Unlocking the power of data fuel

Knowing delegate numbers, drop-out rates and feedback have traditionally been the bread and butter of the conference data world, but no more. Techniques and tools are sophisticated and organisers are increasingly challenged to collect quality data and use it for maximum efficiency.

Firm base
It is important to get the correct information from the outset from your delegates to ensure future analysis is based on firm foundations.

“Events professionals are usually gregarious, creative individuals. It’s no wonder that data can seem a bit dry and dusty. But, while creativity is crucial to events, data has become the fuel that drives opportunity and the all-important measurability of results,” says George Sirius, CEO of Eventsforce, who notes the volume of data available, both in general marketing terms and specifically in events has become overwhelming, or rather ‘big’.

Big Data is a much used term but can be taken to mean an enormous volume of data that takes advanced processes to search, filter, analyse and understand.

With organisers under pressure to measure event ROI, what may seem like a big headache is actually a big opportunity, Sirius believes and says that by using a Big Data approach, organisers can achieve:

  • Better insight into what delegates prefer
  • Detailed understanding of where target audiences ‘hang out’ – such as social networks, publications they read and when they make key purchase decisions.

Think about internal data first, advises Sirius, i.e. material that you have access to from your events and marketing information. Then consider external data available via the internet and ICCA, for example, which offers a Big Data tool to mine for local associations.

Next, it is important to collect the right data according to your objectives.

Sirius says, if you want to demonstrate the value of your education sessions, ensure you are able to collect a variety of data about how many people booked, who turned up, how long they stayed, whether they asked questions, whether they tweeted, etc. “Go beyond just how many were in the room”.

Once you have the data, you need to report and analyse it, assuming of course you have the tools, from event registration to email marketing, to surveys and polls that have sophisticated reporting features.

Even those that sit on a potential gold mine of data,  can find they have a few gaps. Sirius believes these can usually be closed by building a data culture into your organisation, to ensure the right data is captured at every opportunity.

“Data first, analysis second. Insight and ultimately competitive edge is your reward,” is the advice from Sirius.


Eventbrite VP of Business Development, EMEA Limvirak Chea, reckons the knack to finding the right data formula for events is all about striking the right balance.

“You want to strike the balance between asking for the right information to provide the best experience at the event and making sure the registration process is as friction-free and quick as possible,” says Chea.

There is also a balance to be struck between setting out some exacting questions and tiring an audience.

“You need to be aware that the more questions you ask the higher your drop-out rate will be, so only ask questions that will really make a difference,” Chea adds.

Tools for targetting
In the past, simple paper registration forms asked for personal details, but now a plethora of technical programmes and services can quickly collate data into useful reports for many aspects of event planning.

Online registration platforms provide real-time means of managing the event process and can facilitate sharing event information and interactivity, says Alison Glaves, MD and Co-founder at MEDIAmaker.

“This helps create a more meaningful agenda,” she says.

“Tablets and social media can be used to collate real-time views and opinions during events. This means organisers can identify any points of interest and respond to questions in real time,” Glaves adds.

Employing systems that track links for sponsors, partners, speakers and exhibitors, so that organisers can effectively see how much traffic they are driving to their event page, means that organisers can review which relationships are working for them, says Eventbrite’s Chea. “While organisers need not feel trapped in one technology or supplier, they should consider third party integrations that can pull data from one platform to make use of other tools,” he adds.

Another popular integration for conference organisers is Sli.do, which involves the audience in asking questions and giving the host control to focus on the most interesting topics. Instant polls can be created and displayed with results updated in real-time.

Planners can create a new event in minutes and immediately start gathering top questions and ideas from their audience. Participants receive just one link, which they use throughout the whole event.

Bizzabo, meanwhile, is a system for helping delegates make the most of their connections, while Sched.org helps delegates keep track of where they want to be and when at a big event. The app enables attendees to personalise an agenda. And Boomset empowers the event planner to manage and sync multiple guestlists, coordinate the notification of guest arrivals, print name tags, receive donations, follow up with attendees and connect with staff members using group messaging.

Data security
Having accrued a huge amount of data, what about the implications? If using a third party, can you be sure they own the data and that those details will be safe?

Edward Snowden’s revelations provided one graphic example of how important it is that organisers keep track of their data.

Customers will demand transparency because they are more educated on what happens to their private information in a world of ‘cloud’ storage.

Kenton Ward, co-founder and CEO of online event registration specialists Bookitbee, says: “If you are using a third party to collate your data, ensure you own it. Attendees are your customers so their details should belong to you. You do not want them bombarded with invitations to similar events.”

Now that it is possible to capture many different kinds of data about attendees, their experience and activity at an event, this data, according to Kenton, exists as ‘islands’ which are more powerful when viewed as a whole. His company’s Exposure Event Analytics platform, allows just such a possibility.

“We can currently tell an organiser what the highest traffic routes were around the show, where people spent most time, the average duration of a visit etc, but our goal is to create links to share our own data with these other platforms to give the organiser a complete picture of the attendee experience.”

Another tip is to make sure any data you collect is being stored in the right territory . The data sovereignty issue is now so important that in a recent survey by ResearchNow, 70 per cent of businesses would give up some level of performance to ensure control over their data.

The Information Commissioners Office states: “Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the EEA unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data.”

Think eCommerce
Chea urges organisers to think about themselves as eCommerce businesses because the number one metric eCommerce businesses obsess over is ‘conversion’.

Jeremy Rollinson, Chief Technology Officer at Forge Special Projects,  says web-based forms haven’t changed much since they were introduced, although he argues recent years have seen huge advances in interaction and design.

“Even if the web forms are being generated in house I’d recommend organisers take a look at sites like Typeform, which have a different approach that encourages form designers to make the questions more human and natural.”

“The page for any registration or purchase of event ticket should be informative but not overwhelming in terms of details,” he adds. “It should be mobile optimised and offer social integrations that help spread the message about your event.”

Organisers usually ask for feedback immediately after an event and Eventbrite offers integrations with tools like Survey Monkey so organisers can ask attendees for their thoughts and include an incentive to increase the response rate.

Certain information on such platforms can be gained without asking a question, with data being exported via the reports section.

Chea says Eventbrite client VW Whitenoise moved venues for one of its annual conferences and found the location heat map, based on IP address, useful to see how much to put into marketing in Cambridgeshire to attract more of a local audience.

Rollinson says the mining of registration data used to be about selling access to third parties who then profiled the database and targetted individuals who met their criteria. “Now everything is about engagement and curation,” says Rollinson, who believes some organisers are missing an opportunity to use the data they have to send curated, industry specific, newsletters to their databases.

For those that get the management of big data right, there are potentially big prizes.

This was first published in the September issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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