When our clients had to quickly pivot from in-person events to “live” virtual and digital experiences, it redefined and magnified the role of the event technologist. In this episode, our host, Jeff Naue, Special Projects Marketing Lead, connects with Chip Begley, our Director of Event Technology. As an innovative company and early adopters of technology, our event technologists have always played an important role in the planning process with registration websites, mobile apps, on-demand badges, onsite event technology, vetting new technologies, and more. But, with the increase in virtual and hybrid, the event technologist is now critical to the success of events.
Chip Begley is the Director of Event Technology for Meetings & Incentives Worldwide. Chip joined the company in 2011 as a Senior Web Designer, has held various positions over the years, and currently manages a team of 20 event technology experts. Chip earned his Event Professional Advanced Certification from Cvent. You can also follow him on LinkedIn.
Join us for a conversation with Chip to hear more about the evolving role of the Event Technologists and what to expect in the future.
Chip, what exactly is an Event Technologist? Is this a new role?
Yes and no. The Event Technologist oversees everything technology-related for an event. This begins with the technology strategy for the event. How does technology align with the goals of the event or the objectives? How will the technologies operate during the event? How will the use of technology support the mission of the event and even reinforce that message? This kind of strategic thinking is critical to delivering a seamless event, but our role certainly has been amplified this year.
What roles fall under the title of event technologist and how has that changed since before the pandemic pivot to hybrid events?
Now with the increase in virtual and hybrid, we have seen three distinct functions come into play:
- Digital Producer – handles the actual production of the meeting which includes creating the meeting and delivery platform, technical run-of-show, speaker management, presenter coaching, and running rehearsals, and managing the live stream
- Platform Developer – builds out the content for the platform. This is the online digital venue that will include being used for the personalized agenda, speaker bios, contact information, sponsor and exhibitor details, attendee interactions (email communications, networking opportunities, gamification, etc.)
- Virtual Tech Support – Field incoming attendee questions, support producer on the day of the event, manage audience response systems (polling, Q&A, discussion boards, breakout sessions, and respond to any technical concerns)
Before Covid-19, an event technologist was an important part of an event. We focused on building registration websites, mobile apps, managing ARS or on-demand badge printing. Those items were important to the success of an event, but not mission-critical.
Now, we are mission-critical. The success or failure of the program is a direct result of how well we support and deliver using various solutions. The role of Event Technologist has evolved from a “nice to have” to a “must-have.” It is now the creative process and the project management as opposed to just receiving specifications and putting them on a website.
Have many clients transitioned to virtual events and how is your team supporting those events?
A lot of our current clients as well as new clients are hosting virtual events. In fact, we are just as busy supporting client events now as we were before COVID with almost 1,000 virtual events year to date. While many are small meetings that are managed using a video conferencing tool like Zoom or WebEx. Our Digital Producers are running the show and managing speakers. They also get the opportunity to add creative elements like music, videos, interactive breaks between sessions, some have hosted trivia during breaks or lead group stretching exercises.
We are also supporting the more complex events where an online digital venue is needed. This virtual platform is more interactive than just a simple Zoom meeting. It is a place for attendees to meet and network, watch the live stream, on-demand videos, schedule one-on-one appointments, or visit virtual exhibit booths, etc. Those are the functions that happen.
And, we’re about six months into this now and unfortunately, we don’t see much of an end in sight. Our clients know the show must go on. They are embracing virtual solutions to continue to conduct business and this is the world we are living in now.
What is the hardest part of your job as an Event Technologist?
Currently, the biggest challenge is keeping up with everything and what virtual solutions are available. Things are moving quickly to meet the demands of our times so knowing what is available on different solutions can be a challenge. We’re constantly vetting new technologies and pushing the envelope on the existing platforms we are using for our clients. But, keeping track of the latest developments. Most technologies in the space are investing heavily in new features or enhancements which means an ever-changing landscape. One virtual event platform might have an update, and something is completely different. So, it is a constant process to make sure that our event technologists are familiar with any new features and functionality for our clients.
How do you and your team stay up to date on the latest trends?
Well, I consider myself lucky to be surrounded by a great team of people who are all hungry for knowledge. We are all actively involved with email campaigns, webinars, industry blogs, and all those sorts of things. We’ve always been eager to learn new things. Plus, we’re constantly demoing products and trying new products. As with any team, organization and collaboration are key. We use Microsoft Teams to share knowledge nuggets with each other on what we’ve learned.
Let’s talk about hybrid events. What is M&IW doing to prepare for the return of in-person events and integrating virtual elements?
I don’t know about you, but I miss in-person events. Unfortunately, that is not an option for many of us right now where in some places gatherings are limited to 10 people or less. Virtual offers us the option to continue to conduct business but it’s clear that the attendee experience from in-person cannot be 100% recreated online. As locations begin to relax restrictions, hybrid events will fill the gap. M&IW is prepared to assist with the planning and execution of these events which if you think about it will be two events in one. Remember, in a hybrid event, your virtual attendees will have a very different experience than in-person attendees.
In my opinion, the world of sports has done a great job of producing hybrid meetings for decades. Think about the Olympics or an NFL game; those watching on TV from home (which is a virtual setting) have a different experience compared to those in the stands on game day. Same event; different experience.
The best events will be crafted in a way where you have an emcee or commentator that is discussing what’s going on behind the scenes or main attraction. Maybe it is whatever just happened or what’s coming up – like a play by play in sports. Or imagine a virtual host who is dipping in and out virtually into breakout sessions to let your virtual audience experience what is being delivered live at that moment. Then maybe they can encourage them to sign up for the on-demand session later. So, the sky is the limit on how you can create a unique experience for your audience. It’s exciting, but they are more complicated. It is going to take time to plan accordingly to make sure they are executed flawlessly.
Last question, what is your advice on how companies can get started?
There are lots of options and different ways to conduct business virtually. Simple meetings can have a low-cost option. If you’re not familiar with the options, find an expert who can help you. Think about your agenda, it will look different for a virtual meeting versus an in-person meeting. Since everyone is not in the same location, you do not have a captive audience. And, your attendees can get easily distracted in their home office.
Your content should be broken up into smaller, more consumable sessions. Your expert in-field can help guide you and make those suggestions. They can help you review existing technologies. What are you currently using? Maybe we can use what you currently have in-house to keep in line with budgets.
I think the first thing you should do if you haven’t already is to attend a virtual event. Sign up for several to try different options and experience various platforms to see the differences. As an attendee, you will see what works best for the audience, and from there you will be armed with the information and insight to make educated choices for your event.
Learn more about M&IW Virtual and Hybrid Event Technology and related services. To stay up-to-date on M&IW’s efforts on safety initiatives and protocols for returning to in-person events, be sure to turn into our Events > Forward Podcast Series. In each episode, we interview subject matter experts on relevant and timely topics. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.