How did you get into the industry?
I’ve always worked in marketing and so I’ve managed all kinds of events and tradeshows, but I built my first registration system at Cisco back in 1997. That took me to our big annual customer conference in Cannes which was the most rewarding and fun thing I’d ever done at work. I couldn’t believe they were paying me to do it. I was hooked from then on.
What do you like about the meetings and events industry?
When you create and deliver events you get to see the results of all your hard work in a very tangible way; you can watch your audience interacting with your creation and enjoying the experience. Nothing else in marketing can give you that buzz.
What other sectors could the meetings industry learn from?
There are many, but the biggest ones for me are television – for production values and ideas about how to entertain an audience – and retail, which seems to be ahead of us in its use of technology such as mobile apps, iBeacons and the like to interact with customers.
Time saving tip?
I have to say this, of course, but use an event management system to run your events. I know this not only from my years of personal experience, but also from the analysts: a Frost & Sullivan study found an average 27 per cent increase in productivity from using event management software.
What can the industry do better?
Innovate. Conferences and tradeshows have been using the same tired and boring formats for as long as I’ve been working – the same presentations in dark rooms, the same grid floorplans and the same booths at exhibitions. Even the lanyards and badges are the same – and I really hate name badges.
Prediction for the future?
Wearable technology is going to transform how we interact with each other during live experiences – Google Glass and Apple watches are only the first step and before we know it there will be microchips in our heads. That’s already happening today in the medical field and won’t take a huge leap for it to cross over.
Greatest achievement in this area?
My proudest moment at an event was back in 1999, way before the Internet was a normal thing. We did a live online broadcast of our President’s keynote at our annual customer event. We put multi-coloured Apple Macs all over the CNIT in Paris and I watched the session from one of those. It felt as though he was speaking directly to me.
Most difficult situation you’ve had to deal with?
Running a major customer conference in South Africa in the very early days of doing online check-in onsite. The day we went live the Internet went down. No-one could find the source of the problem until after hours of troubleshooting we discovered all the cables had been dug up outside the venue – people had stolen the copper wire to sell. Thank goodness for paper backups.
Most irritating challenge you face on a regular basis?
People saying “mobile will never catch on?” It already has folks.
Best use of a Cvent product and best ROI?
One I really love is EcoConnect, the green industry business network, because they did so much with just one dedicated staff member. They implemented our event management platform to manage their membership database and all the events they produce. As a result they have increased membership by 15 per cent, and the productivity savings they achieved allowed them to more than double the number of events they are able to put on.
How do you relax?
Reading good fiction is the most effective way for me to switch off. I can totally lose myself in a great book and forget the world. It’s also the only way I can survive the commute to work every day.
Which new tech device to watch out for in two-three years?
For a device I’d say Google Glass will start to become mainstream within a couple of years. It will totally transform how we interact with each other during a live event experience, with all that information instantly available. It may still seem far-fetched, but I can remember saying I didn’t see the point of mobile phones and couldn’t imagine needing one not that many years ago.
This was first published in the December issue of CN. Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor