Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

August 01 2014

Creating a 'Black Box' for Your Events

By Barbara Palmer

There’s a ‘secret conversation’ that goes on at every event — and mobile apps can help you understand it.


Brian Slawin, a co-founder of BusyEvent, was a professor and chief flight instructor at St. Louis University’s Parks College of Engineering, Aviation, and Technology for more than a decade, so it’s no surprise that he reaches for an airplane-related metaphor — an in-flight data recorder — to explain his company’s event app.

Like the flight recorder that archives instrument-panel readings and pilots’ conversations in the cockpit, the BusyEvent mobile app collects information about up to 25 different actions that attendees take during a trade show or conference, along with their interactions before and after the event. And like the data in the in-flight data recorder on an airplane, BusyEvent uses information to pull together a story about what is really happening — what Slawin calls “the secret conversation that occurs at every event.”

BusyEvent, which is cloud-based, collects and reports on event data in real time, making it available to users on a dashboard — a far cry from an event app that functions like a “watered-down website,” Slawin said. In the past, “people haven’t had access to this kind of information or the ability to measure and report on it in real time.”

Slawin and partner David Schenburg both had worked for many years in the events industry before founding their company eight years ago. “One of our biggest challenges was that we knew a lot of things were going on,” Slawin said, “but we couldn’t access information about it in time to do anything with it.” That included logistical information, such as whether meeting rooms were overflowing or coffee was running out, but also business intelligence: What sessions did people attend, and what did they learn? Whom did they connect with? What information did they download? What surveys did they participate in?

The data collected by the app also can be used by an organization to match content to attendee needs, giving them the ability to drill down to a very personalized level. For example, one of BusyEvent’s largest clients is a pizza chain with franchises in 73 countries. The company has begun using the data that BusyEvent collects at live programs to understand in great detail how the franchise owners and store managers who run the best-performing operations behave at training events — what sessions they attend, which handouts they download, whom they interact with, and so on.

The company then can use that information, Slawin said, to coach attendees in similar markets whose operational performance could use improvement. A store manager whose sales are a little lower might go back and see what kinds of training and interactions the managers of the better-performing store received. And the company can create groups of attendees whom the data has indicated will benefit from interacting with one another and who then travel together to events.

Mobile apps like BusyEvent, “don’t just tell you what is going on at your event,” Slawin said. “We help you use data in a way that will make a difference.”

Barbara Palmer is senior editor of Convene.

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