Now that the AI Chat[GPT] is Out of the Bag, What’s Next for Event Organizers?
By Michelle Bruno
May 23, 2023
Whether you’re in the “scared to death” or “can’t wait to get this party started” camp, artificial intelligence is not to be toyed with. Hailed as one of, if not the most, significant technological advances in human history, event producers must begin thinking about ingesting AI into their operations and events. It’s time to strategize.
If you’ve been hiding under a rock or deliberately avoiding the news, “AI is a machine’s ability to perform the cognitive functions we associate with human minds, such as perceiving, reasoning, learning, interacting with an environment, problem-solving, and even exercising creativity.”
Interest in AI is high. Now that ChatGPT has made AI more tangible, the potential benefits—lowering costs, boosting productivity, addressing the labor shortage and bringing exciting new capabilities to your events—are suddenly very real.
AI is already having an impact on events. Dave Lutz, president of event consultancy Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, has begun to see scientific associations requesting that researchers attest to not using AI to produce their findings. He’s seen similar verbiage in speaker contracts.
Chatter about ChatGPT and AI-based apps is flooding the event airwaves. Webinars abound, including Bizzabo’s “Prepare for the AI revolution: tips, trends and strategies for event profs,” airing May 24.
Event use cases
AI’s potential use cases are getting event organizers’ blood pumping. Lutz is excited about how AI will change competitive intelligence gathering. “When you gather intelligence, you don’t need ten, twenty or thirty examples. You need one good one that validates the recommendations you’re making. AI is helping us find that one example and giving us a different lens to look through,” he explains.
Making sense of websites, especially association sites that host volumes of information in different formats, is a natural use case for AI. Lutz envisions an AI-enabled search function (akin to Google for a single website) that searches and summarizes what’s in the association’s private domain and combines it with what’s relevant in the public domain.
Tim Groot, CEO and founder at Grip, an AI matchmaking and relationship-building platform and one of the earliest event tech companies to incorporate AI into its platform, sees tapping into the cache of specialized information that some event organizations have amassed as a perfect use case for AI. “If you’re a market leader and you’ve got access to a corpus of data in a specific niche, you can advance faster because you’re going to be able to come up with ideas for sessions that no one else can.”
AI can enhance nearly all aspects of business-to-business events, including:
- Attendee engagement and personalization
- Content curation and recommendation
- Networking and matchmaking
- Data analytics and insights
- Registration and check-in
- Exhibitor sales enablement
- Data-driven sponsorship matching
- Event marketing
- Real-time data visualization
- Dynamic pricing and revenue management
- Risk assessment
- Accessibility and inclusion
Getting started with AI
Rick Bawcum, CEO and founder of Cimatri, a technology consultancy focused on associations and non-profits, is working with senior leaders on AI roadmaps. His process includes the following:
- Educating leaders on what AI is and is not
- Brainstorming possible AI use cases in the context of the organization
- Developing minimum viable business use cases
- Prioritizing the high-impact, low-effort use cases and building a backlog from there
- Building proof-of-concept products
- Testing products to determine whether they work and meet customer expectations
- Going to market
Bawcum has some words of advice for associations grappling with an AI strategy. It’s probably not a good time to invest in large internal projects. A technology provider will likely develop a better and less expensive solution before you do. On the other hand, don’t be a strategic laggard, Bawcum says. AI is more than a new tech tool, “it’s a structural shift,” and “there is no safe space.”
Be cautious of the data used to train the AI model you select, Bawcum says. Open AI (the organization behind ChatGPT), for example, is opaque, and there are many examples of ChatGPT providing responses that aren’t based in fact. Thus, users ” rely on outputs that are pretty hard to validate.”
Tim Groot says event organizers should be thinking about the answers to three questions:
- What can you do better for your customers? “There are many things that large language model interfaces can do to speed up content creation and personalization and speaker selection, for example.”
- What can you do better internally? “Looking toward the production side, AI can automate venue and supplier search and other tasks that now require a team of people.”
- What might your customers do that would make your organization less relevant? “It’s important to consider the risk of doing nothing as your customers become better at meeting their needs without you.”
Panos Moutafis, CEO and co-founder at Zenus, a provider of ethical facial analysis solutions for retail and events and another early provider of AI-based technology, believes the AI discussion must start with the problem to be solved, not “what’s possible with AI or how to incorporate AI into events.” AI may or may not always be the best solution, he says.
Even if AI does offer a better, faster, more secure solution to a problem (facial recognition comes to mind), organizers can still face an uphill battle if users, such as attendees, perceive it as invasive. “Market perception can make a huge difference” in whether you have success with AI or not,” Moutafis explains.
Testing AI in certain use cases or experimenting with AI-based apps is a good idea, Moutafis says. “Set aside a budget and devise a set of success criteria.” If you meet your objectives, “go to the next level,” he advises.
In the for-profit event sector, especially inside the larger firms, adopting AI or any technology is often fraught with a lack of strategic alignment across different stakeholders, poor cross-department communication and little understanding about the technologies or whether they’re appropriate for the problems organizers seek to solve. As a result, organizations cannot achieve economies of scale, departments are motivated to go rogue, and some shows have all the cool tech while others look like Luddites.
The solution to for-profit AI adoption snags, says Molly Witges, event and technology consultant at Measured Meeting Strategies, is manifold. For example, she advises:
- Strategize about AI on a global basis rather than show by show. It can save the organization money and time.
- Gain a general understanding of the technology, ensuring it allows you to “tell the stories you want to tell and deliver the value you want to deliver.”
- Consider creating an internal “incubator” to explore and implement AI across the organization.
- Foster consistent cross-department communication so that “if one department is strong in AI, it can trickle over to the others.”
- Operate with a more enhanced view of data, analytics and AI across the organization.
- Tap into AI-based vendors that provide services in multiple technology categories to reduce the effort of bringing new partners on board.
- Streamline decision-making for AI across the organization.
- Ask the right questions, including “What are you trying to accomplish? What metrics are you driving? Is AI meeting your objectives? Does the AI solution make money or save money?”
The inevitability of AI
There is a high probability that the events industry has already passed the point of no return on AI. If organizers don’t find ways to adopt AI quickly, customers may take matters into their own hands, or smart tech companies will find ways around events to give attendees, exhibitors and sponsors what they want.
“I think [AI] is coming for every industry whether you’re ready for it or not,” says Witges. “Organizers that at least understand how AI could improve their organizations and use it appropriately are going to be the ones that customers seek out. I don’t think we’ll be able to avoid it.”