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Episode 77 / November 13, 2023

Networking, AI, inclusion, sustainability, and more with Will Curran

Will Curran discusses the integration of AI and data analysis in event management, the shift toward networking-focused agendas, and the importance of diversity and sustainability in conscious conferencing.

In this episode, Event Experience podcast host Rachel Moore interviews Bizzabo Head of Klik Will Curran (aka the founder of Endless Events).  

Curran discusses the evolution of event management, emphasizing the integration of data analysis and the growing influence of AI in the events industry. He shares his experiences with Klik technology, which provides more in-depth data for in-person events — similar to what was available for virtual events. He also looks back on his predictions for 2023 and notes the accuracy of some and the surprise of others.

Here’s what you’ll hear about in this episode: 

  • How the events industry is increasingly leveraging AI and data analysis to enhance the attendee experience and measure ROI
  • The trend toward prioritizing networking and interaction over content overload at events 
  • The importance of adapting to new trends — like conscious conferencing — and using AI to stay competitive in event management 

Mentioned in This Episode

Transcript

Rachel Moore: Welcome to Event Experience by Bizzabo, the podcast where we bring the best and brightest Event Experience Leaders together to share stories, tips, and lessons learned from creating some of the world’s biggest events.

I’m Rachel Moore, your podcast host. 

This week, we bring you the boundless energy of Will Curran, Head of Klik at Bizzabo. Will has been around the events circuit throughout 2023 and, in this episode, we discuss how a new age of data analysis and ROI for events is upon us. Will also highlights the increasing role of AI in the events ecosystem, and how King Content should be sharing its crown with the power of networking. Your key to Event Experience, thanks to insights from Will Curran, begins now!

[00:01:02] Rachel Moore: My guest right now … I think he’s up to the challenge. He does know a lot about events, and here’s why I say that because if y’all go check out his LinkedIn not only is he the current Head of Klik for Bizzabo and we will certainly learn more about that in a moment.

[00:01:17] He has been the community manager for #eventprofs and also Endless Events. So he has endless experience with events and we’re gonna dig into all of that as well because I am sitting with none other than Will Curran, who is the Head of Klik for Bizzabo. Will so great to talk to you again.

[00:01:35] Will Curran: Rachel, thank you so much for having me. I’m just so stoked to be here and get to talk to you again.

Introduction to Bizzabo’s Klik SmartBadge™ 

[00:01:40] Rachel Moore: Will, I wanna give you an opportunity though, tell us what it is to be the Head of Klik and your role and all that goes into it.

[00:01:47] Will Curran: . So for those who have not heard of Klik, Klik is an amazing technology that enables you to get better event networking experiences, better exhibitor experiences, and most importantly, it gives you deep rich in-person data about your events to be able to understand where people are spending their time, how are they actually interacting? Who are they meeting? It’s basically like the equivalent of all that amazing data we got for virtual events. Now we have the ability to do it for in-person events. I’ve always considered Klik to be one of the few technologies I think will really change the events industry.

[00:02:18] For me, it was like this moment where it felt like this thing that, you know, not only gave me the geeky, you know, ability to become a better event manager, but it was this thing that I enjoyed actually using too, which I think is very, very rare that we find these technologies that we both enjoy to use, but also help us accomplish a business goal as well at the same time.

[00:02:37] My sole job in this world is to tell more people about Klik. So go check it out. It’s absolutely mind boggling.

Looking Back at 2023 in the Event Industry

[00:02:43] Rachel Moore: All right. I almost feel like we should crack our knuckles here for what’s about to come. As we record this, we are coming up on the end of 2023.

[00:02:50] Now, you probably went into 2023 making some assumptions, making predictions. So let’s start there. On the cusp of 2023, what were you predicting? Can you share with us a couple assumptions and predictions that you were having about how the year was going to unfold with events?

[00:03:08] Will Curran: Yeah, I mean, there were so many predictions. 

[00:03:10] But I will tell you, no one really ever asks me to look back on things which I’m sometimes proud of and sometimes also sad that I didn’t get a chance to excitedly tell. But the interesting thing about the goals for this year where there was definitely some things that completely caught me by surprise.

[00:03:26] And there were some things that absolutely I was really happy that I nailed. So let’s start with the ones that I think were very obvious. One was budget cuts and what we called like doing more with less, right? Like we were all feeling this like economic pressure that was coming and we’re all preparing for it by either someone was cutting our budgets or we were cutting our budgets in ourselves. 

[00:03:47] The next was staffing shortages.

[00:03:49] I think it, that was mainly a first half of the year kind of problem, and it kind of resolved itself throughout the year.

[00:03:53] But we were feeling a lot of pressure, I think, at the beginning of the year about, Hey, do we ever have enough staff to pull off all these events and all these hotel bookings and things like that? 

[00:04:02] I really don’t wanna make it seem like I’m dismissing these two trends, but I’ve been talking about ’em for like 10 years now at this point is diversity and sustainability, we’re still focused for this year and we’ll continue to be. 

[00:04:11] I had a big focus on community and you talked a little bit hinted at the community piece, but that was a big focus of mine. I noticed a lot of people are very, very interested in that and we’re starting to implement that in the forms of building communities around their events and you know, community platforms and all those things like that. Those are kind of like, you know, were my predictions. I think they all came true. 

[00:04:29] But let’s talk about the ones that I think are embarrassing. I messed up.

[00:04:32] Rachel Moore: Bring it. I love it.

[00:04:33] Will Curran: So first one, hybrid, right? Like we went in the beginning of this year being like. Hybrid. Hybrid, hybrid, hybrid, hybrid, hybrid, hybrid. And it was like, I believed that it was the true opportunity for us to create truly diverse and inclusive events, truly sustainable events. We were gonna build upon our massive sacrifice we had creating virtual events in 2020. I was expecting every event to be a hybrid event, but I think what happened is that it came at the odds of the budget cuts with each other, that people didn’t quite know how to prioritize all the production costs and the, you know, the added staff.

[00:05:07] And then on top of that, the exhaustion everyone was feeling from just being like, I had to do so much in 2020 to be like, oh, you now want me to basically plan two events simultaneously. It wasn’t the slam dunk I was really quite expecting, unfortunately. 

[00:05:21] And then one that caught me by surprise, this is the one that everyone’s gonna be like, yeah, no, duh, is the AI like boom, right? I would not have predicted that this was the year that my mom would be talking about AI and you know, that we would all be talking about if we don’t use this tool we’re gonna be in trouble, you know? I was not expecting ChatGPT to be the next big thing. I’m glad it was though.. I’ll give one last one since, you know, I don’t want to end on just the ones I got wrong.

Data Analysis and ROI in Event Planning

[00:05:48] Data and ROI, like the conversations around how do we get better data? How do we actually generate ROI like, I feel like people are taking their events more seriously than they’ve ever done before, and everyone’s taking our events and our spend more seriously than ever before. So how do we get the best data and how do we truly generate from ROI from events is like my favorite trend that .I got right I think this last year.

[00:06:11] So, you know, an example of one thing that I was saying at the beginning of the year was we spend so much money on catering. Why don’t we instead like get rid of all the catering on site. Instead, give a list of five restaurants within walking distance and let people walk and go get to the restaurants, give ’em a three hour break so they can really enjoy the meal. And that’s what people probably want anyways. Enjoy the local food, support local restaurants, and you know, to be honest, get that money stop being spent on food that gets wasted. Now instead of the conversation of, you know, I thought that was gonna really stick, I think people are just too afraid to break things. But what is compelling is when I say, what if I could track the area where the food is and see that really only 40% of your attendees actually ate the food. So day two, you can scrap 60% of your budget and save that money. And that is a much more compelling argument than, Hey, let’s just break everything to start new.

[00:06:59] As much as we still do, continue need to do that, I think that’s a very scary thing for a lot of people. A lot of my trends I start to look at for next year are related and build upon these things. My first couple years it was always sometimes about shaking things up and, oh, this new thing to like, oh, aha moment.

[00:07:13] But now it’s really about like drawing these parallels of things that we can build upon year after year that allow us to slowly start to create great events too, because to be honest, sure you might see a trends guide that says AR and VR is gonna be big for 2024 because Apple will release their Vision Pro headset.

[00:07:29] And yes, I am telling people watch what’s gonna happen with that ’cause that is gonna affect us maybe in 2025. But you know, to be honest, like we don’t need more flashy, new, exciting. It’s about taking these things that a lot of times I think are here’s stuff that you already know that you just need to be told to focus on. And I think that’s just the best part about why I focus on these sort of things rather than, is the new Pantone color of the year gonna be the big thing?

[00:07:54] Rachel Moore: I want to take us into 2024 in a little bit, but first I wanted to ask you , do you have a rough number in your brain of how many events and activations you personally attended this year?

[00:08:05] Will Curran: It is always more than I expected to go to you know, and I spent a lot of time speaking at a lot of events. 

[00:08:11] However, this year I made it a goal to attend what I consider might be the best event I’ve ever attended. And honestly, it’s outside of the business conference world, and that’s electric forest which we can dive into if we

[00:08:23] want to, but for, for me, like this year, other than attending music festivals, which are my pure fun like attendee experience which I do get a ton of inspiration from, I spent a lot of time speaking and, but what was really cool is this year for the first time ever, I exhibited at a lot of more events than I’ve ever done before too. So I really got this like wide variety of them. But to answer your actual question, it was, you know, probably, I’d say at least 20 or 30 events probably. 

[00:08:51] Rachel Moore: That’s making me tired just, just thinking about it though. What event or activation out of that swath that you were at, whether as an attendee, as a speaker, as an exhibitor, what just really was like, whoa, to you?

[00:09:06] What stood out?

[00:09:07] Will Curran: Someone’s gonna hear my experience about Electric Forest and be like, can’t apply it, throw it out. I’m not listening to Will anymore. It’s a music festival. But Electric Forest for me was I think the best event I’ve ever attended. It’s a very interesting event because it sells out instantaneously. It’s very hard to get tickets, therefore people who really, really, really want to go, go to it. The people who are going typically are people who’ve gone to a lot of music festivals. I’m 34, so in like the festival world, I’m considered an old person, you know, jokingly. So it’s interesting to watch see a lot more, you know an older skewed music festival. But the thing that was really interesting about it, this will blow everyone’s mind. I love music. I love seeing my favorite artists play. I love finding new artists. This is the first music festival I went to that I wish I had gone to less music.

[00:09:55] And it’s interesting is that they design this amazing experience. You enter in the forest, there’s just so much to do. Like they build a fun house you can go into, there’s a scavenger hunt, there’s hammocks in every single tree there.

[00:10:08] The food was amazing. I had a pretzel with mac and cheese in it. Pretzels are my favorite food, by the way, for anyone who didn’t know. So they’re like, basically it’s checking so many boxes right there. It was just an amazing experience and it, honestly, I don’t get really blown away by experience design as much as I used to because I’ve seen really incredibly experienced designed events. So this really gave me a chance to like, wow, this is really, really incredible. And it’s the first time I think I’m like, no matter what, I have to go back to this music festival. I have to go, and by the way, all my friends, you need to come with me. And you have to try to experience this. Like I’m dragging people to it to try to experience it, which I’ve, I don’t think I’ve ever done that for an event before.

[00:10:46] Rachel Moore: Well, and isn’t this what everybody shoots for when we design events? You’re gonna go back ’cause it was so good, right?

[00:10:52] Will Curran: So good. And I, for the record, for people to know I drove from Phoenix all the way to Michigan for this. And we, ’cause we wanted to have our camp set up on the back of our truck. That’s a longer story, but the fact that I was totally cool with it, I’m totally good to drive back. We’re talking about how do we convince people to fly for three hours to come see our events or maybe take a, a minute outta their day.

[00:11:11] And, you know just to give people some context too, I’ve been to Super Bowls, I’ve been to, you know, almost every other music festival, Electric Days Carnival, all these things like that. I. I’ve been to, oh, every Comic-Con I’ve been to, like you, you name it. I’ve been to almost every single event that can exist. Like I think I just haven’t been to a White House event yet, but

[00:11:29] Rachel Moore: knock on wood, might happen

Will’s IMEX Exhibition Experience

[00:11:31] Will Curran: Knock on wood. Exactly. 

[00:11:33] I’m gonna toss that idea out. If you do like music festivals, do everything you can to go to it.

[00:11:37] Another highlight for me we just got back from actually was IMEX this year. This is the first time that I exhibited directly on IMEX. You and I have attended it a

[00:11:46] million times, as you know, and for me, I’m usually a floater. You know, I’ve always been that kind of content influencer speaker person, not really tied to anything. You know, maybe had some meetings with important clients, but was not like in the exhibitor space. I will say that that event was fascinating because I’ve always wondered why do people find so much value in exhibiting there? And we got so much business done in such a short period of time and so much interest. I think more people can learn from that hosted buyer experience and the centering of focus on just networking and meetings that IMEX does.

[00:12:24] I think IMEX is really great to look at because it’s obviously built a culture of let’s get business done. And I think that’s absolutely incredible event to attend to really see what it’s like either as a hosted buyer or an exhibitor and not just like a floater, I think in a lot of ways.

[00:12:38] Rachel Moore: You know, I love that you bring that up too. We actually interviewed Carina Bauer who’s the head of IMEX on an earlier podcast this year. Words don’t do it justice until you go. I would love you to double click into that a little bit too, where you were talking about networking versus exhibiting and business or content?

[00:12:53] Yes. Talk to us about that.

[00:12:55] Will Curran: Yeah. My third event I would use as a case study for excellent events as I attended this year would be HubSpot’s Inbound conference. I had been before as an attendee. And actually fun fact, that’s where I met Alon. And some of the Bizzabo for the first time ever, many, many, many years ago. And now Bizzabo obviously provides the technology, and Klik was a big, integral part of Inbound. So that’s why I was mainly there. But this was my first time coming back and kind of getting to peel back and see some more about how it was all working. But what’s interesting. It’s an amazing event because people are actually really fascinated to meet with each other, find solutions and, you know, discover what’s that future of marketing, sales, you know, inbound gonna look like. But what’s funny is that they got a lot of shade from one of the communities who came up on the nights to talk about how there was just so much content and was making fun of the fact that there was just almost too much what I’ve noticed is this larger trend is, especially since we’ve left you know, virtual as an option for, for content is like online feels like the place to learn, where I can watch it from the seat of my house. I can watch at my own speed, I can take notes, all these things like that. 

[00:14:01] But like in-person really is networking and meeting each other. I think that there is sometimes when you have a captive audience for an in-person event, and you can show a message, you can do content. But the problem I think that we have as a larger trend, and I’m curious to see if maybe HubSpot was listening to this feedback from a comedian who obviously doesn’t plan events in any sort of way, but is that maybe there’s too such thing as too much content.

The Future of Events and the Rise of AI

[00:14:24] And so like what I’m challenging a lot of people to do is like, I think that we overstuff people with information thinking that they’re gonna all take it back into implement it, but in reality. I’ve been Inbound when I was actually looking to learn a lot from it and I went for the content and I was lucky that I think three presentations, but I only really remember one and a half, one the other one I was like, dang, I could’ve just read the guy’s book and I probably would’ve gotten through with it. But the, you know, it’s just we expect everyone to absorb and learn and all these things like that. But in reality, like where I think the future is, and this is one of my crush the box, break it all and try again, kind of things to try is maybe we just need one big general session, day one that puts everyone’s focus and where do we need to be thinking and then just let people talk and build and think and, you know, interact with each other and Not just, Hey, how can we try to give you all so much? But I feel like there is, even for, you know, experienced people, inexperienced people, you know, we just can’t digest this much content all in one sitting, and we’d rather do it at home. 

[00:15:28] . Like we’ve moved, this is the biggest cultural shift we’ve seen towards remote work in the history of the world. And you know, like I’ve always been remote work first before this whole pandemic thing happened. But now I literally see more and more people sitting in hallways, at tables, on laptops, in Zoom calls. And because now when, when it comes to designing business events, we have to keep in mind that there’s no longer the, “I’m going to this conference, I’m taking two days off. See you later.” The boss says, “Hey, can you still come to that standup? Hey, can you still come to that important client meeting?” You know?

[00:15:59] And then, you know, what I would hope would happen is that they can sometimes even take the stuff they’re learning and immediately implement it, but that doesn’t really happen.

[00:16:05] It’s, Hey, like you’re, you’re still there. You have internet. Please still continue to work. 

Diversity and Sustainability in Events

[00:16:10] Rachel Moore: Right. You teased out a little bit just a couple minutes ago about talking about the future. What are you kind of looking at for 2024? 

[00:16:17] Will Curran: So one of my first favorite ones is, you know, I’ve always been saying diversity and sustainability need be forefront. And they’re usually the first two trends I talk about because they’re still the probably the most important ones. And there’s other ways trends can help supply these or like fulfill these. But I want to give a shout out to Chaviva who actually came with this term called conscious conferencing. And it’s the idea that like combining diversity, sustainability, all these concepts need to start being consciously implemented within our events. So we’re gonna dive deeper into that one for sure. It’s the coolest term that finally describes something that I feel like I’ve been talking about for years. 

Will AI Replace Event Organizers?

[00:16:54] Data is gonna continue to be extremely important. So there is a larger trend that we are bringing in called do more that matters, not just do more with less, which is the budget cutting and everything like that. Now it’s about do more that matters. And I think that we need to start thinking about designing our events again with the idea in mind of a true ROI, what are we trying to accomplish? And parts of this has to do with the fact of like maybe we need less content and we need more networking. Maybe it’s the idea of using a tool that actually allows you to measure the data of your event. You know, maybe it’s, if your event really truly is about networking, okay, well what am I actually doing to facilitate networking? I. Truly, and did that actually work? And I think one of the things that we’re also gonna see as part of this is the continued rise of AI. The thing I like to say is AI isn’t gonna replace you, but someone using AI is gonna be replacing you soon. So if you’re not figuring out ways to help it write your session descriptions, help it ideate, help it write attendee emails, you know, answering frustrated attendee conversations, whatever it may be.

[00:17:57] Like you have to be using these tools now moving forward. And I think that’s a very, very massive trend coming down line. 

[00:18:03] That’s honestly one of the most exciting parts about working at Bizzabo versus my agency is that access to so many more events to know where the trends are going. That really it’s helping me hone in on exactly what is the most important stuff for everyone to focus on. 

[00:18:21] Rachel Moore: Alright, let us get to know you and let our listeners get to know you a little bit better.

[00:18:25] Can you name an item that you forgot for a work event that caused some panic?

[00:18:31] Will Curran: Yeah. Like, oh my God, I let once left my laptop at home on a flight trip. I think I was either working in an event or I think I had to be working events, obviously to be traveling, but I totally left my laptop. I’m trying to remember. I think I just did the trip without it. I ran off my phone for like literally this whole entire thing.

[00:18:51] I think I had to like borrow someone’s laptop. That one was really, really hard. 

[00:18:55] Rachel Moore: Is there anything you’re listening to, watching or reading these days that you can’t put down?

[00:19:02] Will Curran: Ooh. You know, I again, this has to do with my realizing I need to continue learning and get back in that groove of things because I used to listen to a ton of different podcasts. I used to listen a lot of audio books.

[00:19:13] I used to read a lot. I’ll go really left field on this one. Is this genre of music called Space Bass. And it’s you know, like if you ever heard of dubstep before, like Dubsteps kind of like trend is growing into this kind of like harder rock style, like head banger style of music. But there’s a sub genre called Space Bass or Freeform Bass. That’s centered around artists like Liquid Stranger and things like that, that are very funky and weird. And I’m very much exploring this idea of like, what even defines music and what sounds actually create music. And I know for a lot of people who don’t listen to electronic music, it’s gonna sound like complete noise to them, but for me it’s like there’s a lot of journeys and emotion in it, and there’s it’s almost exploring this like this sometimes more emotional side of music, like, one of the quotes is like, it’s weird how moments can somehow be spoiled unless we photograph them. And there’s like stuff like that, like You know, that’s stuff that I think was missing for music for me a lot ways ’cause you know, growing up I was grunge and emo high high school kid and flogging Molly punk music. But then like, now you kind of look at these like deeper philosophical conversations. I think it’s really, really fascinating. It makes me like rethink what music is.

[00:20:24] Rachel Moore: Is there a particular social post or a piece of media or a hot take about events that you found interesting lately?

[00:20:32] Will Curran: Ooh. I mean like I love just shooting out hot takes and sometimes just wondering if it sticks. What’s really been interesting for me recently has been trying to understand history better.

[00:20:44] So I watch a lot of YouTube videos and, you know, I, I think I generally liked history, but you know, I’m not sure if it’s ’cause I’m getting older, but I’ve just been very fascinated about understanding the context of where we are today, and especially in a, a global sense, because I realize that like, as much as I’ve traveled the entire world and I feel like I’m very cultured and I understand, you know, a lot of different things outside of just my american context. There’s just so much more I have to learn. And that’s been, honestly, watching a lot of YouTube documentaries has been great. So the what I would recommend that’s, and some of it’s hot takes because, you know, they, they’re talking about geopolitical things going on in around the world is Half As Interesting, Wendover Productions Johnny Harris, those sort of YouTube channels and stuff have been really getting me to think bigger than my like American bubble. 

[00:21:32] Rachel Moore: Well, a final question. This will be super easy. This is the easiest one of all. Where can our listeners find and follow you online?

[00:21:40] Will Curran: So if you wanna find out more about me willcurran.com. And then the other piece that I implore everyone to check out is go to the Bizzabo website, check on Klik. LinkedIn’s where I usually post, where like I’m doing my upcoming speaking engagements if I have other podcasts that I’ve been speaking on.

[00:21:53] And my website is absolutely fantastic because it actually, I’ve been doing this for like five year four years now, is collecting every single podcast I’ve spoken on that’s not like event brew, event tech, podcasts or event icons and places where you can continue to learn from me that isn’t just my, my content itself.

[00:21:32] Rachel Moore: You’re in for a treat with our SkillUp segment, because Will has not one but TWO strategies to help us all level up our events!

[00:22:11] Will Curran: If I had to pick one, you know, I’m gonna do two actually. I’m gonna start with the one that I think is really important, what I’ve said before is crush the box. Like we have to get out of this mindset of copy and paste our templates from year to year and doing the same thing over and over again. You can even see this now starting to happen with some of the most iconic events in the entire world who have done it for so long copy and paste, and haven’t figured out how to reinvent themselves that they are now seeing their decline. So don’t get stuck in just the idea of, hey, we’ll do the same thing year after year. Always figure out how to reinvent yourself. 

[00:22:44] But because I already used that one, on the fly I’m gonna try to think of one piece of advice that can make everyone’s events way better. If you want to stay on top of things and stay, not just relevant, but stay ahead of the curve and be innovative, you can’t rest on the fact that you know everything and that you have to be open to these new ideas and ways of thinking. So Gen Z, all my Gen Zs listening out right now, I’m here to learn from you. I’m first time saying it ever on a podcast. 

[00:23:22] Rachel Moore: Thanks again to Will Curran for joining us on Event Experience, and thank YOU for listening. 

If you’re enjoying this show, we’d love to hear it!

Connect with us on social and subscribe, rate, and review us wherever you’re listening. Also, don’t forget to share the show with your colleagues and friends. 

You can find transcripts of each episode and key takeaways on bizzabo.com/podcasts.

On behalf of the team, thank you. We’ll gather again soon for a new episode of Event Experience.

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