After a month-long break, the #EventIcons podcast is back in all its glory! This week’s iconic guest is the knowledgeable Gianna Gaudini, an event marketing strategist who understands events inside and out. She worked as Marketing Events Lead at Google for nine years and Head of Events at AWS for nearly two years.
Even more importantly, she has founded her own company in 2018. Check out Gianna’s website: she’s established herself as an industry leader as well as an author and course creator. Since she’s got such a wide range of knowledge, Karmen thought it would be a great idea to pick her brain about the best event planning tips for 2022.
Karmen and Gianna do not dwell on any one particular topic for too long. After all, Gianna knows a lot about data analytics, content delivery, community, leadership, and so much more. They go over the recent changes in the events industry, ROI metrics, diversity and inclusivity, sustainability, and her favorite resources for event planners. Tune in – you’ll learn a lot!
Event Planning: An Exciting & Challenging Career
First, Karmen asks Gianna about her background and how she got into the events industry. Gianna went to UC San Diego where she graduated in psychology and biology. “After I graduated, I had to figure out what it was that I was passionate enough about to build a career in. And I’m so grateful that my dad gave me the book How to Get Any Job with Any Major. Great book, I still recommend it to everybody.”
The event planning industry is big and people come to event planning as a career from different walks of life – and that’s precisely what Gianna loves so much about it. “It’s such a great way to blend analytical, creative, and people skills, making an impact on people in such a tangible way. It’s also a career where you can continually evolve. I don’t go a month without learning something new. It keeps it exciting and challenging. For me, it also keeps it super fun.”
Speaking of challenging, Karmen asks Gianna to talk about the changes that the pandemic brought. What are the biggest changes she’s witnessed?
Gianna outlines changes in three major areas:
“At a macro level, events are becoming very content-driven. Content used to take the backseat, scrambling at the last minute to pull together the appropriate content. Now, content is front and center. It has to be good and it has to hold people’s attention. There’s a lot of competition for people’s attention.”
- From event planning to event marketing.
“Event planners are realizing that they need to evolve to be event marketers. It’s one thing to plan an event and do that well. But in this day and age to be successful, you also have to be able to market it. You can have the most amazing event in the world, but if you’re not reaching the people you’re trying to reach, then you’re not going to have the ROI that you want. You’ll be wasting all your resources.”
- Extended experiences.
“Another big shift is the shift from the synchronous moment-in-time event experience to a much bigger focus on the extended experience, whether that’s hybrid, virtual experience, or community model. People want to stay connected not just during an event, but between events. Smart event marketers are figuring out how to meet people where they are and delivering the right content to them at the right time.”
Event Planning Tips 2022: Let’s Talk ROI
Since Gianna has mentioned ROI, Karmen wants to know more. “How do you ensure ROI on events that may have pivoted or changed format? What are some of the best ways to indicate and present different aspects of ROI?”
“Just because an event has pivoted doesn’t mean that you have to throw out all your event goals,” she says. “There are some goals that can remain consistent, but some need to be adjusted. For virtual events, there are things that we can measure that we can’t always measure as easily with in-person events, which is great. One of the biggest things that you should adjust is registration and conversion rates. When you’re thinking in-person versus virtual, there are a lot of differences there. There’s usually a 35% drop-off for registrations in virtual events.”
Another great core goal to measure event success is attendee satisfaction. “You can use NPS or CSAT. That’s consistent and works for both virtual and hybrid events. Things like deals closed or opportunities created in sales events and attribution-related ROI metrics can work both for in-person or virtual events as well.”
Attendee retention, on the other hand, is more challenging. “When you think about attendee retention, you don’t always see that as a KPI metric for in-person events. It’s harder to measure it, but it’s a lot easier to measure when you have a video on demand. And the retention dropoff rate is really important to understand whether your content is resonating.”
And last but not least, virtual audience engagement. “You can use event apps for in-person events to some extent, although adoption is usually no higher than 30%. But it’s so much easier for virtual events. Every action is trackable. You can capture so much information about which of your activities are resonating and which you can remove for future events.”
Next up, Karmen asks Gianna to brainstorm. “If there were no boundaries with the budget, how does one identify their needs and create their event dream team?”
“There are two overarching types of people on your event team when you’re hiring: generalists and specialists. Depending on your needs for an event, you may need a good mix of both,” she says.
Then, Gianna makes another important distinction. “Any successful event team is built up with three types of event planners: creatives, strategists, and producers. The creatives help you think outside the box. Strategists are the ones that are thinking about KPIs and goals. How do our events meet those? How is this event hitting the mark for the business? Producers are the ones that make things happen. They bring the event to life.”
But expertise is not enough. The event dream team also needs to have the right personality for the job. “In my job descriptions, I write as a prerequisite: low ego required. Events are a team sport and everybody needs to pull together for that shared goal. There’s a lot of work to be done. People need to set their ego and drama aside, and it’s just so much easier to work with people who all care about the same goal. And if there’s any skill that you need to perfect, it’s communication and writing. This will help you for life. And humor – I love working with people that have a sense of humor.”
“What is the most creative way you have seen a speaker or a facilitator integrating audience engagement? How can you plan an event to encourage participation?”
“I see event planners as storytellers and any successful event should take the audience on a journey,” Gianna replies. “Similarly, speakers need to be storytellers. Speakers that open with a story capture attention so much more than speakers that open with a PowerPoint slide and data. Every single TED Talk speaker opens with a story and it makes your brain tune in because you’re trying to figure out what that story’s getting at, how that ties into the theme.”
“Be thoughtful about how you’re presenting information,” she adds. “Sometimes speakers are trying to jam everything in. We have to understand that at virtual events, attention spans are shorter. A formula that works really effectively is 20% pre-prepared content and 80% open-ended audience engagement. That can be chat with the audience, AMA, Q&A, polling, gamification. Make it a two-way conversation. The audience buys into the content more because their voice is heard.”
DEI & Sustainability
Karmen makes a point to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion at events. “How do you create an event centered around DEI and sustainability and how important are those aspects to planning a successful event?”
Gianna thinks that it’s essential for DEI and sustainability to not be an afterthought. “Start thinking about these things from the second that you start planning your event. Otherwise, people are going to see that as tokenism, they’ll see right through it. Be authentic, do these things for the right reason.
She highlights that virtual events are far more sustainable than in-person. “In-person events are resource-intensive. And they’re often disruptive to the communities that they take place in. My goal as an event planner is always to leave the community that I’m planning an event in better than when I got there. There are lots of ways to do that. At a macro level, when you’re starting sustainable event planning, you want to think about how you’re producing your event. Are you sourcing locally? Are you using local suppliers and supporting the local ecosystem?”
Karmen asks Gianna to talk about any other event planning tips for 2022 that they haven’t covered yet. “Is there any advice you’d give to planners that will make their lives easier?”
“One easy way to make sure that you’re memorable in the right way is to eliminate pain points,” Gianna explains. “If you can think through what could be a possible pain point for your attendee and make it better, this will take you far when it comes to building brand love and making the experience better for people.”
Here’s an example. “If people have to wait in long lines to get a COVID test, think about what you can do to make that delightful. Can you bring coffee to them in a fun little cart with a band playing? These can be inexpensive things that make people realize that you understand that they’re going through something that’s not super fun and you’re making it better for them.”
Also, don’t forget to evoke emotion. “We are emotional human beings. Figure out how to set that tone via storytelling, music, or speakers. Then, make it personal. People all want to have the most relevant experience for them. This can be virtual, too. It can be as easy as having a dynamic virtual event platform where you can build your own schedule or it makes relevant recommendations for you and saves you a lot of time.”
Final Event Planning Tips & Resources
Since Gianna is so knowledgeable, Karmen wants to know where she gets all that valuable information and inspiration from. “What are the websites, blogs, and books that you would recommend to our listeners?”
“I learned so much from my peers and I get so much out of the event community,” she says. “I try to stay engaged in as many event groups, Slack channels, and podcasts as I possibly can. We learn so much from each other. It’s a unique industry. So I encourage people to join as many event groups as they can. Event people love to help.
Aside from #EventIcons, Gianna recommends several other event planning podcasts. “I also love the Event Brew podcast, GatherGeeks, and Bizzabo’s podcast. I also tune into the course creator community because I am a course creator.”
And last but not least, Gianna mentions her book, The Art of Event Planning. Karmen also mentions Gianna’s course Million Dollar Event Planning Career. Check it out and do not hesitate to reach out to Gianna – she loves meeting fellow event profs. And according to Karmen, she is quick to respond to messages!