Cvent’s share price isn’t the only thing that has headed upward since the company’s initial public offering last summer. Attendance doubled this year at the McLean, Va.–based company’s third annual user group conference, held June 18–20, with 1,000 attendees making the trek to The Venetian in Las Vegas to learn how technology is transforming meetings and events.

And for the first time, the event was split into two meetings: One for corporate users of Cvent’s enterprise event management technology, the Corporate Meetings Summit, and a separate, paired event for approximately 200 association users, the Association Meetings Summit. An additional 2,000 people joined a webcast of a session featuring five event managers talking about how they use technology. “The summits are content marketing in a live format,” said Chuck Ghoorah, Cvent’s co-founder and executive vice president of sales and marketing.

From the opening keynote by graffiti artist and business author Erik Wahl, to the closing presentation by PSAV Senior Vice President, Global Sales and Marketing Greg Van Dyke, the more-than 70 sessions focused on “how the left brain is necessary, but no longer sufficient” to meet today’s meeting management challenges, as Wahl said while painting portraits of U2 singer Bono, Apple’s Steve Jobs, and Albert Einstein. As he further pointed out, just as “the best music takes place between the notes,” meeting managers need to find and apply their creativity in the spaces between the logistics to bring their meetings to a more strategic level.

And meeting managers need to take it up a notch, said Cvent Founder, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Directors Reggie Aggarwal because this is “the biggest industry you’ve never heard of,” with $565 billion spent annually worldwide. Part of the challenge the company executives found during its IPO process, was that, unlike other industries, meetings and events is horizontal, encompassing everything from marketing and travel to procurement. As Ghoorah noted, up to 3 percent of total corporate revenue is spent on meetings and events, “but it’s highly disparate. Put it all together, and it’s powerful.” In fact, he added, 30 percent of corporate budgets are spent on live meetings and events, but until recently, companies didn’t have the tools to measure return on investment of meeting spend. “Automation isn’t threatening your job,” said Ghoorah. “We’re automating logistics so you can focus on being strategic.”

“We should be celebrating technology because now we can prove the ROI of events,” agreed Aggarwal. “Technology is making live meetings even more mission-critical.” The company has quadrupled its investment in research and development over the past four years, he said, to meet the needs of its customers—“85 percent of our product roadmap is designed by you,” he added.

 

New Products: Blue Release and SocialWall
At the meeting, the company unveiled its latest additions to that roadmap, aimed at making the company’s products “broader, deeper, and simpler,” said Pete Floros, vice president of product management. Called the Blue Release, the new interface for Cvent’s event management platform is designed to provide streamlined navigation and an enhanced workflow for building and managing events. Featuring drag-and-drop editing, interactive charts, and the ability to update live, the Blue Release, currently in beta testing, will be available to all Cvent users in the third quarter of 2014, said Jeannie Griffin, director, product management.

Also rolled out—and demonstrated live—at the meeting was SocialWall, an interactive tool designed to help Cvent clients compile and display attendees’ Twitter and Instagram content in real time at events.

 

Inspiring Empathy, Creativity, and Simplicity
Listening to customers, finding creative solutions, and simplifying the process of meeting management were recurrent themes—and were brought home in a second standing ovation presentation (Wahl also brought down the house) by SAP CEO Bill McDermott, who said that having empathy for customers is the key to success.

Quoting Theodore Roosevelt, McDermott said, “No one knows how much you know until they know how much you care,” a philosophy that has brought him success from his first business—owning a deli when he was just 16—to leading the SAP technology juggernaut. And, because “Complexity is the most intractable CEO issue of our time,” we need to simplify our processes, become better leaders by listening and having real conversations with employees, and show executives how meetings are an engine for growth, not a cost center. As was demonstrated throughout the summits, technology can help by providing the data and processes meeting managers need to move beyond logistics and into strategic positions at their organizations.