Taking Events to the Next Level with Tech


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Do you plan conferences, fundraising events, workshops, or other program events at your nonprofit? Do you also have 1,000 other things on your plate?

For this session of Toronto Net Tuesday, Fanny Martin, an experienced event planner at Art of Festivals, and Ben Raffi, the CEO of Uniiverse, looked at how technology can improve your event and reduce your stress.

You can read a summary of this event on TechSoup Canada`s website:

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  • Hello! I’m Fanny Martin, I’m an event manager - these days I mainly manage music and arts festivals, but I’ve also organised a few B2B conferences and countless seminars and professional development workshops. - We’re joined today by Ben Raffi, CEO of Uniiverse, who is coming today as a ticketing & audience development specialist - probably a sensitive area for all of you. - Last year, I was doing a contract with Luminato, as Volunteer Coordinator, and I had to train on a brand new platform - new to me - called Volunteer Squared. It was very badly set up by the previous users, so really not too effective - but the more I was trying to fix the set-up, the more I was discovering limitations and flaws in the system. That was quite frustrating. On the other hand, with about 2,000 active contacts and 500 yearly volunteers, there isn’t much choice: paper and pen, or an Excel spreadsheet, is not really an option. But there are other platforms available: so how do you make an informed choice? This is what we’re going to try to cover today, especially by breaking everything down in little chunks, which is what you do when you plan and deliver an event. - My current role is General Manager of Subtle Technologies, a festival of art & science - I use Wordpress for the website, MailChimp for emails, Google Analytics, Facebook and Twitter, Quickbooks, a site called Formsite for our call for submissions - for now that’s about it! As we go towards festival time, I will need to sell tickets, and I also want to find a better way to manage my multi-year budget - but that might just take a sophisticated Excel spreadsheet. And for my other projects, I use Yast to track my time across clients and tasks, WordPress for my blog, Google Docs a lot, Doodle and MeetMe for consultations, TweetDeck for my 3 Twitter accounts. I think that’s about it - but when you think of it, it’s already rather a lot.
  • I worked on my first large event in 2004 - a B2B conference in Liverpool, England. We had mobile phones, but that’s about it. My boss had a Palm Pilot that she didn’t know how to use and I thought she was extravagant. We had computers - firmly planted on their desks. So everything was paper-based or done over the phone. Everything. That’s pretty much 10 years ago, so I’ve asked 50 event professionals what the major technological shift of the past 10 years has been for them.
  • Most people mentioned remote access - servers, the cloud… - and smart phones. Of course, the underlying shift, here, is the Internet, everywhere, wireless, high-speed, often free. It’s just incredible. Imagine organising an event of the size of the Olympic Games with typewriters and calculators. Even an event without mobile phones is quite challenging! Of course that’s a lot to do with expectations – now your audience would expect that you reply instantly to a question on Twitter or Facebook, like, what’s the stage time for that band? Is it sold out? Back in the day, you would leave a message on an answering machine, or send a letter!
  • I’ve also asked them about their attitude to technology. Bearing in mind that I was targeting proper pros for this surveys - personal contacts and LinkedIn groups - I find it quite interesting to see that half self-identify as “late adopter” and half as “early adopters” - very few “pioneers” out there. To me that says that event professionals are pragmatic people who need tools, not gadgets, and also that anyone who started their career over 5 years ago is basically able to complete most of their tasks with Excel. The rest is nice, it’s bonus!
  • Actually, “the rest”: I asked them to share their latest tech discovery. I’ve selected a few that I found interesting, some I didn’t know about: Square, for accepting credit card payment through your phone! RFID wristband, for contactless check-in; Log Me In, to log remotely into all your linked devices; Yast, actually that’s my suggestion, it’s a timetracker for all your projects and tasks, great to assess and improve your efficiency and especially great to track client time; and SmartSheet, which TechSoup uses? Still?
  • Now, their top criteria to choose a new tool: 1. Easy to use on a daily basis2. Easy to learn or to train others on3. Easy to install and set upThis comes before low cost, collaborative features and social media interaction; and least interesting to them, reporting features and scalability. Reporting features - just to be clear, they ARE essential. But for the top 3 criteria - this again is very pragmatic, for anything to be worth considering, it shouldn’t waste your time, basically. For me, “easy to learn” could be that the help boxes are built into the screen - not on a separate page - or that you can set up test accounts to play with the settings. “Easy to install and set-up” - this is important for databases.
  • This is actually a really important question and it’s a point that I want to insist on. Technology can help you to communicate better, but it won’t do the thinking for you. And regarding the previous question of “attitude to technology”, it’s worth mentioning that at least 2 senior event producers I spoke to, and I’m talking very senior, said that the most they use is basically their phone and Excel. And that’s that. They didn’t need technology 10, 20 years ago, so they can do without it now too. Here I’m mainly talking about planning and delivery, not about marketing or ticketing – but as it’s a concern of some of you, the whole planning and project management thing, the answer to that is that it should be clear in your head, and perhaps on paper first. When I create a team schedule, for example for a 10-day jazz festival, I do quite a few drafts on paper, on many simultaneous pages, all spread out in front of me. Here I love the “thank you notes” – great touch.
  • Let’s deconstruct: what do we do when we plan and run events? Where, when and how can tech help?
  • (Participants make suggestions) (Distribute hand-out) Let’s take them one by one and figure out the options available out there, based on your experience or research. By Hard Tech I mean things that are expensive, complicated, require a lot of set-up… for example a comprehensive box-office software or something like RaiserEdge. Easy Tech – that’s the new generation of platforms and tools, intuitive, collaborative etc., as well as things like Facebook. We might actually disagree on what’s “hard” and “easy”, for example, I like MailChimp and I don’t like SalesForce, so use your handout for your own benefit – it could be your technological menu.
  • Let’s make sure we’re considering the essential criteria for all these functions, and the features that technological tools have to offer. This is not really meant to be exhaustive, this is based on another workshop I created called “Design a Festival”, in which we create an imaginary festival from scratch in 90 minutes – so you can use these “functions” as a basis for an event checklist, to make sure you’ve gone through all the planning motions.
  • First example: changing volunteer software (quick process overview). You got a handout for this, and we don’t need to talk too much about it, it might not be relevant for most of you. These are two “big” volunteer management softwares. There are dozens of them. It’s highly confusing. Once you’ve started with one, you’re pretty much stuck – you need to manage the transition, not just the data transfer, but also retraining the staff and also the volunteers. To me and my colleague Volgistics was superior on all points but I thought at first that it was more expensive, and that was definitely a priority criteria for the finance director – until I realised that you could increase and decrease the number of users, hence manage to reduce the cost in downtimes.
  • Second example: let’s compare promotion & ticketing systems. We’ll do EventBrite, MeetUp, Uniiverse.Who has used EventBrite to register for an event? Who has used EventBrite as an event organiser? Who has used MeetUpto register for an event? Who has used MeetUp as an event organiser? Who has used Uniiverse to register for an event? Who has used Uniiverse as an event organiser? If you’re hesitating between two or more options, the point is to be systematic and to compare feature-per-feature, many things, such as front-end usability, back-end usability, price, quality of data, integration with other platforms you might be using… But actually the very first thing is to assess your needs. So can you jot down somewhere or keep in mind your requirements? How often do you organise events? Are they free or do you sell tickets? What is your audience like – tech-savvy? Likely to come with their digital ticket on their phone screen, or attached to the physicality of the printed ticket? What’s more practical for you – do you have the capacity to scan tickets? One at a time, or more? (live demo with handout)
  • Taking Events to the Next Level with Tech

    1. 1. Toronto Net Tuesday 12th November 2013
    2. 2. Taking Events to the Next Level with Tech: How to Think Like an Event Manager Fanny Martin @artoffestivals Ben Raffi @benraffi
    3. 3. A. The Tech Shift
    4. 4. Event Pros Survey Results Q: In the past 10 years or so, what is the one single piece of software, equipment or technological tool at large that has radically changed the way you work? A: - Remote servers, cloud - Smart phones - Internet everywhere!
    5. 5. Q: How would you describe your attitude to technology? A:
    6. 6. Q: What’s your latest top tech discovery? A: - Square (process payments with phone) - RFID wristband (contactless info) - Log Me In (remote log in) - Yast (task timetracker) - Smartsheet (project management)
    7. 7. Q: When choosing a new tool to help with event or project management, what are the most THREE important criteria for you? A:
    8. 8. Q: In which instance(s) do you go low-tech and use pen and paper? A: Brainstorming, draft schedules, site sketches, meeting or interview notes, to-do lists, thank you notes.
    9. 9. B. Tech or No Tech?
    10. 10. What’s in an event? • Concept – Brand / USP • Content – Programming • Finance – Budgeting – Fundraising – Accounting • Sales & Marketing – Communication – Ticketing • Operations – Scheduling – Volunteers • Evaluation
    11. 11. Do you need tech? Net Tuesdays: Events and Technology Part B: Tech or No Tech? Hard Tech Concept Brand / USP Content Programming Finance Budgeting Fundraising Accounting Sales & Marketing Email marketing Social media Registration Ticketing Operations Scheduling Staff Volunteers Evaluation Outreach Feedback Impact Easy Tech November 12, 2013 No Tech / Lo-Tech
    12. 12. C. Selecting a new tech tool
    13. 13. Example: Volunteer Squared vs. Volgistics 1. Define features to compare 2. Establish comparison scale 3. Pick priority criteria • Special points: – Monthly vs. yearly pricing – Data transfer & set-up costs – Customer service
    14. 14. Live Demonstration: Ticketing Platforms EventBrite vs. MeetUp vs. Uniiverse 0. Assess your needs 1. Features to compare 2. Comparison scale 3. Priority criteria
    15. 15. Questions? Comments? • Fill the feedback card – ? = blog post suggestion – ! = feedback • Email: fanny@artoffestivals ben@uniiverse.com • Tweet: @artoffestivals @benraffi