On how openness and humility helped them work through hiccups:
When we ran into problems, we got so many encouraging messages in our community chat and speaker groups [organized over WhatsApp] saying, “don’t worry, keep on going.” So that really helped us. The second day was a challenge, because we ran over by an hour. They were very encouraging and stayed with us. In the end, we got there together, and in that way, too, the audience felt that they were part of it as well. The speakers also felt that they were part of our failures and part of our successes, so there was a commitment to the experience.
On why now is the moment to experiment and make mistakes:
There are so many things I would have done differently [laughs]. It was so new to my team, and to my tech team as well, because the user experience was so different than what we had done before.
You could say one lesson is that we could have simplified it. But at the same time, I just felt that it was such an opportunity to really try everything, because everybody’s experimenting, and I think everybody’s open-minded at this time. The appetite for risk, from the audience side, is higher. They’re more willing to accept things that go wrong. Everybody laughs about it, because we’re still at the beginning, right?
Our [Startup Pitch] competition — it was really hard, logistically, to organize virtually. The startups only had five minutes to pitch followed by three minutes of Q&A. It had to move really fast. [The startups are generally] young entrepreneurs, and their first language may not be English. They’re from all over the world … so there was always a lag. It was just not as smooth [as in person].
On why it’s important to view events as content — and how to create “stickiness:”
“On day one of [WiT], we showed [the audience] a blank canvas and said, ‘this is starting from zero. Let’s create a future together. Give us words that you want to describe travel in 2025 with,’” said Yeoh Siew Hoon (right). “At the closing, we revealed the collective vision of our audience using all of the words they submitted.” The artwork is pictured on the right.
For me, events are just another form of content delivery. Blog posts, videos, social media — events are just another channel but in a more dynamic, live way. That’s how I approached it. I think a lot of conferences that approach their events through a content prism probably have higher community engagement, higher loyalty, higher stickiness. As long as you can give your customer stickiness — in terms of whether they actually transact a piece of business, or whether they build a relationship that leads to business, or come upon an idea that helps them to build a better business — to me those are the pillars of what creates loyalty.
Use this time to grow your audience, to engage with them not just once a year but throughout the year, so that you keep them. Learn from the e-commerce and media companies. What is unique about us is that we have both media — we have newsletters, live content — and events, so it’s constant engagement throughout the year. That’s a very good way to build community and loyalty.
On the post-pandemic future of business events:
The minute governments allow events to be held, people will come back. The difference is, customers now have the choice and they can basically say, “Do I need to attend this physically or could I just do it virtually?” Event organizers have to recognize that we have to make events worthwhile for people to attend physically, so we have to raise our game.
The days of conferences with long panel discussions, presentations, and sales pitches that drone on and on — I hope those days are numbered. [I want to see] conferences get better at entertaining, educating, and inspiring — and at really making relationships count, and at making the destination experience even more “wow.” I think the destination appeal is going to play a big role in that.
For more takeaways from WiT Experience Week, visit webintravel.com.
Jennifer N. Dienst is managing editor at Convene. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.