Inspiration often comes in bursts, and I recently had the good fortune of dropping into three conversations that influenced the way I think about technology’s role at live events. The common thread of these conversations? All three considered digital as a complement, not a replacement, for live events, and all three presumed that the data signals that are generated at live events will have a profound impact on the industry in terms of feeding machine-driven advances that enable a more satisfying human experience.
My first conversation was with Gordon Ritter, Partner at Emergence Capital. If you don’t know Gordon, he is the real deal (and a wonderful guy). He is one of the great thesis-driven investors in Silicon Valley - his thesis on vertical SaaS resulted in one of the most successful enterprise investments ever - the $4M that Emergence put into Veeva ended up as the only capital the company needed to go public. I ran into Gordon at SaaStr and he was all fired up about his latest thesis, something that he was calling the Coaching Cloud. The thesis goes something like this: the real opportunity for enterprise AI applications lies not in software replacing humans, but in software complementing humans. In Gordon’s mind, enterprise AI apps shouldn’t be a human replacement, or a crutch that humans turn to when they need help, or a system that forces humans to log their work, but should instead act more like a coach, listening and assisting you as you go through your regular workflow. The example Gordon pointed to was Emergence’s recent investment in Chorus.AI, which monitors the voice conversations of your sales reps in an attempt to learn from those conversations and guide the entire team to more winning behaviors using pattern recognition. The rep doesn’t have to do anything special - just do what they always do, and then sit back and enjoy the coaching.
So how might the coaching cloud concept tie to live events? It’s actually pretty simple. Technology works best at live events when it is a companion to, and not a replacement for the human experience. Every planner desires to provide unique, memorable, and custom experiences to their attendees. Every attendee wants to know that they have made the most of their limited time at a live event. A coaching cloud approach might be the answer.
My second conversation was with Neal Thompson, Director, Strategic Technology at Maritz. Neal goes deeper than just about anyone in terms of thinking about how technology can augment a live event experience. Indeed, in the mid 2000s, Neal created a compelling concept video about the role that a mobile application could play in enhancing the live event experience, a concept that would become an actual software category about five years later. Neal’s latest thinking is around live event simulation. Every event is made up of objects and variables - things like location, venue, size, attendee makeup, content, speakers, etc. As companies like Maritz and DoubleDutch begin to accumulate large digital archives of past event configuration and ROI, isn’t it possible that event ROI could be modeled prior by feeding the inputs into a machine learning system? What if you could model and test a live event in various configurations before it happened, like you can preview an Adwords campaign? As DoubleDutch looks to add a digital layer to live events, Neal’s thinking was enough to get my mind spinning on ways to potentially model business outcome based on the various live event inputs.
My final conversation was with Nicholas Clark, CTO at DoubleDutch. For a while now, Nick has been messing around with a concept that he calls Concierge. In a nutshell, Concierge attempts to turn the concept of revenue influencing events on its head. Instead of a sales team trolling around the show floor attempting to hunt prospects, imagine a sales team that was enabled via technology to be accountable for delivering a personalized and superior experience to attendees? Where the concept gets interesting is in how Nick is trying to marry automation and human intelligence, with the attendee as the beneficiary, and how Nick is thinking about instrumenting live events with triggers and pattern recognition capabilities designed to personalize human experiences (yes, this sounds a little bit like the coaching cloud concept). Concierge helps you think about your sales team as technology-enabled sherpas, not sharks with lasers.
So how do these three conversations tie together and how might they influence the future of events?
Well, I’m still working through it.
I’ve always believed that crown jewel of the live event ecosystem is the data exhaust that comes out of the event. Data is how you make each event better than the last one. Data is how you inform your other sales and marketing channels. Data is how you #defendthespend and prove the ROI.
But what if Live Engagement data can go even further? What if it can feed always on intelligence that guides attendees, exhibitors, and planners through the live experience? What if Live Engagement data can inform models that allow planners to simulate and stress test an event before it even happens? And finally, what if the technology silver bullet for live events is not technology by itself, but an application that marries automation and uniquely human warmth and intelligence?
Thanks to Gordon, Neal, and Nick for the interesting conversations, and thanks for the inspiration.