This transcript is from Episode 7 of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast, please visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/7
Transcript Of Episode 7's Guest Interview
Tom: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm on the line with Julius Solaris. Julius, you are the editor of the Event Manager blog. You are an event industry speaker and author and congratulations on being named one of 2015's top 25 Most Influential Individuals in the Meeting Industry by Successful Meetings magazine. You're CEO of Showthemes, WordPress theme shop, you've done so many different things. Can you give us an idea of how you got started in the event industry and how it led you to where you are today?
Julius: Thanks for having me, Tom. First of all, pleasure to be here. I started when I was like really, really young. I've been working on events for friends. It was a passion, I guess, in terms of organizing things for friends and family. My first sort of official job in the industry was a few years ago now, as marketing manager for a pharmaceutical company events or rather for events for pharmaceutical companies within an agency. And so I've been traditionally marketing driven, online marketing driven because the first items I was looking at were websites and increasing registration for websites. We didn't have any social media at the time but we were looking at ways to maximize attendance through online channels.
So that's been traditionally my touch with events. I've planned events as well, more in the networking arena but, yeah, down the years, I've moved more to the online environment. I did an MBA in marketing a few years ago and I started blogging because, we are talking 2004, it was quite hot at the time and everybody was starting a blog and I did as well and the only topic I could really talk about were events. And so yeah, the rest is history, in a sense. I've been doing official proper jobs, as they call them, and then, in 2011, I left my job and I dedicated myself 100% to the blog and recently also to the WordPress themes business. So yeah, quite a journey.
Tom: You are quite an inspiration because one of the things that I love about your blog is you use so many different styles of media. You're using articles, your photos and your graphics, your slide shows, your videos. Right there, that's a lesson for anyone who is an event planner that wants to disseminate information on content delivery. Now, as I was looking through your site this morning, before we got together, one of the things I noticed that really caught my attention was you had a slide show called “20 Event Planning Fails That Our Guests Hate.” Could you share maybe a couple of the biggest event fails that you have seen and give our listeners some idea of how they may overcome those, if they happen?
Julius: Absolutely. Well, that's traditionally has been one of the first topics I've covered on the blog. We are talking 2007, 2008 and always had a lot attention from also people outside of the industry who maybe attend events, because this is something that puts together the event professional planning the event but also the attendee because, at the end of the day, the frustration lies in the attendees most of the time. We realize with all of the stakeholders, it might be the sponsors, if they are not correctly sort of treated, and all the different parties, but the attendees/event professional dynamic is quite interesting, when the event professional doesn't put the attention to details that is required to, it's this part of job description. Attention to details is what an event professional should have.
So, in terms of the biggest failures in general, the one we all kind of are getting tired to talk about because it's so straightforward and so annoying is probably the lack of Wi-Fi at venues. Even worse, the jamming of Wi-Fi perpetrated by some venues to avoid people getting on their MiFis and so forth, for alternative ways of connecting to the internet.
There's a lot of talk going on at the moment in terms of security and hacking and venues sort of trying to defend themselves but I guess this is not a problem of 2015.This is a problem of 200, really, where we cannot accept anymore the lack of connectivity within the conference environment or, even worse, a corporate event where the audience is expected not only to be educated and network but also to get work done during break up times and so forth. So not giving that sort of connectivity means really killing the productivity of more demanding audiences. So that needs change for sure. That's something that does need to change as soon as possible.
The second fail is probably one of the other sort of underlying issues, chronic issues that we have within the industry, which is diversity in performer's line ups. There is not enough attention in the industry. I mean, I see a lot of associations committed to talk about the latest buzz, the latest live streaming tool and they are forgetting about one of the biggest issues we have at the moment. So all white, all male panels and I see that is a white male, it needs to stop. We need to bring in more voices, not only in terms of gender and races, but more voices to create more serendipity and more participation and more reflection, sometimes, of the audiences. Because there is an interesting tool online, a diversity calculator we have linked from the blog a few times, that actually gives you the representation, depending on your audience, of the speaker line up. What is the ideal speaker line up to represent your audience. So we need to be more committed to that and really foster that change. With recent events, this is like even more important.
Tom: Thank you so very much for sharing those. The next thing, I want to talk to you about is the free e-books that you offer and you offer them, folks, you can go there. There is no email sign up or anything else, which a lot of sites are always trying to capture email. So, kudos to you for doing that. One book that I want to draw on today is called “Engaging Events – How to Use Live Interaction Technology to Create Successful and Memorable and Enduring Experiences.” I apologize there, my notes–
Julius: That's all right. It's quite a long title, isn't it?
Tom: I ouldn't even read my own writing. That's horrible. One of your opening lines was, “Engagement must be the most overused word in the event industry.” Tell us about that.
Julius: Yeah, I mean, engagement lately, through the rise of social media and all these brands looking for engagement, and through the rise of also of disappointed attendees in the usual formats, engagement must have been the most misunderstood word, in terms of what does it actually mean for the attendee in the industry. Everybody says, it's all about engagement. Everybody says, our main objective is engagement. But they're not sure, first of all, about what that means and how to achieve it, sometimes, through amazing and interesting concepts, in terms of the event and meeting design or event design, nut also using technology, which is the focus of the book.
We have quite an introduction from one of the leading event personalities here in Europe, which is Kevin Jackson from JPG, one of the largest event planning agencies, describing what engagement is and I always quote his statement that, it's almost like that leaning forward type of attitude that attendees have when they are really 100% within it. But it doesn't only mean being particularly attracted by a topic or a performance. It also means participating. It also means sharing the voice. It also means interacting with the content, co-creating the content, interacting with the presenter, interacting with other attendees, interacting with the sponsors and the other stakeholders of the event.
So that level of interaction, it's changing. It's ever changing and we need to kind of address it in the best possible way. How do we do that? There's a number of tools and the reason why we started this book specifically was because we always keep an eye on the technology being created for the event industry. And, in the last three years, we've been able to analyze that more than 83% of the products and platforms created for the event industry were actually live interaction and engagement tools.
So we have 13 different categories. We are talking about the most common ones, such as live polling, live Q&As;, audience response systems. So these categories of technologies that allow interaction, on the attendee standpoint, and facilitate the communication between the content that is been presented and the learning experience of the attendee, that's the key. That's what a lot of event professionals are trying to crack right now and, within the book, we give a lot of advice in terms of how to set up an engagement program to begin with, with the right objectives, looking at what we call the five Ps of engagement and then we talk about the tools and the pros and cons of what you should look at, whenever you are considering using one of these tools. Correctly setting up RFPs, request for purchase for proposals and so, yeah, we give a lot of tools for the event professional to choose the right technology to foster engagement at events.
Tom: Now, one of the things that the book is sharing is about mobile event apps. Can you talk to us about the types of apps that are available and things that our listeners should be looking for when they are selecting an app that would allow their guests or attendees to have a more engaging experience?
Julius: Traditionally, mobile apps have been borne an as a substitution of the schedule of the event, so the program, as the show guide. Print show guide, we don't need it anymore. Mobile app can do the job much better. Everybody has a mobile, everybody has a smartphone. Most of the audiences have a smartphone. So that's a quick win. You save a lot of money. So it's straightforward. The second use is networking, so getting in touch with other people at the event.
Whenever we attend an event, we usually have three objectives in mind. One is to get educated, one is to get entertained and one is to network. So, the networking side of things has been traditionally objective number two. What is happening right now is that a lot of the mobile apps that were created to satisfy one of these two key areas of objectives are actually becoming interesting in the engagement piece and are increasingly offering tools to stimulate engagement and to involve the audiences. So my suggestion to your audience is look out for those event mobile apps that, together with the scheduling and the networking, which have almost become commodities, are also offering tools such as live polling, feedback on the session as well, the feedback piece is so important, but also for audience response system, live polling, live Q&As;, social media integration, which is part of the engagement piece because an application that allows the attendee to sign in via social networks will then foster the participation on social networks from the attendee. We want our attendees to be advocates of the event on social networks and so having hosting the social networks within the application, having a Twitter feed within the application will help more attendees to use Twitter more during the event and usually that leads to higher engagement levels. So, looking for a complete solutions instead of fragmenting everything and getting attendees to download different apps and doing different things, pulling it all together seems to quite a time saving and wise choice, on my perspective, in terms of app selection.
Tom: Now, could you give us a brief overview of some of the technologies that you talked about in the book? I mean, you talked about slide sharing, social walls, photo booths, microphones, augmented reality, collaborative tools. Can you share a little bit about these and how they're used in the setting?
Julius: Absolutely. So the ones I'm particularly excited about, so let's start from that because we cover 13 of those and so I have to make some selections as well. The ones I particularly like, because, coming from both perspectives, I have been an event professional, I am an event professional, but I'm also a speaker for the event industry. So I really cherish the opportunity to connect with the audiences whenever I go and speak at an event.
So, from my perspective, the slide sharing one is one of the most exciting I am seeing right now because if you attend conferences, you have been at a conference, you see attendees standing up and taking pictures of slides. that shouldn't happen, I believe. All attendees should be able to see a version of the slide being presented live on their mobile phone. Take notes on the slides, share the slides on social media, save the slides for later use and so interact with what is being presented. This is particularly important. I know you have a lot of in your audience who plan events in a corporate environment. This is specifically important when you are planning meetings with high level corporate content being shared and a lot of data. So you want attendees to interact with this sort of content which could be quite in-depth. So it's really important to use that type of tools.
Now the second one I'm excited about is polls and Q&A and, in general, audience response systems. So whatever invites attendees to give their opinion. We're all bored of listening to speakers for 50 minutes and looking at hundreds of bullet points that can't change. We, as event professionals, have to work together with the speaker of an event to make sure that they incorporate as many live interaction opportunities as possible. That could be simple questions that the audience can interact with, to actually ask for their opinion and get them more involved with what's being discussed instead of being spoke at all the time.
So, obviously, there's a lot of best practices there in terms of what can be achieved. It's something that you can integrate in the slides. It's something that you can do with external devices. So there is a lot of ways to go around that.
The third one, I would say, that's making the top three would be quite a good way to discuss some of them. It's social walls. I believe they are becoming increasingly successful. They've been around for a while now, probably the first time I heard about social media wall for an event was in probably back in 2008. So, it's been quite a while we've had that type of technology. It's very straight forward. We are talking about screens that collect all the social media streams related to the event. So whenever you set up a hashtag and you invite attendees to participate on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram and so forth, usually these social media walls collect all the conversation around that hashtag or specific keywords that you can set up depending on the system and display it on walls or TV screens at events. That's a great opportunity for attendees to see what's going on and what other attendees are saying but also to be showcased and be put in front of others.
It leads to a lot of [inaudible 00:17:49] opportunities as well, in term of interaction between the attendees. You can have very sophisticated social walls with leaderboards and have competitions going on in terms of how many people tweet or how many people interact and who is being the most influential. That sort of triggers a very healthy competition for the event because one of the measures of success for events is becoming how much content is being created. So the more content is being created, the more the resonance online. And social media walls are great tools to achieve that type of resonance. So I hopefully have given you an overview of these three. If you are interested in some more, please ask me.
Tom: Of course. A couple that I do want to talk to you about, drones. I found it had an interesting aspect or interesting subject. How is a drone used in an event?
Julius: That's an interesting one, actually, something that we covered also in our annual trend presentation. We do an annual trend report and presentation every year about technology, but not only technology. We cover different topics and one of them is obviously technology. We covered drones as part of the control part. There's some very interesting examples we have seen of drones used to stimulate engagement. For example, drones with cameras. Obviously, most of the $100 plus drones are built with a camera these days. So, how can you use that camera to stimulate engagement? There's a lot of platforms that allow attendees to connect with the camera within the drone and take pictures from the drone, as someone is moving the drone around and share those pictures on social networks. So picture like large events, large festivals, for example. We're not always talking about conferences and meetings, although I have seen it successfully used within those environments as well.
You could see a drone that is coming next to you and your friends and you can immediately see on an app that live stream from the drone and take a snap of that stream and share it on social networks. That's quite clever idea to use that type technology. Even more, I have seen some version of drones where the control of the drone is actually given to the audience and they can fly it around and take pictures and that's another sort of opportunity to get engagement. Most of the times the result these company seek is the sharing, is the content uploading on social media, and that's a measure of engagement. It's becoming one of the most important measures of engagement these days. So, drones, this is definitely the way, you can use them. I can't remember the second one you asked me.
Tom: That was pretty much where I wanted to go because I just found that fascinating and thanks for sharing that. That's something new to me. I hadn't experience those at an event yet. Let's get back a little bit to talking about your e-books. You did mention that you have a “Ten Event Trends for 2015” book out. Can I ask you to make any predictions for 2016?
Julius: Sure, absolutely. We just updated the report. I am presenting right now of the sort of catch up with 2015 and anticipation of 2016, although I usually take up until November to see definite trends or what's happening there, because there is a lot of shaping usually happening between now and November. So, interesting things that are happening.
Now it is definitely the year of engagement. 2015 has been the year of engagement and we have discussed about that. So all the technologies related to engagement are going to be booming between 2015 and 2016. One of the other ones we've covered in 2015 was mics and we have covered controllable mics applications that offer the ability for attendees to actually ask questions via their phone and being listened to within the speakers of the session. So that's quite amazing and quite something to look at.
The other ones I am particularly fond of at the moment and I am seeing like quite successful is any type of application that uses beacons, an iBeacons and the Bluetooth technology. I don't know if your audience is aware of what iBeacons for app and beacons in general are, but they're small devices or sometimes even stickers that send a message, a Bluetooth message, to phones and the reason for the wide adoption of this is because Apple has all its products are equipped with beacons. So it works with iPhone, something that other technologies, such as RFID and FC have struggled to match.
So the application of beacons are quite exciting. I mean, I got four case studies for a presentation that I am presenting right now around the world, where you can sign in and register attendees without them doing anything. Basically, what they have to do is turn on their Bluetooth from the mobile, open the application. They just walk in, the beacon recognizes them, and they are checked in to the event. So if you think about like the fact that we spend six months of our life in line waiting, that's an amazing result. One of the most annoying things that we all share about event is, whenever there are large events, waiting in line is not something that we particularly like. So beacons is helping to shape that.
Another very interesting application of that is how, by example, walking in a specific room within a venue in a conference, you can get the schedule for the day in that specific room pushed to your app. So the phone is localized and we know exactly where you are in the building and we can give you targeted information about that, your micro-location and that's quite exciting.
Some other uses is whereabouts. One of the uses is called whereabouts from Ted-X. No, actually Ted Conference in 2015, they developed an application to see where people are in a specific room and foster networking by notifying other attendees of the whereabouts of potential matches in their networking objectives.
Some other ones that we are looking at, one of the most popular one is live streaming. You mentioned how we develop content for Event Manager Blog in different formats. One of them is live streaming. We have been starting to use Periscope a lot and Facebook just released their Facebook Live service for celebrities for the time being but we expect it to roll it out to the wider audience as well. So the use of live streaming tools. So applications that connect to your phone camera to actually stream online is increasingly popular and we have seen a lot of talk. The largest example for that has been the Pacqua versus Mayweather event in Vegas, where you had to pay a ticket of a $120 just to watch it on TV.
Tom: I did that.
Julius: A lot of people did. And then, all of a sudden, there were people in the audience live streaming the event on Periscope on Twitter for free. Obviously, that is not the same experience, it's not the same quality, but there is a lot of interesting problems that may arise from it but a lot of interesting opportunities because whenever there is disruption in technology, it always brings problems and we always said at the beginning of social media, “Oh, this is going to be a nightmare. This is going awful. I don't want people to tweet that stuff.” And that sort of thing and now the whole industry has embraced it. I believe the same process is going to apply for live streaming and live streaming tools.
Now, is it something that is going to happen in 2016 in full force and something that we can take advantage of as event professional? Probably, yes, I would say. I cannot confirm it for the time being but it looks like all the indicators are going in that direction as well. So I can definitely say that.
Another interesting trend is the trend of feedback and customer support and now we handle customer complaints with technology. So the experience of the event is becoming multi-channel. So it's not just at the event. It's probably before the event through Twitter sometimes, or through a comment on a YouTube video from the previous year. So we have to be aware of this multi-channel experience and where our attendees are going to touch our events, on what touch points they are going to engage with us.
An interesting statistic that came out a couple of weeks ago from a research called “2015 State Of Service” is that 38% of customers will ask for support via mobile apps within the next 12 months. This is going to be the single most important channels to provide customer service to and that poses a lot of interesting questions for the event professionals that are selecting a mobile app right now. Is my mobile app able to provide customer service through the app to my attendees, because my attendees would probably use it to get in touch with me and ask “Where can I find this? Where can I do that?” So that's a very interesting one and, obviously, the second will be actually social media as the second channel.
So there's a lot of interest there and just one of the trends being handling customer complaints and compliments via these new channels, not the usual stuff channel. Some people, especially the introverts, which seems to be slightly going into the world domination, they will use these channels to get in touch with others.
And the last one I can cover for you, which we're not 100% sure about but definitely showing interesting numbers, is wearables and we've seen some stats saying that the number of smart watches that will be shipped in 2015 will be 34 million. Apple just announced that 10 million Apple watches were sold. This is a growth of 250% year on year. So it's incredible growth there, meaning that the type of applications and what we can do by integrating with these wearable devices is amazing. I mean, we have seen a lot of the great examples of the use of wearables to, say for example, check in attendees via a simple QR code. You swipe it at the entrance points and that's it.
But that's even more important for payments. Those events that are heavily payment oriented, where there's a payment component with large crowds, they are going to benefit for it. We have seen events such as Tomorrow Land, one of the biggest festivals here in Europe, consistently using wearable bracelets to automate the paying, the ticket of the event and all of these items. You have a great example in the Disney Parks in the US. Although, they're not strictly events, I like to think about them as a daily event that happens every day and Magic Bands are an extreme example of wearing a bracelet to do all the actions from getting pictures sent to you back home to pay for whatever you are going to having park to getting to specific attractions. That's kind of the interesting use of wearables within the event and how you can better off the experience by adopting these type of technology. So is as much as I can tell you right now.
Tom: That's incredible stuff, Julius. I really do appreciate those insights and that look forward, because that's a lot of stuff to be excited about. If our audience is interested in learning more about you, where should we send them?
Julius: You can send them, obviously, to EventManagerBlog.com. That's our site where they will find a daily article during the week about being an event professional, whatever that entails. Our three objectives are to educate, to innovate, and to inspire event professionals. So we cover all these subject areas or they can connect directly with me at JuliusSolaris.com, one word or @Julius on Twitter. I am usually very OCD in replying. You'll get a reply very fast. I try to answer as many questions as possible or to be in touch with as many people as possible. The connection with event professional, for me, is so important. That's where we got our ideas from and that's who we try to serve every day.
Tom: Well, I will tell you, you certainly have fulfilled everything here. I mean, inspiring us and giving us information and I greatly appreciate your time. Julius, thank you so much for being on the podcast.
Julius: Thank you, Tom. It's been a pleasure.
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