#EventTech seems to be the buzzword around the industry at the moment, with tech being a focus for many businesses to amalgamate & speed up processes, increase efficiencies, and add value to stakeholders.
Indeed, Event Manager Blog and IMEX teamed up to run an #EventTech Start Up competition at IMEX Frankfurt last week, won by In It Live.
So, with the sudden explosion in technology, getting to grips with the products and understanding what they can deliver can be daunting, and that’s before you start using the technology!
We caught up with William Thomson, Founder of Gallus Events and the pioneer behind the UK’s first #EventTech event, TechFest, which takes place at London’s ExCeL on 19th June.
William has had a long standing passion for events, having set up an event management company organising student graduation balls when he first graduated from University, before moving on to work in the commercial events sector.
After setting up an exhibition department for a commercial conferences company in 2003, William successfully re-engineered the events departments at two of the UK’s largest financial services trade associations and Europe’s largest membership organisation.
He has organised over 700 events in the UK and abroad.
William, having organised so many events, can you recall one that was a complete disaster? If so, what learning’s have you applied to Tech Fest?
“That’s a very easy one. In my early twenties I ran a student ball, which wasn’t very well received by some of the guests. It made page 3 of the Scottish Sun!
I had run a successful format and didn’t make any changes when I took it to a new market. Maybe surprisingly moving from a University to a College market was a big difference.
I assumed that a lot of the “ball” vocabulary would be well understood. So when buses arrived instead of actual “Carriages” and the event was in a marquee in a field – because it was the only way to get an 8pm to 8am alcohol license – it didn’t match the attendees’ expectations.”
Understanding your customers is imperative in any business sector, and yet we often don’t think about the industry jargon we use because – to us – it seems so common. Yet, our customers are not necessarily from the same industry or always familiar with the jargon, so this is an interesting example of how event planners need to be mindful of the language being used to communicate with their audience.
“This was the ideal lesson in ‘knowing your customer’. With regard to Tech Fest we take a lot of time making sure that the attendees know what to expect.
It is a very different event and breaks down many of the traditional things you see at conferences and exhibitions so we have to make sure our participants are prepared.”
What inspired you to create an event based upon event technology?
“I’ve been doing consultancy for almost ten years now.
About midway through this period I noticed, when helping a client improve their events, we would inevitably be talking about event technology.
Many planners were still using Microsoft packages to manage the event or they were taking fax bookings. Indeed, many still are!
Planners were too busy on admin and they weren’t able to spend the time being creative or adding value. I realised that a wider understanding of event technology would improve the efficiency of the planner, make their events better and place the industry on a higher footing.
Despite being a busy consultant there is no way I can help and support as many planners as I would like on a 1-2-1 basis. The way to cover as many bases (planners) as possible was to run Tech Fest.”
William touches on a point that resonates here, as the events industry is still relatively immature when compared with other industries and their use of specialist technologies, which can improve processes, increase efficiency and – through the strength of reporting – provide a greater understanding of what is happening.
Such tools support strategy formulation around specific business disciplines, and assist with strategy execution and measurement.
You describe Tech Fest as a “different type of event aiming to attract a different type of event planner”. What exactly does this mean?
“One of our objectives is that we inspire the attendees to think about doing one thing differently at their next event: it is great to hear when an attendee tells you they have taken inspiration from the format.
It’s a special type of planner who feels comfortable testing new technology or formats at a live event. So, we try to be innovative and we hope to prove to them that they can have the confidence to be more creative.
“It’s easier for me to do because I have no one to answer to, other than my participants. So I can take a very different approach to involving my supporters. I can build an event that is enjoyable as much as it is educational.
The team can create a relaxed and informal atmosphere. We can remove barriers between the speakers and the audience, between attendees and supporters. For example we have plenty of interactive spaces, and fun elements like old-school 3”5’ floppy discs for badges, and mugs with your name on.”
Again, thee an important point William has encapsulated within his event strategy. It has been a long-standing hypothesis that there is a link between enjoyment and learning. Studies in the UK and US suggest an absence of enjoyment is one of the foundational reasons for young people failing to achieve their potential (Goetz, Nathan, Hall, Anne, Frenzel, & Pekrun, 2006; Shernoff, Csikszentmihalyi, Schneider, & Shernoff, 2003).
What is the format of the show and how does this compare/contrast with other industry exhibitions?
“We are very lucky to be served by some very good shows which exhibit event technology but I agree we are a bit different.
The main reason is that we have a structured conference with a strong narrative and key themes. You don’t just randomly drop in on content like other seminar based events. There is a huge amount of meeting design behind the conference programme.
This year the content will help planners return to the office with the power to influence and persuade stakeholders to adopt the piece of technology they have found. This isn’t easy, as I know many of the readers would agree. So every session is designed to take the attendee on this journey.
At the end they hopefully find the right bit of technology and we have given them the support to successfully implement that new piece of kit.”
Innovation and inspiration are described as part of the DNA of Gallus Events, and these attributes, along with creativity are often high up on the list for event planners when choosing suppliers to assist with their events.
However, remaining innovative and creative is not straightforward.
How do you and your team ensure you remain innovative in terms of your event programme and delivery?
“You are right. Innovation is something that most planners strive for, but often don’t achieve.
Being boring is the foundation of being creative. We have processes and procedures in place that allow the event management to be pretty stress free.
So, the team sits a couple of weeks before and, rather than doing our logistics or administration, we are thinking: How we can make our badges cool? Our interactive spaces more engaging? Or, going through presentations to ensure they include our key points.
We spend time adding value. Being creative can only happen when you are on top of the basics. And funnily enough, event technology helps.”
What is clear from talking to William is that technology helps add value, it enables and lets the user become more effective, and allows for human ingenuity and creativity.
There is much talk at the moment about Artificial Intelligence and how machines are taking over human jobs. But, we see technology more as an enabler that supports what we’re doing and allows us to be more creative and effective at what we do, to enhance the total value of events and content creation.
Thanks to William and the team for their time.
Event Tech Fest takes place on 19th June 2015 at London’s ExCeL: http://www.tech-fest.co.uk/
How do you use technology within your events? How helpful and effective do you find it in helping your event be a success? Let us know!