Eva Talk

Maximizing the Impact of Event Technology With John Martinez

Event technology has revolutionized the way we plan, manage and experience events. With the advancement of technology, event organizers now have access to a wide range of tools and software that can streamline the planning process, enhance attQRendee engagement, and provide valuable data insights.

From event registration and ticketing to virtual and hybrid event platforms, event technology has become an indispensable part of the industry. Post-pandemic, the importance of event technology has grown even further, as it allowed event organizers to create engaging experiences for attendees regardless of physical distance. In this era of digitalization, event technology is playing a vital role in shaping the future of events.

In this event industry expert series, John Martinez, CEO & Founder, Shocklogic shared his insights on the new event technology trends revolutionizing event planning in 2023. He also shared some tips with event organizers on how to use technology to create immersive and interactive experiences for attendees at events.

With more than 35 years of experience in the events industry, John is a seasoned PCO and technology specialist. In 1997, he established Shocklogic, a globally recognized event management technology company, where he leads a talented and award-winning team.
John’s extensive experience as a PCO enables him to comprehend the opportunities and challenges that membership-based organizations may encounter from the inside out. His academic background includes a Ph.D. in Quantum Physics from MIT.

Eventbrite has named him one of the “Top 100 Movers & Shakers in Events,” while Eventex has recognized him as one of the “Top 50 Virtual Meetings & Events Innovators” and JLLive has acknowledged him as an “Event Industry Gamechanger.”

John has been included in the “Top 100 Most Influential People in the Event Industry” list for both 2020 and 2021. He is a member of EIC’s APEX COVID-19 Business Recovery Task Force, MESA’s Steering Committee, and the ICCA UK & Ireland Chapter Board.

– Could you please walk us through your professional journey? What attracted you to the events industry in the first place?

I was born in Venezuela and when I was 11 years old I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to a very prestigious military boarding school in the United States. This then led to another scholarship to attend Columbia University, and then another to pursue a PhD in Quantum Physics at MIT.

While at MIT, I taught myself how to code and from this, I was given the opportunity to help Congrex, a Swedish conference management company, with their software for a medical congress. When the conference finished, they invited me to work with them in Stockholm for three months. I fell in love with the industry and 3 months turned into 14 years. So I left science to go into conference and association management.

During those 14 years, I was lucky enough to be sent all over the world, where I had the opportunity to solve events and associations problems through technology and software. While there, the company grew from six to 600 employees and eventually had 18 offices worldwide. While working for them I had the opportunity to explore a number of different roles and travel the world.

While living in the Netherlands I learned Dutch and my fascination with different cultures and human behavior led me to complete a Master’s degree in Anthropology. My final position with them was as Managing Director of their Amsterdam office, and after 14 years I decided it was time to leave in 1997 I started my current company, Shocklogic.

– What are the new event technology trends revolutionizing event planning in 2023?

The pandemic became a catalyst and “forced the hand” of many organizers to finally overcome the fear of a remote audience cannibalizing their physical events. For this reason, many organizations and communities were able to try technologies and models that they had before seen as “scary”, and virtual events became ubiquitous.

We believe that the landscape of the events industry will remain permanently changed by the coronavirus pandemic and the shift to virtual has revealed a number of advantages that event organisers are finding increasingly difficult to ignore.

As face-to-face events have begun to resume and attendees have begun flocking back to physical events. The opportunities and advantages that virtual events can bring mean they are here to stay, even though their implementation might vary. There’s still a lot of uncertainty which has led to the continuing appeal of the hybrid format as an option, making it commonplace among many organisers.

At Shocklogic we believe that there are three main reasons to organise an event:

● Distribute content (science, tech, marketing, sales, incentive, learning, music, etc,
● Connect people
● Create emotions through experiences

Digital elements are becoming more prevalent, especially at in-person events. For example, even if an event chooses not to adopt a fully hybrid format, there are still opportunities to use some of that technology to create additional engagement, and the content created and collected can be made available after the event as on-demand content, which has incredible value.

An organiser may decide to live stream parts of their event with only simple interaction such as a chat function or repurpose event content so people are able to engage with it on other platforms. As this can be done before, during, and especially after the event has finished, it creates the opportunity to increase the lifespan of an event, achieving a level of engagement that wasn’t previously possible. Organisers are now faced with the knowledge that all the content they produce and collect has value, and that there are a number of ways they can monetize this value.

We’re also seeing a greater understanding of the value of data and the use of scanning hardware and software for things like lead tracking, session attendance, and access control. QR codes have been revolutionary in enabling people to quickly present and access information and data. This access to data is making it easier for organisers to really see what works, what’s resonating with audiences and attendees, and how events can then be tailored to fit specific needs, what’s been successful at a trade show is not necessarily going to be effective at a medical conference.

– How do you see the use of technologies like virtual and augmented reality or metaverse impacting the way events are promoted and experienced in the future?

I think we might still be some way off before virtual reality is widely used in certain segments of the events industry, but you never know. These things tend to happen in leaps and bounds instead of following a gradual progress curve, so it could be just around the corner. At the moment the cost of the equipment is a barrier to using VR on such a large scale. Imagine having to rent or buy tens or even hundreds of headsets, it’s not really scalable, though as I’ve said that could change fairly quickly.

Both VR and AR have very specific implementation opportunities in events. I guess the more that we are able to find and create areas where these technologies enhance either the work of the organiser, the experience of the attendee, the opportunities for sponsors, and the capacity to distribute content, the more we will see these technologies being implemented. However, If they don’t solve a problem or improve a situation, it will be hard to finance.

On the other hand, we’re already beginning to see more widespread use of augmented reality. At an event, companies obviously want to make themselves stand out as much as possible and then you’ll see a higher footfall which should lead to a higher return.

Augmented reality can be a relatively easy way to do this through games, or interactive text and visuals, and as the technology evolves and becomes more popular in general, I think we’ll begin to see it more and more in the events industry.

Obviously, I’m most interested in the use of AR from the perspective of an event organiser, and as AR most commonly makes use of GPS and mobile phone technology it has a lot of potential in improving wayfinding and can provide some really interesting ways for participants to explore an event. For example, last year we provided an app for the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery’s annual meeting and included a scavenger hunt to add something a little bit different to the event and hopefully help people get their bearings in the ICC Belfast where it was being held.

I think the events industry already has a really strong connection with what people want to achieve through the metaverse. As I said before, hybrid and virtual events are here to stay and there are a lot of event organisers who are really beginning to understand how to use technology to create meaningful connections. The metaverse is often described as the future of human connection and engagement and I think that a lot of what is being done in the events industry is really a precursor to this.

There are myriad ways to use technology to increase interaction, such as making it easier for audiences to participate in Q&A sessions through things like interactive polls, adding networking tools to apps so attendees can connect more easily, and providing ways for in-person and virtual attendees to communicate with one another. One of the great things about the early metaverse has been the development of virtual venue tours, which can offer a way to prepare and visualise space that previously wasn’t an option before arriving at the venue.

The benefits that the metaverse and augmented and virtual reality will have on events are through providing more options to create interactive experiences for attendees, however, it will really depend on the event. For instance, we recently worked with the National Caravan Council at the Motorhome and Caravan Show and there were about 1,000 vehicles there. I think there was even the opportunity to test drive some of them and it would be a struggle to replace an experience that is already so interactive. Although, if someone wanted to offer a scaled-down version of this kind of event, I think virtual reality could provide the perfect way to do so.

– Could you please share some tips with event organizers on how to use technology to create immersive and interactive experiences for attendees at events?

I think to answer this it’s worth going back to the trends that are having a big impact on the events industry and considering why they’re so successful. I think a lot of it boils down
to the potential to use technology to create more personalised experiences and connections.

This is often as simple as making use of traditional virtual engagement tools, such as online polls, live surveys, chat functions, and interactive quizzes; however, it’s important to think about how easy these tools are to access. If engaging with these experiences requires downloading a number of different apps or visiting multiple websites, people are going to be really reluctant to use them.

So I’d suggest making them available through the same software or a single app. Then to find a way to communicate the benefits so that people actually download and open it, rather than it just becoming another unused icon on a website or someone’s phone screen.

We also talked about the advances in technology to access data and information. It’s really obvious, but there’s a reason that a lot of time and effort is being spent on finding ways to more effectively gather information, and that’s because it can be used to better understand your audience, see what worked well, and what may need tweaking in the future.

Lastly, I’d recommend keeping up to date with technology. As we’ve seen with the development of AR, the novelty value of new technology can help attract people’s attention but it’s also making it easier to personalise content and tailor it to specific needs. You may have had an idea that you think could really improve a certain event but haven’t been sure how to implement it; being aware of different software and new technology may help you come up with a way of turning that idea into a reality.

– Do you have any insights into some of the challenges event organizers face today, and how can technology help address them?

Definitely, planning an event in the current climate has introduced a lot of new challenges, and the changing behaviors, engagement, and expectations of different stakeholders mean it is more important than ever to stay ahead of the curve and explore new ways to connect with audiences. As we’ve been discussing, the events industry has had to change and adapt in an unprecedented way over the past few years. By providing both in-person and virtual access, hybrid events have often seemed like the perfect way to maximise accessibility and inclusion.

However, these formats can also present unique accessibility challenges. Hybrid events often multiply the number of considerations that event organisers need to keep in mind, such as time zones, expectations to cater to speakers of different languages, mobility issues, and if any assistive technologies will be needed.

Modern innovations are key to addressing these challenges but it’s important to remember that technology is only a tool, not a solution in and of itself. You should therefore always start by thinking about what your goal is and after that how technology can be implemented to most effectively achieve that goal. As I’ve mentioned, events are about connection, communication, engagement, and interaction, so you have to think about the ways in which technology can best be used to achieve all of these given the circumstances and format of a particular event.

Engagement and interaction are obviously some of the greater challenges to overcome in terms of virtual and hybrid events and it brings us back to some of the latest technology trends, such as interactive polls, live surveys, and improving the technology for Q&A sessions. Personally, I think that if you provide a way for virtual audiences and participants to effectively interact, then engagement, communication, and connection will naturally follow.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that the implementation of technology at an event can present its own challenges. For example, you could provide the most innovative, effective, and useful app ever seen in the events industry, but if you fail to make attendees aware of it or were unable to clearly communicate its benefits, it will end up being vastly underused and a lot of time and effort will have gone to waste.

As we all know, in spite of thorough preparation, technology can also create challenges that aren’t easily foreseeable. For this reason, Shocklogic often sends a member (or members) of our tech team to make sure this side of things runs smoothly and to deal with any problems that might occur.

Having said that, the best immediate solution to a technological problem can often be very simple. Pritesh, the head of our tech team, recently went to an event where the customer had created a QR code linked to a URL. The QR code was created in such a way that it would expire at a certain point and somehow this was set “during the event”.

Rather than a complicated fix, one of our team members came up with the idea to simply regenerate it and print the new QR code on A4 paper and place it over the one that no longer worked. It was absolutely seamless and such a simple solution.

It also provided the organiser with a learning opportunity and we’ll now be able to avoid this issue at other events, which brings me to my final point, practice. You should practice with any technology you’re going to use before an event. No matter how much preparation or theoretical troubleshooting you do, there’s no real substitute for a trial run and it will help you resolve any issues that might occur before they can actually become problems.

– What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in the event management technology domain?

If you’re just starting out in event management technology, my advice would be to first research the industry. You should take some time to learn about the latest trends and technologies. You could do this by reading industry blogs, or if you have the opportunity, attending industry events and talking to experienced professionals in the industry.

As event management technology now covers such a broad range of functions I think it’s important to identify the niche you find most interesting within event management technology. Then, you can start researching what kind of role best fits your skills and interests.

Building a strong network of contacts in the event management industry would also be extremely helpful. This can help you stay up-to-date on the latest trends and opportunities, as well as connect you with potential clients and partners.

Finally, gaining practical experience is the best way to learn about event management technology. Look for opportunities to work on events or projects that involve technology, and be willing to take on new challenges and learn from your mistakes.

For more in the Events Industry Experts series, check out our interview with Shawn Cheng, Olivia Preston-Lee, Patric Weiler, Shameka Jennings, Janice Cardinale, Courtney Stanley, Helen Moon, Danica Tormohlen, Ashley Brown, Jason Allan Scott, Brandt Krueger, Corbin Ball, Will Curran, and Stephan Murtagh today!

Are you interested in sharing your insights or viewpoints with the events industry? Join the Eva Talk.

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