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Online Venue Finding: A step too far?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 23, 2017

I am really excited to start a new series of guest posts. I have invited some colleagues from the events industry and language industries to tell me about the tools, apps and software that they couldn’t run their businesses without. But to kick-off the series, there is a warning. As the Managing Director of Clearwater Events, Stephen Morton-Prior knows a thing or two about saving time and keeping organised. In this post, however, he asks whether recent shifts in Venue Finding have gone too far.

Technology is always developing. I now have a lady called Alexa who can switch on and off my lights, change the temperature in my house when I ask and write my shopping list. I am a technology geek….. But with events, I do have a sceptical eye for technology.

 

Technology that helps improve customer experiences or helps us become more efficient is always a good thing. Our solutions are always technology rich but only when they provide value and positive experiences to our clients and delegates.

 

With that said, there is one area of technology that I find hard to fully embrace, and this is online venue finding tools.

 

I understand the need for online venue finding and in theory its genius. A database of thousands of properties that can be accessed with a simple click. RFP’s sent through to selected hotels quickly. And responses pre-populated into templates ready for client submission. What’s not to love about that?

 

There are many large agencies using these tools. Contentiously, you often get an ‘official’ and an ‘off the record response’. Officially, the tools are a procurement dream. Pre-negotiated rates can be loaded for venues and preferred venues and suppliers can be accessed. They provide data, reporting and a quick and simple solution for teams with multiple events to source. However, the systems are typically only as good as the users operating them and their success relies on compliance from all.

 

The off the record response is often rather different. With the systems only being as good as the users, there is an assumption that everyone has an understanding of what to do. There are many examples where enquiries have not been responded to or RFP’s sent to the wrong venues or wrong clients.

 

I can forgive all this. Training offers compliance. Where I struggle is the personal experience. I find the best rates and deals come from picking up the phone and talking. Building a relationship between the venue and the Event Manager is key in finding the right solution. What might not work on paper, might work once a conversation takes place.

 

Events are highly personal. And this experience starts with venue finding. Picking up the phone helps allows me to discuss out of the box solutions, negotiate and discuss the best way to deliver a client experience that goes above and beyond. Albeit a small event for 10 guests or a large conference for 500.

 

Of course, we use technology, the wonderful world wide web is a fabulous tool for sourcing new and exciting venues. My fear with online sourcing tools is that they are only as good as the information inputted and I wonder if the client comes away with the best venue for their event?

 

I think there is a need and a requirement for online venue finding, especially in procurement driven scenarios. But I would suggest combining these tools with my top tips:

 

  1. Do your research. Use your tool but, explore your options. Industry magazines, the web and recommendations will give you an edge.
  2. Remember that your competitors are likely to use the similar online tools with access to the same venues.
  3. When venues get multiple briefs for the same event, you don’t see the rates go down. You see a rate go up, locked in for all agencies.
  4. Ironically, the client might therefore select an agency based on their relationship (relationships are key).
  5. Build relationships. Online tools and email are easy but they don’t promote interaction. Pick up the phone and build a relationship.
  6. In a pitch with multiple agencies, try and find at least one unique option.
  7. A good relationship will lead to lower rates and an overall better option. It will allow you to access value adds and options perhaps not considered by competitors.
  8. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. It is expected. Be prepared to walk away and look for other venue options.

The End of Face-to-Face Events?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 1, 2016

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It’s every tech nerd’s dream and most event managers’ nightmare. With increasing environmental concern and ever-improving technology, might the days of face-to-face events be numbered? Now that internet speeds are (mostly) at the point where we can have video chats without our faces looking like a seven-year-old’s Minecraft creation, is there any sense in hiring expensive rooms, flying halfway across Europe and meeting together for a few days, before jetting off home again?

Ironically, I am writing this as I do the preparatory work for my trip to The Meetings Show in the London Olympia as a visitor. Since I live in Edinburgh, this has meant arranging travel and deciding whether to stay overnight. Yet the very fact I have decided that it is worth the rigmarole of checking-in, going through security, avoiding the ladies in the Duty Free (thanks for so kindly making us walk all the way through that, Edinburgh Airport!) and finding the gate, is part of the answer.

The short answer to the future of face-to-face events was one given by Prof. Barry Olsen during a podcast I recorded with him and Alexander Drechsel on remote interpreting. His take? “Face-to-face events will only end when someone finds a way for people to drink beer virtually.”

And that’s pretty much it. What you get in person is precisely the feeling of being there in person. It’s the ability to have a relaxed chat with potential clients over coffee, the opportunity for a chance encounter with an industry leader, the networking that accidentally happens when you flop onto a seat next to someone charging their phone (true story!)…

We all know that it is important to simply be there. If that is true then why is so much of our tech about automation and reducing the input of people? Geo-beacons send people content based on where they happen to be standing; event registration tools let people sign up and collect their badge without talking to anyone; livestreaming beams the content to people on another continent; remote interpreting further separates the speaker from the people whose voices will captivate a large section of the audience.

For meetings to reach their full potential, they need to be human. For interpreting to give the maximum value, the interpreters need to be drinking the same excitement and atmosphere as everyone else.

Event tech is great and remote interpreting has its uses but, the more we realise the true value of face-to-face events, the more we realise that the experience of being in the same room is at the heart of what we do. Great events put people at their centre and make networking and sharing core to the whole experience. Tech is great but connection is still king.