CMO. And just catching up on things. We both were there with our daughters, actually And he said, you know, We're going to need a head of events and you're going to need a job Eventually, so it's just being posted. So, think about it. And so, I applied. And there's 25 or 26 people who applied for the job. And I just do that for me after 26 years of Working on incentive events and all kinds of events Really, I started to medical meetings and work to DMC and 2 DMC’s actually so eight years. So, I had a really broad base of experience to draw from to become the head of events for SITE, which allows us to 

Even as we're flipping to digital, you know, we were doing hybrid events 11 years ago. So being able to bring all of that to bear and to have an impact on our industry is really what attracted me to the job, and I was fortunate that they agreed and chose me 


Cody Liskh 

That is probably the coolest story. So, you actually got this opportunity while you're out exploring the world. So cool. That's like everybody's dream, I would imagine. 


Tahira Endean 

You know so rare that you get that confluence of time and money. So, I have just finished working. I spent three years working on Growing a technology summit and at the end of that third year, it was just, it was time, you know, it was just, they were going in a different direction. And I thought it's a great time for me to go in a different direction. 

But because all I had been doing was working. I hadn't really been spending anybody's I had a bit of money in the bank and a supportive husband and a People within my family and outside of my family that wanted to travel with me has invited me to places from You know, Monaco to New Zealand to speak to all kinds of amazing opportunities that presented themselves.  

I went to the extraordinary College, which was bringing together at event designers in a castle and Poland as part of my journey and spent time and with friends in London and across the US. And this really a fantastic Experience and again just really added to you and you see events being executed around the globe, but really at the highest level. It's so inspiring and was such a good framework to come really back into the industry in a way that I really felt that we could make a difference. 


Cody Liskh 

Yeah, and that's what I was thinking. You've seen some really amazing destinations. And that's a great segue into the subject. We're going to talk about today, which is You know incentive meetings and so I'm sure you've seen a lot of great things. I'm sure that you've helped out with planning some incentives. 

You know for some of these wonderful locations. But you know what I'm thinking about Now that several companies are taking a lot of preventative measures to limited exposure to employees and the general public at large. 

So, the dilemma I'm sure a lot of companies are thinking about is, should we even have incentive meetings right now. Is that something that we should still keep what are your thoughts. 


Tahira Endean 

So, the question is really an HR question. And when we look at the value of incentive travel Isn't the end destination for the event industry incentive travel, you know, it's focused on the partners, the hotels, the destinations, The Transportation companies, and the audiovisual and activity and DMC partners. 

That's the focus of incentive travel for the people who are operating those programs on the ground and bringing them alive. The incentive houses and the agencies who create those programs are now the ones who are really working with those with our, you know, and corporations to Determine what does an incentive program looks like right now. 

So incentive travel started, you know, in the early 1900s. I remember when I was in school but learning about the other first one being on a train trip and it was, you know, for a company That was like a home Where's a company, you know, essentially a multi-level marketing company who took people on one of the very first incentive travel group organized trips. 

And I think was about 1911, you know, so this goes way back, and why incentive travel works are because it really offers that ultimate intrinsic reward and it offers people the opportunity to connect with their peers and their colleagues, other people who are performing at a high level and to learn from a network with each other. It allows people space and time to get to know the upper management and for upper management, all the way up to the C suite To really get to understand their top performer Employees and What, what makes them tick on a human level because incentive travel programs You know, they really bring out the opportunity for people to have activities where they're connecting it in real-time and doing real things or social impact activities. 

There's, you know, the formalized activities that the dinners and the gala's that really let you be celebrated and recognized and rewarded in front of your peers is so powerful So when we look at it from an HR perspective of how it supports loyalty and retention Provides reward and recognition aids, you and your recruitment strategies when you're really looking to bring in those top performers to your company's. 

Incentive travel is going to remain an important part of an organizational strategy if you're looking for a top to create a top-performing organization. Because there's nothing else like it you know you get some extra cash. Great. You pay down something. Usually, maybe you go out for a nice dinner depends on the level of reward. But you don't usually use it to create and deliver an experience for yourself. 

You might get merchandise. Great. You've got another you know cap with a logo on it or, you know, a beautiful souvenir type piece a keepsake type piece, maybe something that you can wear But it's still not the same memory creator that incentive travel as it doesn't give you the same connection opportunities so It's really on pause right now and we're seeing companies look to combine programs for the next two years, we're seeing them Operate their programs at a much smaller level we're seeing them take them to different destinations all kinds of different responses. 

All very damaging to the travel and tourism industry from a business that has been pulled. But ultimately, we are really going to be looking at it is coming back. It's just not really practical to be doing large or even Medium size incentive programs that bring people together right now. 


Cody Liskh 

Yeah. And like you said, I mean if this started the 1900s, it's not going anywhere. It might be on pause right now, but this is something that is such a huge value for organizations to really get that top talent to 

Really drive their sales. 

I mean, have you seen I know we have a lot of, you know, declining sales are happening right now. Are you seeing any companies modify their goals for top performers, so they can still achieve or attend their annual incentive or like, what are you seeing with that? 


Tahira Endean 

Absolutely, you know And sometimes those goals are set in those programs are designed with the aid of an incentive host and sometimes they're designed by the corporations Themselves and ultimately an incentive travel program becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy from a budget perspective and that you raise your sales, your, your service goals to a point where The return, you're getting is going to pay for the cost of that program to be operated and those are quite often Your multimillion-dollar investments. So it really is Thinking about What's going to serve your industry, the best right now and for sure there's some industries that we're seeing that are very busy right now and are looking to even build an extra incentive program. 

But there's others who really are not able to sell the products or services that they would typically be selling at the level that they would have anticipated; they would be selling them this year. And if we look at globally, what was happening before COVID hit We were really on an upward trajectory everywhere in the world for businesses that provide any kind of service or consumer good or business Good. 

Everything was growing. And then, you know, it was just, obviously, you know, hit the brakes. So, some of those times that you're hitting the brakes, people are going to be just unable to continue on the programs, the way that they are so they had to modify them absolutely 


Cody Liskh 

Yeah, I imagine a lot of people have put the brakes on this but I imagine some others probably are still moving forward with it too, but We live in a different day and age Now, I mean, everything is virtual if companies do decide to keep an incentive trip or an incentive in general, how can they also keep that, you know, really important red carpet exclusive moment that attendees have really come to expect. 


Tahira Endean 

Absolutely. You know, I'm going to give you just a small example of not an incentive program, necessarily, but We just hosted SITE night Europe, which typically would be for us a fundraising Event, a very generally casual more casual networking event that takes place during IMEX Frankfurt and of course they created planet IMEX so we thought, well if they can have planet IMEX, we can have a virtual site night. 

And one of the decisions that we had to make fairly last minute was to deliver it more as a webinar-style format versus Having an opportunity for people to really be part of the experience and talk to each other and do small group networking. So, we still had a really great experience. And, you know, as recently as just a couple of days ago you know someone was telling me what their experience was as essentially a viewer and how much they did enjoy it.  

On the same day somebody else said to me Yeah, it was really too bad that we had to change that. 

And have it so that we couldn't talk to each other because, you know, we have had in our chapter people talking about what they were going to wear to the event to see each other. And, you know, so we do have the opportunity with incentive programs. It was really that was really Eye-opening for me because we're so used to seeing everybody on zoom looking, you know, there's a lot of baseball hats and ponytails and You know, athletic wear that we're seeing and the opportunities to dress up right now so few and far between that we're ready for them. 

And when you can create another so many virtual platforms that allow us to really let people see and be seen. So, if we can create that opportunity for people to dress up Walk down that red carpet and you imagined as you're walking down a digital red carpet your pictures you know there. And on the other side, you get a pop-up video with from a Leader in your organization or the person dominated you for that event telling you why you're winning it You know, you get to the end and you get your award and you like you that's happening, you're opening up your box It's got your physical award in it at home. 

And we can you can really with time and effort and thought really create a great experience. And I think that when we Look at how we're delivering virtual events. It's remembering that people are listening to them in their own time. 

And if we look back to, I'm definitely older than you. But if I look back to when we had two channels on our TV. And watching TV was a little bit of an event in your household, you know you had Walt Disney World On Sunday night in the Carol Burnett show or Sonny and Cher And you couldn't prerecord anything there was no PBR. You can go back and watch it on any other format, So you celebrated that time. And we're essentially asking people to do the same thing to come to us at a set time to share an experience and we need to remember that it's the opposite of Coming to a live event where you're they're experiencing it.  

It really is getting people to be engaged watching it. So we really need to think carefully about how we're going to make the best use of that time for people exactly as we would with a live event and what you know what are those moments that are an Instagram bubble in a digital world and how do you share them, you get people to take a picture of themselves and share it on their social channels at the same time that they're attending your virtual event. And again, be recognized for that. So, there's opportunities. 


Cody Liskh 

I think you're right. I think that what you said makes a whole lot of sense that if you have enough time and planning, you can really pull this off. And I think that's such a cool idea of having this virtual Red Carpet experience And a senior picture accepting an award and then having you know that that additional part where you have like your gift at your house that you can open up, it kind of like makes it a hybridized Scenario, which I think is such a cool thing to do.  

So, if people are still having these virtual Incentive trips, I hope that they do something like that to really kind of give that really cool touch to it. You mentioned earlier too that, you know, maybe some companies are thinking about instead of an experience like that Maybe just, you know, cash them out. 

Whatever it would have cost to bring them on this incentive trip. Let's just give them the cash that they needed anyway. And yeah, that might be true, but that does lack that personal touch that people want to provide. Do you have any other ideas of some creative ideas to give top performers have a really meaningful reward? 


Tahira Endean 

We're definitely seeing the age of the virtual pop up store. So, where people can use their reward cash to go in and choose what they want. And there's some really great examples of that happening. 

And we're also seeing, you know what, what does a virtual reward trip look like. So I think that's a little bit trickier in that you know you if you think about it, what security to digital experience, you know, is that somebody who is You know, you open your door and there's not a personal chef there because they can't come into your home, but there is your You know your food box and with your wife and your meal that you prepare and with a small group of people from your organization. Now you're going on to a zoom call but now you have a celebrity chef who is working with you To create the meal that's coming to your box and you can sit down and you can then share that meal at the end. And maybe the CEO drops in for a conversation at the same time. 

So the certain things that we can do that are taking that and putting that towards those other just sorts of fun moments so tiny that merchandise into a home experience really is something that we're seeing a lot of so many companies really getting creative with and it's You know, they say that necessity is the mother of invention and we're certainly seeing that right now. 


Cody Liskh 

That is so cool. I love the idea of just getting a food box at home and again, like, you know, putting it together and then making that Instagram mobile moment to Yeah, the connection is so cool. I love that. 

I wanted to shift my perspective, a little bit. I mean, I'm so entrenched here in the events industry here at Cvent, but some companies out there, you know, have not really slowed down. And in fact, several front liners are working really long hours, how can companies really think about rewarding those people who are working in hard or dangerous situations. 


Tahira Endean 

I think this is really critical. You know, it's definitely if we think we're burnt out from zoom meetings. Think about how people feel who are living with life and death, death situations, day in and day out. The people who are working those long hours in essential service stores and certainly our first responders on so many levels at, you know, essential transportation services, we really have seen You know, for essential services We have not seen a slowdown in goods and that is due to a strong transportation network, you know, we had someone who worked for a pharmaceutical company that we just SITE Webinar with a few weeks ago. And, you know, she was saying it their company, they're actually looking to continue their incentive programs and add incentive programs For the people who have worked so hard on the test and on the vaccines that are coming as they get into the next, you know, 6,12,18 months but that's going to be really important So one of the things that we really need to think about is, you know, what do they need right now. You know, we had Someone that I know who has a relative that is an emergency room doctor and he said he was actually gaining weight because so many people were dropping off food. There's always Says, and donuts and, you know, so it's the opposite of that is probably what we need, which is some wellness. 

You know, so how can we provide some wellness for those first these frontline responders. Is that going to be sending them out, you know, now that things are opening up, you know, isn't the time that they can be going and having the spot experiences. Is it sometimes they just need to sleep, you know, can that be its own reward. So, imagine if you Had a day off to sleep because somebody is taking care of your errands for you. How amazing would that be that somebody comes and walks your dog and makes your dinner and cleans your house? 

You know, they're working long hours and then it's about that, you know, recognition and respect you know we are so demanding And have such high expectations on a daily basis, let alone Now these frontline responders, so Think about making their dreams come true. You know, maybe it's somebody who wants a box seat did a game, you know, maybe 12 people want that another 12 one a spa day so you can't go live What you do virtually. What if a sports or entertainment star that you recognize or adore you know a sense of ritual message joins them for a virtual dinner. There's so many things again that we can really be doing to think about what makes things special for people But it's again it's you know it's that having empathy. What do they need, what can help what it's going to truly feel like a reward? Right now, it's really what we're looking for. 


Cody Liskh 

I love that idea. And I actually hadn't considered, you know, potentially using a service like a cameo or something where you can get like a personalized message from somebody hero Or whoever they love right now And like the entertainment industry, just to give them a quick, you know, Minute or two of, like, hey, Thank you so much for doing this, like we are thinking about you like that makes such a huge difference. And that's a really cool like way to reward somebody in the digital world that we're living in right now. 

And I mean, this is the digital world that we're in right now and I'm pretty sure that you That the buzzword that we're hearing right now is hybrid events, it's no longer just, you know, digital-only or it's going to be in person only I think that in the future It's going to be hybrid events. But when I talked to you before you told me that you are no stranger to hybrid events and that you actually had a really successful one About a decade ago. So, a long time ago. What it just from your perspective, what has changed between then and now in terms of hybrid events. 


Tahira Endean 

You know, not much. Truly, you know, it's all about good design and really intentionally thinking 

About how we're going to get to events that are going to be meaningful for our participants at the end of it you know so One of the things that I talked about in intentional event design is that events need to be 

People-centric and purpose-driven and that apply to any kind of event. So how do you want people to experience it? How are you going to use the Platforms that you have the digital platforms that are so available right now our mobile platforms, our desktop and tablet platforms, how are they going to be integrated And then how are we going to connect people to other people around the world that they want to talk to here, from here about How are we going to make sure that we, that is the big opportunity is that we can now connect people in real-time or recorded time anywhere and everywhere. 

So it's what we really need to think about is the different ways that we're reformulating what those events look like So we're seeing every organization flip from, you know, what would typically have been a packed Two or three-day four-day agenda, you already start early in the morning with breakfast meetings and you have Sessions all day and lunches and receptions and dinners and Late night events and not enough sleep. So now what it looks like is that you're actually getting as much sleep as you want because you're at your home. 

That and you were seeing platforms that are doing, you know, 90 minutes to four hours Max maximum 

A day. And we're seeing data that tells us that 45% of the day is the most amount of time that we can spend dedicated to one event in a digital environment That will stick around for 75% of that that we have the opportunities to use polls and gather real-time data like never before Such an advantage. 

So, we have lots of opportunities with hybrid and a changing format of hybrid, the more that we learn about it to really create content and messaging. Interaction. I don't even want to say delivery but interaction in ways that people will now much more readily accept you know we've been Pushing virtual a hybrid for years and years and years with very little success and all of a sudden, it's the thing to do. And so, it's really about doing it better. 

From a sales perspective. I did a great interview with Chris jury out of New York a few weeks ago and they are one of the partners on IBM think And IBM think is typically a 30,000 in-person event in Vegas. You know, they are broadcasting between 10 or 15,000 person studios. And they went to a fully digital event this year and they ended up with 100,000 people watching it. So, from a sales opportunity perspective and When you got that that much more audience captured. What an incredible opportunity so you know it's not going to go anywhere. It's going to allow us to increase our audiences. 

And when we look at how that's going to support incentives. Well, look at how if you are all of a sudden increasing your audience by triple and they are now feeling more loyal to your product and your brand. 

Switching their purchase decisions, all of a sudden you're going to have larger incentive programs and more profitability within your organization's Because you've added a digital or hybrid component into your events, it's just, it's a little bit mind-boggling. We think about it that way you know 7 billion people in the world it's a big market out there. 


Cody Liskh 

Yeah, the REACH is just really insane when it comes to adding that hybrid component like yours. The just getting the, the number of people involved is just mind-boggling to me, really. And I think that it's really something. Maybe we should have been doing Consistently in the past, but this is kind of jump-starting things and I really do like that. And that's going to be a cool way to proceed going forward. 

And I'm sure everybody's the question on everybody's mind is going to be ROI. 

You kind of touched on this a little bit. But how can companies really measure success with this alternative way of providing you know any kind of like incentive, especially with top performers in the, you know, virtual world? 


Tahira Endean 

Just data, you know, it is we are so Easy to mine data from when you just ask questions, use the tools that you have asked people who are part of your events. Ask qualitative questions ask quantitative questions asked about what matters right now. What's going to matter to them in the future. What are they thinking and feeling, what do you need to deliver on Just ask the questions we are happy to provide answers as human beings. We're happy to have our voices heard. 

So we can measure success in many, many ways from the numbers, who attend to how long they stay for to all of that those other soft data points and with incentive travel so much of it as soft power, you know, we work on a joint industry Index that specific to the incentive travel industry with SITE the Incentive Research Foundation and the financial and insurance conference planners Association and 

You know, there was a lot of talk to you in this time Is that something that we should postpone, and all of us agrees that know now is the time to go ahead, does our survey need to change So fundamentally, from what we asked last year. Absolutely. Is this our greatest opportunity, even more so. 

So when you look at any organization in the world who is looking at how are they managing teams. How are they, you know, managing teams who are now in remote work environments. It really becomes about finding your data points and how you collect them, you know, as a daily touch basis is it weekly check-ins. Is it You know, it certainly isn't monitoring how much time people spend sitting at their computer, or what time they log in or log out? If you allow people to focus on what are their what's the end Production that you need the end service that you need and the end deliverable and allow them to do that in the time that suits your business needs because I'm going to say that, you know, If you are providing telephone customer service in 24 hours a day Then, of course, you're going to have people working on shifts that have specific start and end times. But you also have opportunities to, you know, take that sort of 3 am approach and give people 10 or 15% of their time to be creative, you're going to come up with innovations You didn't even know were possible. 


Cody Liskh 

That's such a cool way to think about it and I love just the whole theme of what you said. I mean, if you want to measure success Just ask people, people are so willing to give their opinions that that is just sometimes it's an untapped resource and people should really just take advantage of that. 

There's been such a cool conversation about incentives. If you had to leave one takeaway or piece of advice for our listeners on incentive programs like what would that be 


Tahira Endean 

Now is the time for the community. So that means within our own organizations When we create incentive programs It is really designed to reward our top performers to recognize our top performers and to inspire others Who are in those next upcoming levels towards top performance to become top performers and have their own time to shine. And I think that that's really important you know to keep people connected to keep them educated to keep them inspired and together. 

You know, from an associate perspective I just really want to talk about this as well. Anybody who belongs to any kind of association within your industry. You know, it's, I work for SITE But there's lots of other organizations and associations out there. 

And there's certainly a community for everybody. And there's never been a time that is more important for the community, you know, We always say that you're going to you get your next job from the people that you know And that has never been more true than right now you know it is. While there are technical knowledge tools that are going to help us in a job search It's going to be about being connected and taking the time to join conversations to join education to be part of your community, whether that is the corporation You work for or the association that you belong to. The power that I have seen from our chapters around the globe, helping and supporting each other on a daily basis has blown me away and I, you know, while many, many, many people across our industry, you know, we've seen companies you know it tends to 70% furloughing laying off attrition of human resources right now across the travel industry and the hospitality industry It will come back, but it's going to take some time and not everybody's going to that same place again. So, don't let go of your networks, just because you're in between jobs don't let go of your networks, just because we're not meeting face to face. 


Cody Liskh 

I can't agree with you more. I think now is the time really when we need to lean on our community and I just feel like that's such a good message to give. 

This has been so great. I mean, you sound like you are the subject matter expert on this, and you've been doing this for such a long time. Is there were you getting your information, like, is there anything you want to Promote or share with our listeners. 


Tahira Endean 

I get my information from everywhere you know I mean we literally even just within the SITE community we have I can attend something every day that one of our chapters is putting on so I'm really staying connected to all of our chapters that way. I can do the not Humblebrag. You know, it's, I had a conversation this morning with some of that I'm doing a session with later this week named Kim Roxy and Kim is we have scheduled her to be a speaker with us an incentive summit Europe and which will host in December and as part of this I was having a pre conversation about what we were going to talk about. And it was such an interesting conversation because it's when we look at the future of events, it's, you know, as I said, you know, People-centric purpose-driven. And how do we tie into all of the things that make us human to make our events more successful and bless her heart. She had purchased the book I wrote intentional event design and the first thing that she said to me, and we've been corresponding on what's happened not live for months. 

And I've been attending an event that she does biweekly with another woman. It's called the virtual table that brings people into These really trust-based digital environments in ways that are very hard to replicate and which they've done really successfully. So, we were just having a conversation to make sure that we were on track for later this week. And she said, you know, she said, I have been reading your book and she said, I'm just so impressed. He said because it's literally a How-To guide for all of the things about how to do events better 

Earlier this week, there was a Twitter chat about a woman, said her husband was attending virtual events, she was going to replicate the experience for him and bring him soggy muffins and bad coffee and Turn the temperature up and down incessantly. And, you know, And, you know, make sure that there were boring speakers and all of this stuff that was just like all of the things we're not doing right with meetings and for someone for her someone I respect so much to say that, basically, you know, the book was a How-To guide for how to do events in ways that are meaningful for the people who attend them was really special for me. So, it was a nice way to start my day. 


Cody Liskh 

Well, that is awesome. The name of the book is an intentional event design and for our listeners out there. We'll make sure to have a link in the podcast description so you can check it out, but Tahira it's been so great to have you on the podcast. Thank you again. Such a pleasure to talk to you. 


Tahira Endean 

Same to you Cody like really enjoyable. Thank you for having me. 


Cody Liskh