How Event Tech and Human Connection are the Building Blocks of Great Engagement

How Event Tech and Human Connection are the building blocks of great engagement
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Episode description

In this episode, your hosts, Rachel AndrewsAlyssa Peltier, and Felicia Asiedu, explore the world of engagement within events and marketing and how we can brace ourselves for changes in 2024. 

Join us as we share insights that empower you to make your events more engaging, build real connections, and break away from the usual to create experiences that really matter. 

Whether you are a seasoned event professional or marketing enthusiast, these insights will help you take your engagement to the next level.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  1. How to connect personally, create micro-communities, and use personalized engagement strategies to make events meaningful

  2. How to make events more engaging by embracing smart tech

  3. How to mix education & entertainment, involve attendees in content creation, and ensure memorable experiences

Things to listen for:

[00:00] How to connect people post-pandemic for better engagement
[06:13] Tips for engagement throughout the event lifecycle
[09:55] Use smart tech to enhance the event experience
[14:32] Industry events should provide tangible takeaways
[20:17] How to revise event design to meet customer needs
[22:45] How to experiment for growth
[24:39] Real stories from tradeshows: engagement + success
[27:51] Keep creating, innovating, and joining us on Great Events

Meet your hosts

Rachel Andrews, Senior Director of Global Meetings & Events, Cvent
Alyssa Peltier, Director of Market Strategy & Insights, Cvent
Felicia Asiedu, Director of Europe Marketing, Cvent

Episode Transcript

Alyssa Peltier: I would just say engagement really is about connection and maybe we're seeing less of an emphasis on connection to content because we can get that in a myriad of ways now. Content is so pervasive across all media. We have YouTube, we have Netflix, we have on demand everything, always on content. Content is just everywhere. So I feel like this connection to each other and people is really the charter that we have, not just going into 2024, but kind of post pandemic era is what people are looking for is human connectivity.

And so how can you make a connection to people that are like you? How can you make a connection to people that are different from you? How can we foster these event experiences that draw out deeper connectivity and therefore achieve better engagement with our event experiences.

Great events create great brands, but pulling off an event that engages, excites and connects audiences, well, that takes a village and we're that village. My name is Alyssa.

Paulina Guisti: I'm Paulina.

Rachel Andrews: I'm Rachel.

Felicia Asiedu: And I'm Felicia.

Alyssa Peltier: And you are listening to Great Events, the podcast for all event enthusiasts, creators and innovators in the world of events and marketing.

Felicia Asiedu: Hi everyone. What's been going on in this wide, wide world of events? Can you believe it's 2024 already? Oh my gosh, we are so excited to be back and kick off this new season of Great Events.

Now, some of it's a bit awry here. You're like, "Who is this?" So my name is Felicia. I'm jumping right in to say I am one of the new hosts on this podcast, but of course I'm joined by the fantastic hosts that and love. Say hi ladies.

Rachel Andrews: Hi. 

Alyssa Peltier: Hello. 

Felicia Asiedu: So excited to be here.

Alyssa Peltier: I was going to say and welcome, Felicia.

Felicia Asiedu: Thank you very, very much. This is so... I don't know, I feel out of my comfort zone even though I talk a heck of a lot. This is new for me. So normally I'm like, "Hey Rachel."

Alyssa Peltier: We have two years under our belt so you have time to catch up too. We'll give you some grace for this first host responsibilities.

Felicia Asiedu: Thank you. If I get it wrong, it's all good. So let's just get this show going. Why are we doing this podcast today? Well, we're going to talk about engagement. Did you know that in 2024, this is a leap year and in the spirit of embracing the different and the uncommon nature of the year, I'll let you into a little secret. In this year in England, I discover you can propose to a man if you choose to do so. If you want to be so uncouth and not wait for this man to propose to you, you can propose to him this year. So I wonder, it's weird, isn't it? It's like, what is that?

Rachel Andrews: Watch out men, I might just randomly propose to you.

Alyssa Peltier: I love it. Only if it's an English man, right? The Americans will look at you and smash a pie in your face or something.

Felicia Asiedu: But it's all about being a bit different this year, isn't it? So how are we shaking things up in the meetings and event industry this year. We're going to talk about engagement. It's that buzzword that echoes through the industry, return on engagement, investing more in engagement, but what does it actually mean? How are we going to empower our attendees and our customers and partners in ways that stand out and disrupt the norm this year? So let's get straight in.

Are we going to see another real engagement revolution in 2024? What do you think?

Rachel Andrews: I think it's more of an enhanced engagement plan versus a resurgent or a revolution. I think there's certain technology elements that are certainly going to impact what engagement means as we get more into some of the AI things and the upcoming technologies coming out.

But I think engagement is such a buzzy word that we have to break down what it really means. Does it mean engaging people on site? Does it mean pre-event? Making sure you're maximizing the right attendee communications that engage your customers or prospects to come to your events. Does that mean engaging with your verticals or your communities?

There's so many different directions that you can go with engagement. I think maybe we just start with the simple things of what do your attendees want?

Alyssa Peltier: And to me I'm like, okay, yes, maybe this was a buzzword for a little bit there, but it's like this has always been a core principle of what meeting planners and event planners do for a living, right? No one goes to host an event or go to an attend event that they're like, "I really want a flat and boring experience and I want nobody to be engaged." It's like the undercurrent of an event experience.

So it's a no duh moment, but I think, and Felicia, maybe this is where we're headed is how do we understand that engagement? How do we value it? How do we, I don't know, dare I say quantify it. And I think that's really, and kind of what Rachel was talking about just a second ago is how do we lean into the technologies that help us understand what we've always been doing, which was engaging, creating experiences, but how do we really lean into the technologies to help us deeper understand what it is that we're engaging, who it is that we're engaging with, how we're performing. It's a litmus test, but we have to lean into technology for that. And I do think that's not going away anytime soon.

Felicia Asiedu: Yeah, I agree with you and Rachel, you said earlier community and there is something about this kind of authentic nature of engagement that people are looking for. It's not just, "Hey, I turned up to your event and I'm going to engage at your event and then now I'm not engaged at your event and I'm leaving," that's really not what I think people are looking for when you said, "What do attendees want?" You kind of want to connect with the brand, you want to connect with the people in that brand. And so there needs to be this kind of longevity of engagement, don't you think? Where it kind of extends from the day?

Rachel Andrews: I think that it weaves its way into all forms of your event lifecycle. But for me specifically, I think when you're thinking about your events, a lot of us think about, okay, how are we engaging them on site? And I think that's the meat of it, right? That's the sandwich. The pre and the post are things that we can measure after the fact. 

Alyssa Peltier: Right? 

Rachel Andrews: I think that it weaves its way into all forms of your event life cycle. But for me specifically, I think when you're thinking about your events, a lot of us think about, okay, how are we engaging them on site? And I think that's the meat of it, that's the sandwich. The pre and the post are things that we can measure after the fact. We can survey people if they were engaged. We can understand their engagement if they're clicking on an email that we're inviting them to or if they're registering for the event or they're raising their hand to speak or they're raising their hand to participate in a particular meetup on site. Those are the pre and post things that you can do.

But onsite, it's like you said, Felicia, people don't want to be talked at anymore. They want to go and especially the new generation coming in that if they're going to spend money and time to come to an event, they want to understand what am I going to get out of it?

And the engagement for them is what communities, who am I networking with? What experiences? The other element of it's the networking, but also what cool experiences am I going to get to see at this event and what are you bringing to me?

I've said it for years, attendees are selfish and rightfully so. I'm selfish when I go to an event, what do I get out of it? And what I want to get out of it is usually what cool experiences am I going to see at this and what people am I going to network with to enhance my career or my network, right?

Alyssa Peltier: And I would just say engagement really is about connection and maybe we're seeing less of an emphasis on connection to content because we can get that in a myriad of ways now. Content is so pervasive across all media. We have YouTube, we have Netflix, we have on demand everything, always on content, right? Content is just everywhere. So I feel like this connection to each other and people is really the charter that we have, not just going into 2024, but kind of post pandemic era is what people are looking for is human connectivity.

And so how can you make a connection to people that are like you? How can you make a connection to people that are different from you? How can we foster these event experiences that draw out deeper connectivity and therefore achieve better engagement with our event experiences?

Felicia, I love what you said too, connect with the brand as well. How can I feel more tied to this business that I'm either already doing business with or I'm curious about doing business with, but I'm not committed? How can we foster that notion of connection through depth of community and engaging this community?

Felicia Asiedu: Yeah, absolutely. You talk as a marketer, I'm all about the pre and the post as well. I'm always looking at ways to make sure that people are feeling surrounded by that engagement. But I know we're always challenged to use technology a heck of a lot. And these days, ChatGPT, generative AI, all these different types of technologies that are coming up that would encourage us to actually use more and more and more tech.

But actually I remember years ago someone said, "Are we looking at our screens whilst we're looking at our screens?" Like you're watching television, but you are looking at your phone and if you go to an event, you're looking at your phone, you're doing something else. So you are always fighting actually for the attention of your attendees and the more tech we put in their hands, and we shouldn't say this, we're a tech company, so we'll be like more tech, but are we risking it here? More tech maybe less engagement?

Rachel Andrews: I think that the keyword here is smart tech. Use it for your event. So use what you think that is going to actually benefit you at your events. And if you think that live chat is the way to do it, yes, bring that in and do it. If you think realtime feedback, because that's one of the trends I was kind of going to mention is how can you implement realtime feedback that you can make a difference on site and change? Because I've seen some companies do that in the last year, which was really cool, like live surveys or even people walking up and down the halls asking how their experience is, tracking social media. We do that too. When somebody tracks something or posts something in the mobile app and saying, "Oh, this was an interesting experience." Ooh, let's change that in the mobile app, or let's change it real time to make that engagement experience better. I think we're going to see, see some of that.

But back to the tech thing, I think you need to make sure it makes sense for your attendees. Are they going to use it? Are they going to engage with it? And are you and your company going to benefit from it?

Alyssa Peltier: Yeah, Rachel, I know when we were preparing for this conversation, I love what you said about tech. I think, and Felicia and I have been jostling with this, but heads down tech versus heads up tech. So we're able to be instead of reactionary or in the weeds on the data where our head is down and we're just in this analytical phase, how do we bring this up a level and be proactive and lead from the front, but with technology being this support system for us, but it's still kind of like a person first approach.

Our brain is at the front of this even with AI where our brains almost can take a backseat, how are we allowing ourselves to still be a person to person industry?

Felicia Asiedu:  Yeah. You know what I wish, I'm always thinking about future, future, future tech. Not what's necessarily, and in fact, what I'm about to say is not that far off, but I'm thinking back to Vegas Cvent connect people jumping into the ball pit. Those pictures spring off the page for me. Even now when I look at them, I'm like, "Oh my goodness, that's an experience. I wasn't even jumping into the ball pit," but I'm going to have that nostalgia. I've been talking a lot about the engagement nostalgia you have of an event, and I wish there was AI that could just be like, "We captured 52 people smiling, jumping into the pulpit." So it is the heads-up tech rather than you being like, right, check into the pulpit. Did you engage in the ball pit? It doesn't matter.

Alyssa Peltier: No one's in the ball pit. You've invested in the ball pit or there's too many people in the ball pit.

Felicia Asiedu: I would love that. But it's that kind of thing where I wish it was a bit more... We do a lot of passive capturing, so could we do a little bit more of the passive capturing of engagement, which we do a lot of, but I would like to see it continue to go that way.

Rachel Andrews: I always wonder those smiley face things that you hit the button and you're like, "I was happy, I was sad." I'm like, who is like, "I'm pissed leaving this evening event." If you did that. I'm just curious, people let you know, you know those attendees.

Alyssa Peltier: Don't faint anger.

Rachel Andrews: I think it'd be so funny to just have that at some random part of your event and just collect that feedback. "How was your bathroom experience?" "It was terrible." Right next to the...

Felicia Asiedu: I love it, but yeah, I totally hear what you're saying. I love that phrase heads up tech where it's kind of like, okay, we're engaging together.

Alyssa Peltier: Totally. How is the technology supporting you? But your brain, your thoughts, your experience, your design still in the forefront and your attendees with their heads up, right? Yes, these are an assist. The technology is an assist for that engagement, for that experience, for the outcomes that they need. The technology is just, it's foundations not the top.

Felicia Asiedu: Yeah, I hear you. I'm going to give us our final topic on this, but before I do that, how then genuinely do people balance and juggle that content need to deliver content and education with, "I just want to throw you in another ball pit and give you bands on stage," or whatever. We're trying to do everything here. How do you balance?

Rachel Andrews: I think one of my biggest beefs with, and I love going to industry events, but sometimes I'll sit in a session and it's great content, but then at the end I'm like, I don't know. I didn't get anything tangible that I can actually take back to my team. And I was talking about this with a few people recently and it was like if they could just actually give you, they talk about their best practice, but then give me the template that you use so I can actually use it. That would be really engaging to me versus just being talked at for 45 minutes. Give me some actual things that I can use for my events program.

And I'm not talking about pieces of paper and handouts. I'm talking about like, "Hey, here are four ways to go on LinkedIn and increase your brand right now. Here are five ways to start tracking ROI right now. Here's the actual ROI formula." So just less gatekeeping and more info sharing behind the curtains. We're all doing our best out here as event planners, event professionals, I should say. And we need that help.

So between that and the entertainment, look at your content. Is your content... I would recommend you going through every single session saying, "Is this session actually giving anybody anything to take home with them?" And if it's not, then question if it's even worth it.

Alyssa Peltier: And I would say just a part of that too is more workshops, more discussions, more interactivity. Our organization just held a huge company all hands basically, 3000 plus individuals kind of all connecting in a hybrid way across five days. And one of the meetings that was hosted was my own team's State of the Union, and we had an hour for presentation, but we also had breakouts for skills enhancement and training and things of that nature. And it wasn't just being talked at, it was a lot of role playing. It was a lot of tools like Rachel was just describing, like actual tangible takeaways that they could put into their roles Monday following this event.

And so really thinking through how do we apply knowledge as opposed to just share knowledge I think is part of engagement. Engage with the content that is purposeful as opposed to just deliver content with a dead end.

Rachel Andrews: The one last thing I would say is just if you want some other things to look forward to this year, I think tap into your micro communities because they're going to be the ones that you want to pay attention to this year. If you don't know what micro communities are and you don't know what your verticals are attending your events, you have an engagement issue. I'll just tell you that right now. So tap into that.

Alyssa Peltier: Do we need shirts? I have an engagement issue.

Rachel Andrews: I just have a shirt. This says, "I have issues," but tap into that. And the other thing is people are just still after all these years, just the networking, networking, networking, I want networking. How can you make that but without just these huge loud parties that people can't actually talk at, help them facilitate these more meaningful meetups, people will thank you for it. They'll be more engaged. That's my two cents.

Felicia Asiedu: I couldn't agree with that more. And that's going to help lead us into the final part of our conversation. So we started by talking about it being leap years, which means new and strange things can happen. And Alyssa, I think, are you leaping into something engaging?

Alyssa Peltier: Yeah, I'm leaping into a bachelorette party this weekend because I am actually getting married at the end of this month. So yeah, speaking very, very related to the topic of engagement, but I've been engaged for a little bit, but ready to tie the knot by the end of the month.

Rachel Andrews: She's very engaged into her engagement.

Alyssa Peltier: Very engaged with my engagement, a little too engaged in my engagement right now. I'm ready for this all to be over.

Felicia Asiedu: What I was going to say is it's something new. You're trying to meet... And Rachel's there just talking about micro communities and it's like you're not going to invite everyone you've ever known to your bachelorette. You're going to take it smaller up just like she's talking about, you're going to have a smaller group of trusted invited people to enjoy that with you. And that probably will heighten your experience because it's something new you are doing with a chosen group. And I think that's something that we can learn from if we're thinking about doing these new things. How do I take, maybe it's a small group, maybe I'm not trying to do this broad brush, but I'm doing something that's really new, really wild, like at a bachelorette weekend, but with a group that I can really communicate with.

Alyssa Peltier: The point of it is intimacy creates connection or intimacy creates engagement. I don't know, I had something more poignant there, but it's like the smaller can be just as meaningful if not more so. And to that point, my wedding's only 25 people. So yeah, quite an intimate affair, but should create a amazing memorable experience.

Felicia Asiedu: I love that. And Rachel, how are you thinking this year as a professional? We've spoken about the personal, but as a professional, how are you thinking about new things, new formats, new locations? What's on your mind?

Rachel Andrews: Well, I think a lot of it is just going back to the basics of our event design and looking at it hopefully with a new lens. Some not all of our events are in new locations and we have a lot of new formats this year because we have new goals, we're focused on our customer. And not that we haven't been in the past, but that's a major focus just to make sure that they are in a good place.

So taking those trickle down goals from our organization and implementing them into our event strategy, but then having that get into the veins of the content and the networking and keeping those micro communities, like I said, happy. I think that's going to be a huge piece for us is really looking at those verticals, really looking at the roots of who's coming and making sure that those people who've come year over year to our events or even our new attendees, we have something to offer them and it's something that they actually want. And figuring that out I think is going to be a huge thing for us this year.

Felicia Asiedu: Yeah. Well, I'm looking forward to it. Definitely. I always keep my eyes peeled on you. I know you run our events globally anyway, but I'm like, what's Rachel doing? I'm going to try something else. I'll take it a bit further. In a smaller market, I feel like I have the ability to just try random things, like really wild things. Sometimes we hide them a little bit from you, but anyway, let's move on. She doesn't need to know.

Alyssa Peltier: Sometimes we like to waste corporate money.

Rachel Andrews: No, I'm jealous. I want to be in Felicia's team for a few months and just try really fun, funky events. Let's do it.

Alyssa Peltier: But I think if you're not trying and also failing, you're not learning and you're not improving. So I think that's incredibly important and a good practice to adopt.

Rachel Andrews: Failure is equally as valuable as success, in my opinion.

Alyssa Peltier: Totally. But that's hard. That's hard in meetings and events, like a measure twice, cut once type situation in terms of spend and perfection really is kind of the name of the game. But yeah, I know that this is a little bit unrelated to engagement, but how do you improve your engagement strategy by failure? I think that's really important.

Felicia Asiedu: I don't think that's unrelated at all, honestly. And you heard it here, folks, I've got green light to go and spend money, but I think that's absolutely related because I gave an example recently of making a Victoria sponge over and over again and saying that you can bake and then offering it to your same attendees and hoping they'll still be delighted. And quite frankly, you're going to need to sometimes bake something new and it maybe doesn't turn out quite right, but you tried and they go, "Huh, that's interesting." And you get better and better at it over time if you try new things. So definitely, definitely related.

So on that note, I think I'm going to wrap us up, but I am going to ask you one final, final question. What are you going to try that's new, genuinely pushing that boat out? If I could throw that to you, Alyssa, I'm going to start with you. What are you going to give a go in '24?

Alyssa Peltier: I think mine is start small. It side cuts kind of on brand with how I'm thinking about this season right now. Start small and I think start with your smaller events, right? Sometimes the monumental can seem daunting. How do you make those micro communities when you have a sea of hundreds, maybe even thousands of attendees at some of your larger events?

Think about your smaller events. An engagement strategy is very important for your simpler meetings, your smaller meetings. And sometimes it's almost easier to make connections there, but we oftentimes dismiss the strategy for our smaller events in favor of the larger, there's so much more of a budget investment or things like that for the conferences. So don't dismiss your smaller events. Those are communities that are worth fostering and engaging with as well.

Rachel Andrews: I think two things. So for the trade shows that we go to, which we didn't really talk about on this podcast at all, but we go to a ton of industry events.

Alyssa Peltier: We have a full season of topics.

Rachel Andrews: Oh, my gosh.

Alyssa Peltier: I know.

Rachel Andrews: We go to almost 250 industry or trade shows a year globally. And one thing that I really am focused on this year is tapping into what does engagement look like at those and what does success look like at attending them? Because I don't think, and this is a whole different podcast topic, but just looking at the leads that you generate from a show, I don't think proves success. And so what I'm trying to do this year is debunk that and then focus on, okay, then what do our engagement points or metrics look like with that? And this is very new. This is just something that has been on our list for years of what does brand look like? What does relationship building look like versus just pure lead scans at a trade show. So that's one.

And then two, I would say I want to do a little bit more crowdsourcing this year. I have some other friends in the industry that are just texting, "Hey, we're thinking about this theme for an event. What do you think?" I think we should do more of that outside of just your one organization. Lean on some of your industry peeps or your customers. I think I was just talking to Julie Haddock on our team about why don't we just reach out to some of these people personally and say, "Hey, here's what we're thinking for our agenda. Does this resonate with you?" Versus some formal survey. Just make it a little bit more focus groupy or just a little bit smaller with some of the folks that have been loyal attendees for years and know our events really well. So those are just two quick things that I want to do this year that I think will enhance our engagement.

Felicia Asiedu: Could not agree more. And on that note, thank you so much. I think I'm just going to wrap us up by saying 2024, not completely new. Don't throw the baby out with a bath water. You know you've done some good stuff before, so keep going on what was good, but try something new. I think that's the thing I got from this podcast. Try something new. Get your smaller communities together. Intimacy can be good. Talk to your customers one-to-one, that's okay too alongside the big surveys. But overall, just remember that you can get to know your people and therefore do what they need rather than what you need. And all should be good. So thank you so much for joining us and join us on the next one.

Rachel Andrews: Happy 2024.

Alyssa Peltier: Thanks for hanging out with us on Great Events, a podcast by Cvent. 

Paulina Giusti: If you've been enjoying our podcast, make sure to hit that subscribe button so you never miss an episode.

Rachel Andrews: And you can also help fellow event professionals and marketers, just like you discover great events by leaving us a rating on Apple, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.

Felicia Asiedu: Stay connected with us on all your socials for behind the scenes content updates and some extra doses of inspiration.

Paulina Giusti: Got a burning question or an epic story to share? We want to hear from you. Find us on LinkedIn and send us a DM or drop us a note at greatevents@cvent.com and a big thanks to.

Rachel Andrews: Our amazing listeners, our guest speakers, and the incredible team behind the scenes. Remember, every great event includes great people.

Alyssa Peltier: And that's a wrap. Keep creating, keep innovating, and keep joining us as we redefine how to make events great.