With Cvent celebrating its 20th anniversary, BBT took the opportunity to ask CEO Reggie Aggarwal about the changes he’s seen in the events industry and his thoughts on the next decade of event technology
It’s the 20th anniversary of the founding of Cvent – what was the idea behind starting the company?
I started an association in the early 1990s for technology CEOs in Washington DC. I was a corporate lawyer by day, and the non-profit was a great way for me to connect and network with like-minded professionals and top business leaders in the tech industry.
In just a few years there were more than 2,500 members. As the president of the non-profit, I was the secretary, the event manager, the communications director; I was wearing so many different hats – so multi-tasking was an essential part of the job.
Before long, I found myself planning and managing nearly 50 events a year. In addition to working 50 hours a week as a lawyer, I was spending another 40 hours a week for the association; cutting and pasting thousands of names from Excel into personalised emails for event invitations and registration.
As you can imagine, the manual process was incredibly time intensive. Every time I received a response, I’d move the email into a folder and would manually count the RSVPs. My tools were Excel, Outlook and yellow sticky notes. The pain point was obvious to me, so I set out to create the Aspirin. That’s how the idea for Cvent all started.
What changes have you seen in the events industry in the last 20 years?
There have been so many changes! It’s hard to distil down to a shortlist. 20 years ago, just the idea of emailing event invitations was a hard sell. That’s hard to imagine now. But besides the obvious role technology has played, I think one of the biggest changes is the awareness around the importance of meetings and events and their global impact. I knew 20 years ago that events were one of the largest industries that no one was talking about. Now, people are talking about them. Business events add more than US$1.5 trillion to the global GDP. That’s an incredible economic impact. And even in the digital age we live in, the desire to meet face-to-face has not gone away. In fact, more events are held every year. We have an innate desire to connect – nothing beats the power of a handshake. More business deals are made, and more meaningful relationships are established when we meet in person.
On the technology side, one of the biggest changes I have seen, certainly over the past five years, has been the importance of mobile technology and how it plays a role in the onsite experience. For example, customised mobile event apps allow for much better engagement between all participants. Lead capture solutions have nearly replaced the need to swap business cards at trade shows. We’re just scratching the surface.
The industry seems to be booming at the moment despite worldwide concerns about political situations and rising hotel rates. Why do you think this is?
No matter what the political or economic climate, people need to connect. It’s about the power of the human connection. That’s never going to go away. Research proves time and time again that in-person events are where ideas are generated and business deals are made.
There is a reason that organisations spend as much as 25 per cent of their marketing spend on events. They are an integral part of the overall sales and marketing strategy. A well-executed event can influence the buying decisions of so many people.
Advances in technology including smarter, more customised registration, enhanced sponsorship activations, the rise of the Internet of Things, and the use of biometric data are all part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that is taking place. These technological developments are only going to continue to improve the planning process, justify return on investment and help to amplify the attendee experience.
On the flip side, it seems more businesses are tasking their travel managers with organising “simple” meetings rather than leaving it to a dedicated events person. Do you think travel managers are best placed for this task?
The lines have definitely blurred as organisations realise the importance of taking a more holistic view of their meetings and events spend and look to consolidate processes. With the right mindset and approach, and of course time, travel managers can certainly be a great fit to manage and plan these smaller meetings.
Regardless of who is acting as “event planner” it is important at the outset to be aware of the core objectives of the event, how to maximise the opportunities, enhance the attendee experience and achieve a solid return on investment.
Online venue sourcing tools can make a huge difference to travel managers. Sourcing a venue quickly and efficiently, rather than spending hours or even days wading through the options based on a general internet search is not the best use of their time or energy. Small meetings are notoriously difficult to track and spend can easily get out of control so using an event management platform that helps to consolidate event budgeting will ensure each event stakeholder stays within budget and tracks their expenses – allowing travel managers to have a better view on funds being spent across divisions and consolidating financial reports.
What challenges are organisers facing this year?
We recently published the results of research we commissioned gathering input from 500 travel managers across Europe. Rising hotel costs and value for the spend were highlighted as their top challenges.
There is also a call to action for the hospitality industry to provide more transparency about pricing and hidden costs and improve negotiation and communication during the RFP process.
Event technology has come a long way in the last 20 years and Cvent has been at the forefront every step of the way. What do you think is driving the increase in adoption of technology for the corporate events industry?
There is a need to harness the power of technology, so that organisers can be more strategic in their decision making and ensure their meetings and events are more measurable to prove ROI. They want to see data that goes beyond just the number of registrants and overall attendee satisfaction. We have seen a major increase in the adoption of technology in Europe – organisers recognise the value of using technology to automate manual processes and leverage the data and information to better understand attendee needs and drive overall event success. The end goal is to have organisations and their executive teams see events not as an expense, but as an asset on the balance sheet.
What are the trends you think we’ll see coming to the fore this year?
As I mentioned earlier, we are in the midst of so many technological developments – what is being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution; biometrics, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, facial recognition and machine learning will have a major impact on the meetings and events industry worldwide.
It is crucial the industry capitalise on the incredible technological advances that are going on around us. At Cvent, we have more than 1,600 people on our technology team who are constantly working to stay ahead of the curve. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will fundamentally alter the way we live, the way we work, and the way we connect to one another, and we’re dedicated to helping our customers navigate the next industrial revolution to maximise their potential through technology.
Two trends which will become even bigger in 2019:
- Holograms and other immersive experiences: A well-executed hologram can blow the minds of an audience. We utilised holograms at Cvent CONNECT in 2018 and had such a great response. The use of 3D holographic technology has the potential to transform an event by amplifying an experience and truly creating something unforgettable. Other immersive technologies like 360-degree screens can transform a regular keynote presentation into something so much more engaging.
- Mobile event apps for enhanced networking and learning: I mentioned this earlier, but we are just scratching the surface on capitalising on the mobile opportunities. People attend events for two reasons; to learn and to network. A mobile event app can enhance networking by allowing for in-app messaging, meeting requests, contact information exchange, a Facebook-like activity feed for posting comments or pictures, Q&A during sessions and scavenger hunts or games that encourage collaboration and engagement. Pre, during and post-event, that same mobile app can facilitate deeper learning. Attendees can receive real-time session information, post-event learnings and more to extend the impact of your event long after the attendees have gone home.
Where do you see events and event technology in ten years’ time?
As we have already seen, so much can change in ten years! Artificial intelligence has already played a major role in the planning and execution of live events. Onsite, Chatbots and concierge apps help streamline customer support and ensure attendees have the answers they need within the timeframe they expect. As we look ahead, enhancing the telepresence and remote attendance experience likely will be an area of focus. The remote attendee activation of robots offers an incredible opportunity as it can allow a remote attendee to still be a part of the live event by “walking” through the event and interacting with other live attendees via a mobile robotic kiosk. That technology is opening up a more “live” event experience for people that can’t physically be there, and that “remote attendance” is likely to serve as a gateway to in-person attendance at a later time.
What’s your favourite thing about the MICE industry?
It has to be the people and seeing more industries and organisations embrace the power of the human connection. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about a small company meet-up or a large-scale trade show – nothing beats the opportunity to make meaningful business connections face-to-face.
Do you have any advice for those who are new to the industry, or for those travel managers who find themselves suddenly in charge of organising meetings?
I would recommend connecting with other veterans in the industry. There is so much knowledge sharing going on via digital channels. Social media can be an incredible resource for crowd-sourcing new ideas and for support. Take advantage of any opportunity you have to interact with someone in the industry whom you admire or look up to. Find a mentor who can help guide you through the event landscape. Many of my early mentors are still close colleagues and it was through their support that I was able to ultimately find success with Cvent.