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Tech Trends Evolving the Future of the Life Sciences Meetings & Events Industry

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We sat down with several SMEs in the event technology industry to garner their perspectives on what to expect in terms of the evolving role of technologies to support greater attendee engagement and program impact across meeting formats over the next couple years and here’s what they had to say:

Chris Bryant, Vice President of Analytics & Insights Management, Array
As Vice President of Analytics and Insights Management at Array, Chris leads a team that partners with stakeholders across Life Sciences to leverage meaningful analytics and discover actionable insights that tell the story of success and drive purposeful event design. Chris’ career in events started in London nineteen years ago, producing conferences and exhibitions globally for Boehringer Ingelheim, AstraZeneca and GSK. Following his passion for all things digital, he set sail for Singapore to start and run SpotMe’s APAC business before traversing the globe once again to lead sales and client services at Concise in New York. A keen golfer and lover of smoking meats on a weekend, Chris is also a regular hiker, tackling some of Colorado’s most beautiful mountain trails.

Joe Lamendola, Group Director, Global Sales, Encore Global
As an events industry leader and with nearly two decades experience, Joe leads a team of end to end event production experts ultimately creating unique value for their clients by using impactful technology and event strategy. His Global Sales team consists of knowledgeable, experienced staff focused on providing turn-key event production solutions to corporate event managers and stakeholders. Prior to taking a leadership role, Joe supported customers in a variety of business sectors including Life Science, Financial and Professional Services. Joe’s consultative approach to event production combined with his high customer service standards allow him and his Sales team to consistently introduce new and exciting technologies to Encore’s top clients. Joe earned his bachelor’s degree in Hotel, Restaurant & Institutional Management from Pennsylvania State University.

Joe Schwinger, Co-Founder and Chief Product / Innovation Officer of MeetingPlay + Aventri
Joe Schwinger is Co-Founder and Chief Product / Innovation Officer of MeetingPlay + Aventri, an award-winning software powerhouse forging meaningful connections at in-person, virtual, and hybrid events for Fortune 500 companies including Marriott, PepsiCo, Databricks, and many more. With a background in ecommerce, he has extensive experience providing customer facing solutions on a global scale. A seasoned entrepreneur, before co-founding MeetingPlay in 2011 and beginning to serve as its CEO, Schwinger built and lead several successful business initiatives. Prior to his entrepreneurial experiences, he was key to developing global e-commerce solutions with individual properties for Marriott International. First, he built the ecommerce organization for the Eastern Region at Marriott, which involved dedicated plans for all full-service hotels in the region. Then he oversaw ecommerce for North America during a reorganization to help build the foundation of ecommerce at Marriott globally. Through his experiences at Marriott, Schwinger saw what the future of meetings could look like and started his own venture to make that vision a reality.

Stacey Sheppard, Manager, Industry Solutions, Cvent

Stacey Sheppard is the Manager of Industry Solutions at Cvent, a leader in meetings, events and hospitality technology. In this role, Stacey drives the content and marketing strategy to reach and engage the life sciences industry. Originally from the greater Philadelphia area, Stacey now calls Charleston, SC, home.

What are the top tech trends over the next 12 – 24 months that will significantly enhance attendee engagement and help achieve meaningful experiences for virtual, hybrid and in-person attendees?

Chris Bryant: Machine learning will change how event planners and content owners design meetings. No matter the format, being able to predict what audiences will be interested in based on their pre-event profile, subsequent digital usage patterns and networking preferences will ensure content lands like never before. It will also provide opportunities to measure engagement to refine meeting design.

In turn, ML should encourage creators of educational and thought-leadership content to strategically target specific demographics with the most relevant material at the right time vs the current passive engagement approach we often see.

Joe Lamendola: While technology plays a critical role in connecting attendees and achieving desired outcomes, the next 12-24 months will be less about the “tech trend” and more about event design to achieve higher engagement. We anticipate that most events will have a digital experience that enhances and adds to the in-person experience. It could be as simple as an online agenda or an event-messaging platform. Why wouldn’t you stream the CEO’s speech to the whole company, not just to the delegates in the room? Why wouldn’t you offer marketing opportunities to event sponsors that last beyond the event itself? There are many tools that accomplish those goals and drive increased and continued engagement with your stakeholders.

Joe Schwinger: What trends and what excitement do we see? I think we're going to even more coming in “How do we translate some of the advancement that we saw in the virtual environment for good of engagement or even usability and accessibility to the on-property experience? Notice I didn't bring up hybrid. There are a Although we thought hybrid was going to be 100% of the events over the next twelve to 24 months, that's not the case. We are experiencing many events that are on property only. So, you will see a trend to take features that were virtual only and make them compatible for on property meetings and events. This means that the mobile app that has sat dormant for the last two years is now the next big tool for innovation. Here are some examples. One of the great things that I bucket under virtual accessibility and improvements is the language capabilities of the platforms greatly extended content to everybody globally. We work with a partner called Wordly, for example. As the live stream is coming through, participants can read a transcribed version within the language that they select.

Stacey Sheppard: It’s exciting to see a continued focus on attendee engagement as this is so crucial for success in today’s event landscape. As the digital transformation of the events industry continues, connecting with your peers is more critical than ever! One trend I’ve been seeing more and more is the focus on extending the life of your event and creating always-on engagement opportunities. Technology allows us to connect multiple audiences to your content, make room for networking and allow your attendees to consume content when it suits them best.

How prevalent are hybrid meetings currently? Is the definition of a hybrid meeting still evolving?

Chris Bryant: Hybrid adoption is definitely sector specific. If you look outside of life sciences, you see in-person and hybrid coming into play more. Banking and finance, for example, rely so heavily on networking and deal making at their events that they can't wait to get back in the room because virtual just hasn't replaced that driver. Within life sciences it's more complex (of course) and down to the meeting type.

Investigator meetings seem to have found their groove in virtual with Principal Investigators and site staff happy to spend less time away from the office travelling. Ad boards could fall into that category for the same reason and be reluctant to go back to face to face, but they do require a conversation dynamic that although possible via virtual, just isn't the same.
As for defining hybrid, it's evolving as technology is developed to meet the needs of the market and will continue to do so.

Joe Lamendola: Hybrid meetings are happening every day across the globe and Encore believes they will continue. The term “hybrid” while familiar, continues to evoke concerns on complexity, cost and risk. Hybrid events are not going away, however the mindset will continue to evolve and it will no longer be a virtual, hybrid or in-person event, it will just be your event. The tools we use to deliver a successful event will be informed by the desired attendee experience and the organization’s goals, and not the intention to host a meeting in a certain format.

Joe Schwinger: I think the definition continues to evolve. However, the concept is not necessarily evolving. We're actually seeing hybrid in an on or off mechanism based upon the event type. Relating back to the marketing funnel, the higher up the funnel, the more opportunity there is for hybrid because we're looking to cast a wide net. As we go down the funnel, meetings and events with more targeted users, known users, key opinion leaders, training, or really high touch participants, those are mostly taking place on-property.

Stacey Sheppard: It’s exciting to see a continued focus on attendee engagement as this is so crucial for success in today’s event landscape. As the digital transformation of the events industry continues, connecting with your peers is more critical than ever! One trend I’ve been seeing more and more is the focus on extending the life of your event and creating always-on engagement opportunities. Technology allows us to connect multiple audiences to your content, make room for networking and allow your attendees to consume content when it suits them best.

In 2021, we heard that hybrid would lead the way in events moving forward; however, in the life sciences meetings and events industry, we are now hearing feedback that hybrid is simply too costly and that either virtual or in-person meetings are likely to be the preferred formats moving forward? What are your thoughts on these perspectives?

Chris Bryant: The pandemic drove the move to digital adoption and therefore opportunity to capture more data. As stakeholders have become reliant on the actionable insights interpreted from this data, they may feel moving back to in-person without a content engagement platform is a step backwards in terms of measuring ROI.
I do think the hybrid format got a bad name for itself in 2021. Service providers, desperate to rebound from near zero sales in 2020 and needing to make up for the losses, over complicated the offering and were therefore misaligned with event budgets that hadn't really changed since 2019. What we're seeing now is a right-sizing of the format through proactive needs analysis pre-sale and the event market realizing that long-term relationships are worth more than short-term gains.

Joe Lamendola: It’s feedback we regularly hear as well. Our customers report that they have been able to expand the impact of their events by offering the hybrid format, combining an in-room event alongside a digital platform. The fact that hybrid and virtual formats can increase audience reach, provide analytics on engagement, and effectively enable companies to extend the duration of an event, with on-demand content or pre-work for example, adds a significant new opportunity for events that becomes part the ROI. We also see planners thinking more about the purpose of the event and what format is required to achieve the desired outcome. A virtual solution will never be able to replace the experience of face-to face networking, meeting your colleagues, or dining in a unique venue to celebrate success. But if you just need to communicate a simple strategy or presentation, then a standalone virtual event can be highly effective, also enabling businesses to reduce costs and minimize their travel and carbon footprint.

Joe Schwinger: I think the other thing that I would say here is that there's still a lot of confusion. We're still dealing with supply issues. The biggest problem that we have right now is the pent-up demand and the inventory to hold the meeting is almost non-existent for the next couple of months. Because of this, we're going to see peaks and valleys of the conversation around hybrid. Hybrid may very well still be the future of marketing and event industry, but we're going to go through some rocky turbulence with the peaks and valleys over the next six to twelve months, and you may see that economical and world challenges impact them. For example, nobody is having an in person only event in Poland right now. What's going on in that area of the world will impact an event planner's decision to have a hybrid event or a virtual-only event. But as costs normalize and as the world settles down just a little bit with pent up demand of travel versus the issues going on in Europe, that's when we'll make a call on whether hybrid will lead the way moving forward.

Cost is going to work its way out because it has to. Event suppliers event technology suppliers will have to work harder and smarter to create a compelling story for our customers.

Stacey Sheppard: It’s exciting to see a continued focus on attendee engagement as this is so crucial for success in today’s event landscape. As the digital transformation of the events industry continues, connecting with your peers is more critical than ever! One trend I’ve been seeing more and more is the focus on extending the life of your event and creating always-on engagement opportunities. Technology allows us to connect multiple audiences to your content, make room for networking and allow your attendees to consume content when it suits them best.

If life sciences meeting planners do move forward with hybrid models, what advice can you provide to help ensure success on a more modest budget?

Chris Bryant: As with planning for any meeting, starting with the end in mind is critical to success. Identifying clear strategic business goals for the event early and communicating those to your AV, creative and technology partners along with a budget range will ensure alignment with those objectives. Hybrid comes in so many shapes and sizes these days, it's important to provide enough context when briefing a hybrid service provider so that they don't overcomplicate their response.

What I see as most important though is measuring content engagement no matter where the audience is. Stakeholders are striving for a hybrid solution which creates an equally meaningful experience for onsite and offsite audiences, and yet yields a consolidated and truly representative capture of engagement data to interpret into insights. There are several ways to accomplish this, for example, Array’s patented approach aligns content and data with our clients’ strategic goals and captures and reports the most relevant data from each audience. We're then able to generate context and actionable insights on content effectiveness, attendee engagement, faculty performance, activity outcomes success and goals achievement.

Joe Lamendola: Establishing adequate planning and pre-production time is critical. We’ve found that events are being booked and planned in very short windows more frequently. That can be a contributor to increased cost as it limits potential solutions and mitigates the opportunity to identify budget-friendly options. Second, and maybe more importantly, is working with a production partner who understands your event business. Efficiencies to reduce costs can be created whether in the design, planning or implementation phase of an event cycle with a production partner that has a deep understanding of your event objectives.

Joe Schwinger: I think if you come in with a modest budget you should already set your expectations to an all-in-one provider as opposed to a best in breed. The more you can consolidate your services and your goals into one provider the lower that your cost is going to be a company like MeetingPlay + Aventri. There is absolutely nothing that we can't do from an event technology perspective, and we can all of it under one budget as opposed to working with five different vendors that each are fighting for a piece of that budget which consequentially will increase planner spend. A critical step should be looking at an all-in-one provider to meet all of planners needs but specifically one that follows through on what they say they can deliver.

Stacey Sheppard: This continues to be a very hot topic. We have seen that doctors are split on returning to in-person events and travel- they still want the option to participate virtually. And we know to execute a hybrid event there are significant technical and engagement requirements to simultaneously engage virtual and in-person audiences. It’s important to remember a hybrid event is two events in one!

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