Event Technology: The 2021 Guide
Welcome to the 2021 event technology guide. Here you’ll learn how to choose the right event technology for your next event to support your desired event outcomes.
What is Event Technology?
Event technology is any digital tool that helps you plan and produce an event. Some examples are event management software, engagement tools, virtual platforms, streaming services, and mobile event apps.
Why Event Technology Matters
In response to COVID-19, event technology is evolving faster than ever. This rapid evolution has proven greatly beneficial to the events industry. 90% of event professionals believe that technology can have a major positive impact on the success of their events.
Before advances in event technology, event planning was a very manual process. Event planners used to draft the attendee list contact by contact. Event promotions were limited to mediums like print or direct mail. And prior to virtual event technology, organizers were only able to plan live events. But advances in data analytics have allowed event planners to track and measure each component of their events. Similarly, the boom of event technology made it easier to bring in-person, hybrid, and virtual event ideas to life.
Today, event marketers have an array of technologies to choose from and add to their event tech stack.
Each piece of the event technology stack does its part to support the full event lifecycle as it transitions from one phase to the next. Building websites, increasing event registrations, and email promotion are all made possible thanks to event technology.
Event tech has also led to a better user experience. Through the use of platforms, event engagement, and networking tools, attendees can connect with each other at the click of a button. Event apps allow attendees to easily navigate the event with features like chatbots that provide instant answers to their questions or maps to help them navigate massive convention centers. Live Streaming technology is another example that allows attendees to tune into sessions from all across the globe.
How to Choose the Right Event Tech
When choosing your event technology, it’s important to keep certain foundations of planning in mind. Use your event goals and overall vision to guide you and help you determine which event technology will truly serve you and your attendees. In this section, we will walk through the considerations to take and best practices for choosing event tech.
Consider Your Event Goals
Event technology can help you achieve your event goals no matter what type of event you’re planning. In order to select the right tech, you need to know exactly what your event goals are. Why are you organizing your event in the first place? Take a look at what you are trying to achieve and find technology that supports your goals. Consider your business goals, what event KPIs will determine if your event was a success? Think about your event strategy and what outcome you want attendees to take away from attending your event.
If you aren’t sure what your goals are yet, here are the most common event goals.
- To increase brand awareness
- To improve customer/organization relationships
- To educate
- To generate qualified leads
- To drive surging activity in target accounts
- To retain customers
- To drive sales opportunities in target accounts
Interested in diving deeper into goals? Check out our article How to Set Event Planning Goals to Achieve Success.
Think About The Type of Event
There are many different event types. In order to choose the right event technology, you will need to factor in the type of event you're hosting. Below is a brief description of the most common event types. For an in-depth look at the most common types of virtual events, check out our virtual events guide.
A virtual summit is the online version of an in-person conference. According to our Virtual Event Benchmarks, typically these events are one to three days in length with the majority (57%) being single-day events. Like in-person conferences, you will find keynote speakers, multiple session tracks and topics, product demos, and sponsors. With all the elements involved in a virtual summit, you will need a wide variety of event technology to execute your event and the tech you choose will depend largely on your event goals.
Some of the most common event technology used at virtual summits are virtual event platforms, audience engagement and networking tools, and live-streaming solutions.
Virtual Conference Series
A virtual conference series is designed to deliver content over the course of days or sometimes even weeks. These large scale events allow brands to engage with attendees for a longer duration of time. They also give attendees the chance to absorb content at their own pace, avoiding digital fatigue.
When planning a virtual conference, some of the most important event tech tools are your virtual event platform, audience engagement tools, networking capabilities, and live-streaming solutions.
Virtual Trade Shows and Expos
This type of online event helps companies showcase their products virtually. They can be a stand-alone event or paired with a summit or conference series, allowing attendees to discover new products and solutions and generate leads for companies.
Important event technology tools for a successful virtual trade show or expo hall include highly customizable environments, chat functionality, tools to host live or on-demand product demos, and potentially e-commerce.
Virtual workshops provide education on specific topics to attendees. They usually are smaller events that have interactive elements allowing attendees to be part of discussions as well as network and interact with other professionals in their field.
Event technology such as video conferencing, whiteboarding or brainstorming tools, note-taking capabilities, and file sharing systems will make for a successful workshop.
Sales Kickoffs (SKO) are internal company events, typically held annually. The goal of an SKO is to bring the entire sales team together to talk about company goals, best practices, share exciting product updates, and learn from top executives. They are a great way to boost company morale and set the tone for the upcoming year.
Event technology tools needed to host a successful SKO include chat functions that allow team members to share ideas, Q&A for attendees to ask questions, 2-way communication for sales training and roleplaying, and audience engagement tools such as polling.
These virtual events are on the shorter side, typically no more than 1-2 hours in length. Webinars cover very specific topics and can be designed for education, building brand authority, and engaging prospects.
Common event technology tools used for webinars include a webinar platform, chat functionality to spark conversations, polling, and Q&A for an interactive experience.
Hybrid events will combine components of both in-person and virtual events. Hybrid events are growing in popularity. In fact, in our Evolution of Events Report we found that 97% of event marketers believe we will see more hybrid events in 2021.
There will be many moving parts of hybrid events. Event technology will play a huge role in planning and execution. Depending on the type of event, tools will range from budgeting, registration, and venue sourcing tools, virtual event solutions for the online audience, and event technology to aid in streaming and production.
If you are interested in learning more about specific event tech tools, check out our recent article, 18 Tools for Hosting a Virtual Event.
Considerations When Evaluating Event Technology
The amount that event technology impacts event goals is the single best way to select the tech you use. Some technology is crucial and organizers simply can’t skip it, while other technology will support secondary goals that may be “nice-to-have” solutions.
Focus on Innovation
In most cases, event organizers will know the essential functions a tech tool needs to check off. But focusing on the essentials can lead to missing out on innovative new functions. Innovation is more important than ever as the industry starts moving into hybrid events.
Before smartphones became popular, there was the flip phone. Cell phone shoppers weren’t looking for a device that could place calls, send email, surf the web and store thousands of files of music. Of course, once the iPhone was released, all of this changed, and early adopters now had access to a cutting-edge solution years before mainstream customers.
If you want to stay ahead of the competition, find the iPhone of the technology providers.
How do you know if your provider is committed to innovation? Get to know the company and the people behind it. Browse the vendor’s social media pages and main website. Read their blog, and check out the LinkedIn profiles of the leadership team. Read recent product and official company announcements. Ask the company how they are planning to evolve as hybrid events start to pop up. Consider past performance and current events to predict whether this company is positioned to innovate.
It’s no secret that the event landscape is changing. Hybrid events are going to start taking place in 2021. Choose event tech that is future proof and can evolve with your events as we move into the hybrid era. One of the biggest challenges of going hybrid will be designing an experience for both the in-person and remote audience, and making sure that experience is personalized. Event technology will play an important role in merging these two worlds and delivering a great experience.
Look for solutions that can bridge the virtual and in-person experience. At our recent event (Almost) HYBRID, CEO and Co-Founder at Bizzabo, Eran Ben-Shushan spoke directly to this idea, “Hybrid events will need to bridge the gap between virtual and in-person audiences. They will need to create opportunities for attendees to take part in shared experiences.” Be sure to watch his full keynote at (Almost) HYBRID.
For example, find an event platform that seamlessly integrates with an in-person event app instead of having to build out an event app and platform separately. This will save you time and ensure a cohesive event experience no matter where attendees are tuning in from.
Ease of Use
An additional consideration is how easy tech is for organizers and event attendees to use. A platform that’s easy to use means everyone involved should be able to easily learn the platform. In turn, you’ll see greater ROI and increased efficiency.
Test the usability of the event technology by asking vendors for a live demo of the product or a free trial to make sure the user-interface is satisfactory.
Seamless Attendee Experience
Your brand should be accurately reflected in the event experience that you create for your attendees. Any disconnect in this experience—from the event platform to the mobile event app to onsite check-in—runs the risk of coming across as unpolished, and does a disservice to your brand. This will be even more important when hybrid events emerge. When you choose event technology, be mindful of how much customization is allowed. For instance, does the event registration experience require a website visitor to leave the main website? Can the agenda and homepage be tailored to your brand? Does the platform come with an event app? If so, can it be white-labeled?
ABM Readiness and Personalization
Choose solutions that will provide you with insights into the full attendee journey. This should include which promo codes bring in which attendees, what date attendees register for an event, how actively attendees are networking, which sessions they register for, which sessions they rate highest, and other actionable recommendations. This data should be accessible by ticket type, account, and individual contact. If you are able to find an event solution that allows you to create and track event personas, this will provide you with another channel of analysis. The result is that you will be able to personalize the attendee experience and follow-up in-line with an account-based marketing methodology.
Event Tech that is Brandable
The event technology you choose is a representation of your brand. Every interaction with attendees is an opportunity to leave an impression. According to G2, 70% of marketers say consistent branding is one of the most important things to keep in mind when communicating with customers. Additionally when we surveyed event professionals in our 2020 Event Marketing Report, 92% agreed creating a consistently branded experience was important. Make sure that any event tech you choose is highly brandable. Ask if you can add your logo and where logo placements can be. Check to see if you can change the background color, add an image or event videos on your event platform, apps, and other tools. Other important design elements to check are if you can select your font choices and overall customization that is offered.
Downtime is an event organizer's worst nightmare. If the event live-stream or the event website is down (even for just a few seconds) people will start to leave your event. This can mean lost revenue, missed opportunities, negative press, and frustrated attendees. Selecting reliable event technology is critical to the success of your events. Ask tech providers what their plan is if anything would go down, and what the average downtime would be. Make sure to speak with referral customers, and read online reviews about the platform’s reliability.
Customer Support and Success
In addition to reliability, you should also ask what the tech provider offers for customer support and customer success. Customer support refers to employees who are available to troubleshoot unexpected issues, think technical support. If event registration is no longer working, you will want to contact customer support to get the issue resolved. When researching event tech providers, you will want to ask your provider what type of support they offer. For example, is customer support provided 24-7? Is the support via chat, an email, or will you have a direct line to call if you need help? What is the average time for response on a support ticket?
Customer success refers to a dedicated account manager who will be available to show you how to use the platform and provide you with helpful and strategic guidance. They will be your advocate and help you reach your goals and desired event outcomes.
While most (though not all) event technology providers offer some form of customer support, many do not offer customer success. Having both aspects of support can make all the difference in helping you reach your event goals.
How to Find the Best Event Technology
Event Technology Reviews Sites
Event tech review sites curate peer-driven testimonials and ratings based on a variety of factors tailored to the purpose of the software itself. They usually offer an analysis of pros, cons, and sometimes special insights you won’t find on the product’s main website.
G2 Crowd: G2 Crowd gives out prestigious innovators awards for a variety of SaaS products. Their rubric is typically broken down into four main categories: Leaders, Contenders, Niche, High Performance. Any product found on their award chart deserves a second look.
Capterra: Capterra is a good example of a user review site. They break categories down into most popular, most affordable, and most user-friendly.
Software Advice: This professional database allows event organizers to retrieve detailed search results alongside in-depth buyer’s guides for further assistance choosing the event tech that’s the best fit for your goals.
How To Research Event Technology
No matter what site you choose, there are 5 key things to keep in mind when researching event technology:
- Give Sales Reps a Challenge. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about specific product features or about the industry as a whole. A sales rep who is willing to share information about their competitors in a positive light is one who is looking out for your best interests.
- Get multiple opinions. Besides reading review sites, cross-check with your network, and ask sales reps to put you in touch with their current customers for references. This will give you better insight into users' experiences. Leave no stone unturned.
- Read event tech guides. New reports and benchmark comparisons are just as important (if not more so) than reviews because they’ll add some figures to those facts that you otherwise might not have assumed existed.
- Create an assessment for each event technology. Base it on your specific goals and strategy to make it worth your while. Event technology assessments help you generate awareness, manage registrations, and measure your success.
- Choose event tech that aligns with your business plan. It’s good to keep the big picture in mind. As with your goals, reference the goals of the company at large to see if the software you choose aligns with what you’re all really trying to achieve.
Wrapping Up: Event Technology Takeaways
Besides providing event planners with data-backed insights, streamlined workflows, and increased attendee engagement, event technology has become a staple for modern productivity.
To wrap-up, here are some main ideas to keep in mind:
- Choose wisely. There are many types of event software, each with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Create a tech stack based on your goals and the compatibility of those corresponding technologies.
- Look for hybrid readiness. We are on the cusp of the hybrid events era, make sure that your event technology is future-proof and has plans to evolve to meet the hybrid needs of the future.
- Focus on experience. Make sure the event technology you choose has a great user experience for you, your team, and your attendees
- Innovation is key. Look for companies who innovate, you could gain access to cutting-edge technology solutions years before the competition.
- Sort through the noise. In general, review sites serve as a great starting point for sifting through the many options available at your fingertips. Be sure to take your time when evaluating and consider the software from every angle before making an official purchase.
The power of event technology gives event organizers the freedom to continue improving their craft through effective tools that take the guesswork out of the equation. Unlock the potential of your next events in 2021 and beyond with the help of this guide and the event industries many transformative technologies.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on November 6, 2018 and has since been updated for relevancy.