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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.

Will Computers Replace Interpreters?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: May 20, 2016

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Hardly a month goes by without another tech company promising to provide automated, flawless person-to-person “instant translation”. We have seen Skype Translator, NTT Docomo and a parade of over-hyped headsets – none of which actually did anything that impressive.

The latest in the line is Waverly Labs “Pilot earbuds”, which sounds remarkably like every other attempt to replace interpreters – listen to what is said, run it through an online Machine Translation engine, run the result through a speech synthesiser. Hey presto, you’re done!

In theory, it should work well. In fact, if interpreting was all about transferring words or ideas between languages, there would be no particular reason why computers could not, eventually, take over. Contrary to popular belief, computers are actually making great strides in understanding strips of language and matching them with common ways of expressing the same idea in another language.

But it takes all of ten minutes at a conference or doctor’s appointment or even in a library to see that language transfer is only one part of interpreting. Here are some common examples of what interpreters actually do.

  • In hospital appointments, wherever cultural differences are causing a problem, interpreters spot the issue and communicate what clients are saying in a way that that is relevant and faithful but will keep things moving in the right direction.
  • In mental health settings, interpreters offer professionals the information that they would instantly know if the patient spoke their language but can’t perceive when there is a language difference.
  • In conferences, interpreters notice when speakers are being accidentally offensive, take into account what they were trying to achieve and create a version that does what they want, without the offense.
  • In business negotiations, interpreters take into account that interpreting will lengthen proceedings and make people forget important information so they shape what they say to make the negotiations as effective as possible.

While it might appear that interpreting is a language job, with people attached; just a little experience teaches us that it is actually a people skill with language attached. Interpreters read the intentions of the speaker, manage interaction, take into account audience reaction, build rapport, explain cultural difference and  more.

Yes, interpreters deal with language but they quickly realise that the language is almost always wrapped up in layer upon layer of social, cultural, and political complexity. Those are the layers that only a human can understand and, when it comes to the kinds of meetings where interpreters usually work, finding a route through those layers is the only way the event to work.

In truth, the kinds of work that will be taken over by computers are the kinds of work where we have traditionally relied on phrasebooks, dictionaries and, yes, online machine translation engines like google translate. We should all be glad to have computers and headsets to make it easier for us to ask for a beer, get directions to the nearest hospital and figure out what that tweet from your French-speaking colleague was about.

Frankly, using professional interpreters (or translators) in those situations would be a colossal waste of resources. Far better to use them in situations where getting it right will make the difference between life and death, negotiation and division, profit and loss. Machine translation is great and we are still testing its limits but, when it comes to bringing people together you can’t beat, well, people. And if you want people who know how to cut through the jungle of cultural and social differences, you want interpreters.