The Meeting Professional’s A-Team: 7 Tips For Thriving in a Tech-Driven World

AteamLast month, I watched John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, speak to a group of the world’s top CIOs. And, he made a point all meeting professionals need to hear:

“Every company is now a technology company,” he said.

From mining to manufacturing to consumer goods, he rattled off examples of how companies from the most tech-phobic industries are now, in fact, transforming into technology companies. For example, coal mining companies (can you think of anything more low tech?), now sell the services of a vast network of robotic machines rather than tons of coal.

As a result, these global organizations are both uncovering new opportunities and facing daunting new challenges.

Sound familiar? It should.

Your role as a meeting professional is changing quickly. In fact, I’d go as far as to say this.

Every meetings and event group is now a technology group

And, you too have huge opportunities and a great number of new challenges.

Your product might be a live experience – but it is now forever intertwined with technology in a material way. In fact, more time is being spent on meeting websites and mobile apps than ever before (some of our customers get 8 to 10 HOURS of engagement on those tools), making these technologies an extension of the event experience itself.

As a result, meeting professionals have a chance to finally, as one organizer told me, “get a seat at the table.” But, you’ll need some help to get there.

A Little Help From Your Friends

To be successful in this brave new world, you’ll need to do a bunch of new things like selecting vendors, building integrations with internal systems, complying with privacy policies…and much more. To do all that, you’ll need help – and one of the most important things you can do to thrive is assemble the right team of partners in your organization.

Depending on your industry, your team will include some mix of IT, marketing, compliance and procurement.

And, let’s face it… working with those teams can be hard. You might feel a little outside your comfort zone. Here are six helpful hints for building a winning tech team.

1: Be empathetic.

Take the time to listen and understand the challenges of the people you need on your side. Understand their worldview. What keeps them up at night? How do they measure their success? Once you’ve got that, help them understand how helping you will improve their life. Maybe it will eliminate a security loophole. Or, your event could add important data to the marketing mix. How will their inclusion on your team make them look good?

2: Learn to speak their language.

Before you reach out for help, take the time to understand the hot topics in each group. IT groups love process improvements. Marketers love data and ROI. In most companies, it’s easy to find the goals for each group. Make sure you get to know those priorities and describe our request in terms that align with them.

3: Use data & be clear about what you need.

Nothing will build tension between groups faster than an emotional argument over resources. While you may get what you want initially, it won’t build a long-term partnership. Come to the table armed with real data (sales opportunities, efficiency metrics, costs, etc) and a very clear “ask,” including what you need, the timeline, the budget and the impact on the company.

 4: “Never demo alone”

I spoke to an audience of meeting professionals last week, and one attendee said his company has a policy to “never demo alone.” What he meant was that it’s critical to include all the key stakeholders from the very beginning of every process. Before you begin to investigate any new project that involves technology, make sure to involve the broader team. When people are included, they feel invested. When people are excluded, they feel rejected.

5: Educate yourself to be tech literate. 

No one is asking you to learn to write code. But, if you’re going to get “buy in” from your team, you’ll need to learn your way around business technology. While you don’t have to take a class, you should take time to learn the basic principles behind user experience, integration and data management. Don’t fall into the trap of looking only at other event technologies, though. Read about some of the most common technologies that both your audience and your organization are using. Don’t be afraid to ask for help either. Techies like to talk tech – and they won’t judge you if you think “API” is a high school aptitude test.

6: Focus on your customers first. Be their champion.

The success of any event technology ultimately comes down to the value it provides to your end users. Don’t lose site of that. Be cautious never to prioritize integration or internal efficiency over end user value. You can have the best-integrated product stack in the world, but if your end users don’t get value from it, it will be a total failure. On the flip side, if your end users love your technology, you’ll get value from it even if it takes a few extra hours to manage internally.

7: Beware — and aware — of switching costs.

Finally, it’s very easy to underestimate the time it takes to implement and integrate new technology. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard internal teams argue over the number of hours associated with a task. “I can’t believe this would take longer than a few minutes,” someone says. Then, the faces of the technology team turn bright red with anger. You need to show that you trust people from other teams – and demonstrate that you know adding new technologies is a challenge and are there to support them.

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