A Freeman representative answers questions about the Quant data tool display at Convening Leaders 2019 in Pittsburgh. (Jacob Slaton photo)
When attendees at PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2019 wanted to get a sense of what their peers thought of the program, they didn’t have to ask anyone. Instead, they could take a look at an oversized screen on display in the Innovate + Elevate Arena in Hall C of Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center. It offered a real-time glimpse of a number of pieces of data about the audience, including how they rated the content and speakers, whether it was their first time at the convention, and other information about the name-badge-wearing colleagues next to them in session rooms. The visual dashboard was a PCMA sponsorship activation of Freeman’s Quant tool, a platform intended to provide real-time data and analysis for events professionals.
All the information came from a wide range of sources that have signed on to Freeman’s Fuzion platform, a network of more than 35 companies in the events space that can exchange information through application programming interfaces (APIs). Fuzion is designed to give registration companies, housing providers, abstract-management systems, and other companies a common language for back-end data transmission. Quant aims to do more than integrate that data. One of the bigger objectives, according to Ken Holsinger, vice president of data and analytics solutions at Freeman, is to use the arsenal of information to help organizers understand how their events stack up against their competition.
In addition to Convening Leaders, Holsinger said that the company is in the midst of a pilot of Quant at trade shows and conventions that cover a wide range of verticals — medical, manufacturing, IT, and corporate events. While he acknowledged that the Convening Leaders audience is a niche audience of event professionals at an event, other industries will prove to be easier to compare. “The easiest group to benchmark is medical,” Holsinger said. “While we often try to divide them between for-profits and nonprofits, the reality is that the goals of all medical meeting planners are quite similar.”
‘A Combination of Human and Machine Learning’
Quant relies on machine learning to do the heavy lifting. Machine learning makes a difference in our everyday lives. It fine-tunes our news feeds, suggests new music and television shows, and alerts banks if it looks like someone stole our credit card number.
While machine learning brings to mind number-crunching algorithms and human-less processes, the first phase of Quant relies on humans. At Convening Leaders, two consultants monitored the data streams on a regular basis, and their insights helped shape some of PCMA’s on-site decisions.
“Quant was helpful in alerting us when session rooms were filling up, so we could immediately direct people to an overflow room,” said Tonya Almond, PCMA’s vice president of knowledge and experience design. “It also gave us an opportunity to increase our digital engagement. By evaluating session feedback in real-time, we knew that the speakers with the best reviews were good candidates for interviews on Face- book Live and in the MashUp Studio that broadcasts to our virtual audience.”
Other events, such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting, May 31–June 4, also will use consultants to keep an eye on the ebb and flow of information. “You have to gather a lot of insights before you can make predictive insights,” Holsinger said. “For the first few years, we’ll have a combination of human and machine learning. Ultimately, all those insights will be combed through so we can provide helpful information in an auto- mated fashion.”
Holsinger said the view at Convening Leaders was for the benefit of the attendees, but as Quant collects more information at more shows, there will be a number of dashboard views that will help different parts of an events team before, during, and after the pro- gram. For example, the operations team might look at move-in times, freight weights, and other logistical elements.
“Perhaps the marketing team is tasked with growing international attendance and needs to identify social influencers outside the U.S.,” Holsinger said. “This data can provide context and help make sure they’re setting realistic goals.”
Power of Prediction
As the members of Freeman’s Fuzion network contribute more data and Quant gets accustomed to identifying patterns, event organizers will begin to see the benefits of automated insights. Rather than combing through data themselves to connect the dots, the system will alert them to potentially worrisome metrics like subpar content ratings or low session attendance, for example, as well as good news, such as unexpected social reach in new regions of the world or an uptick in sponsorship messaging visibility.
As the system gets smarter with the help of humans, hopefully the data will add up to something that they — event-producing humans—can celebrate: better attendee experiences and improved outcomes.
Freeman’s Quant data tool display attracts participants at Convening Leaders 2019 in Pittsburgh. (Elaine Manusakis/Every Angle Photography)