In Conversation With Liz Caruso, CEO & Chief Event Strategist, Liz King Events

Chapters:

00:15: Introduction

03:03: Projects that are undertaken by Liz King Events

03:14: Building a virtual events community since 2010

07:45: Problems being faced by the event tech industry

09:21: Advice to young event-tech professionals about making a career in the industry

11:11:  The In-person vs virtual event dilemma of clients

13:08: What’s working and not working for event marketers today

17:08: How important is social proof in the event industry today

[00:00:00]

[00:00:15] Ankush: Hi, I’m Ankush. I’m the founder of Eventible.com, the world’s first events review platform, and you are listening to the Building Awesome Events podcast. Our guest today is the super active Liz Caruso, CEO of Liz King Events, and the Techsy talk collaborative. Liz is always on the top 10 or top 20 list of women in event tech.

She’s an active event strategist who over the past 10 years has helped many businesses and thought leaders grow their audiences and sell their products through in-person, virtual, and hybrid events.

Welcome, Liz. It’s such a pleasure to have someone so experienced and also a fellow podcast host with us today.

[00:00:50] Liz: Thank you for having me. Excited to be here.

[00:00:52] Ankush: Wonderful Liz. Let’s start at the very beginning and explore how you got here. I saw that you started really in academia with Columbia University, moving through a variety of roles from career counselor to event management. And you were at Columbia for five years. So tell me a little about how the transition to events took place for you and what attracted you to be an event prof and continue being in this industry.

[00:01:13] Liz: So I started at Columbia in an administrative position at the career center and it was because I thought I wanted to be a mental health counselor and did that first and realized not what I wanted to do with my career. And I had just paid for this wonderful degree and thought now, what, what am I gonna do? So I took this administrative role just to figure out, to make some money while I figured out what I wanted to do. And that administrative role happened to be on the event planning team for the career center at Columbia. And until then, I didn’t realize that event planning could be a career. I was one of those people who was constantly the one you would call if you have something you want to put together.

I was coming up with these hair-brained ideas for events. And so I remember just thinking, like, what are these people doing? I’m the one printing the name tags. And then I would look over, I’m like, well, you guys are getting paid to do this?  So I spoke to my boss and told her I’d rather be doing that kind of stuff. I got promoted three times in my first year. And then I was just doing events for them for the rest of my career there. And it was a great learning experience, but I am the kind of person who gets bored quickly and so the first year or two was fun. And then I was like, okay, we’re doing the same events over and over again. And that’s when I started my Twitter account, Liz King events at that time, and my business kind of was born from that. I started getting clients and I thought I guess I could do my own thing here.

[00:02:37] Ankush: Wow, that’s a new one. I mean, most of the event profs, you know, that we speak with the transition from, you know, more general marketing roles to event roles. And it’s the first time I’ve seen someone,  move from career counseling into events.

[00:02:56] Liz: Yeah. I mean, I didn’t ever do like the official career counseling. I was just kind of like an admin. But yeah, I did I did make that transition. It was very interesting.

[00:03:03] Ankush: Yeah, Liz tell me a little bit more about what you currently do with your current consulting business and with Liz King Events. I’d love to hear about some of your interesting projects, over the last couple of years, especially.

[00:03:14] Liz: We’ve been doing virtual and hybrid events since 2010 when I started my business and at that point, my business was like a side thing that I was doing while I was at Columbia, but we did our event back then it was called Planner Tech and it was to introduce event tech to event planners and we streamed it and it was around then that I don’t know if you remember or know about Event Camp, which was very popular back then, but it was kind of this think tank that was created by other event profs to play with live streaming and virtual and hybrid events, and think through what that could look like.

And that got me thinking. So we’ve been doing that for a long time. And so my business primarily is and has always been event planning for clients. We work with a lot of corporate clients – planning, mostly conferences, and we’ve been involved in that kind of virtual and hybrid space. So especially in the last two years what we’ve been seeing is a big uptick in association clients who then need to leverage virtual events to have events because they weren’t able to do events during the pandemic. And thankfully, I know that 2020- 2021 were some of the hardest years for most event profs. For us, they were the busiest years we’ve had because we already kind of had that brand out there and we had flipped what I started as Planner Tech into Techsy Talk. It became a Community really of people event planners. So we have a community, we have an annual conference we do monthly educational events, and lots of networking things. So that kind of gave me the brand that I needed that went in 2020. Everyone started thinking, oh my gosh, we’re supposed to do it virtually. What is that? Thankfully, I was one of the names that came up.

[00:04:56] Ankush: It seems that you’ve gotten so many things right from starting — looking into virtual events from 2010 when nobody else would’ve thought about doing, virtual at all. And then as, as you mentioned, you know, flipping Planner Tech into Techsy Talk, that’s I think a good example of community building right there.

[00:05:15] Liz: I mean, I ended up building, just the community I wanted. The things I wanted to learn about, I would say, “Oh I wanna learn about that. Let’s just do an event.” So it’s benefited me for sure. I hope it’s benefited other people as well.

[00:05:30] Ankush: And I think sometimes, you know, that’s just the best way to go about things. I remember when I wanted to learn about SEO,  I just bought a book and just started trying it out on my website and some of the concepts just came to life.

So I think it’s, it’s brilliant that you were able to find so much success with community building. Everybody’s talking about it these days.

[00:05:49] Liz: It is. I’m before my time. I didn’t know.

[00:05:52] Ankush: It’s amazing. So, you mentioned, the last two years being very busy for you, and you were well prepared for it. So, what was it like? I mean my next question was gonna be, how did you scale up personally through this big tsunami that took us from what’s a zoom call to when’s our next zoom call? But you were, obviously ready for all of this and you were just like busy, through all of this.

[00:06:17] Liz: What’s changed for us over the last two years, is that all the live streaming and virtual and hybrid events that we did pre-2020 were kind of me like forcing it down our client’s throats and doing it ourselves out of curiosity. And really what we were doing is live streaming. The focus was on the in-person event, especially for our clients. So even when we were trying to get them to think differently about what to do, they weren’t so interested. And so, you know, the last two years has been a great shift because people have had to do it and now they’re thinking, “Oh, there’s, there’s gotta be more to this.”

And that’s the exciting part for me is like, yes, we can finally start thinking about some of those other things. So we’ve learned a lot, the technology’s changed a lot, the opportunities have changed a lot. So we’re learning a ton in the last two years, even where we thought things would and we’d want them to go, I think we’re already farther than where we were thinking a few years ago.

[00:07:15] Ankush: Do you think that technology has changed? Because to me, it seems that it has a long way to go before it matures. Even though we have like 300 or 400 virtual event platforms out there. And most of them just seem to be grabbing features from one another. There are things like networking, which is still not possible, very efficiently in a virtual event. Right? So, I mean, what do you think about that? And what is the tech stack that you like to work with and recommend to your clients?

[00:07:45] Liz: Yeah, I agree. I think that we have a very long way to go. When I say the kind of jumps I’ve seen are pre-2020, and then post-2020. Pre -2020 the 300+ platforms you were talking about, no one was talking about them it was kind of like even zoom wasn’t used for events very frequently, right? There was a lot of live streaming and that was kind of it. So, we’ve come a long way meaning that people look to a platform. There is now networking, there’s chat there’s Q and As, and there’s polling. I agree that’s nowhere near where we need to be to make these successful, but that is the first jump that people had to have made and so that’s where I, I kind of mean we’ve come, but I agree we have a very long way to go.

And the challenge I think is that planners are very anxious to go back to what they were doing right in 2020. And so we’re seeing a ton of turmoil in the event tech industry, all this money’s flooding in, people are being hired and now we’re seeing the big companies like laying people off and the money is disappearing a little bit. And I think it’s a big mistake, but I think it’s also, we’ve talked a lot about that pendulum it’s swinging back the other way. I think it will come back this way and be a little more in the middle.

But I think the planners who are running back to in-person are gonna be sad that they’ve missed out on these opportunities to last.

[00:09:01] Ankush: You know, that is gonna be my next question. And I think you took the words right out of my mouth that you know, we are going through a heart-breaking time in the event tech space.

We are seeing all these startups trying to amplify the growth and then ending up with layoffs, the Bizzabos, the Hopkins, etc. So what would be your advice to young event profs at this time, looking to make a career with an event tech company?

[00:09:21] Liz: Make your career in the event tech company. I think that these, you know, these layoffs are just what’s happening right now because of these pendulum swinging, but what I think the events industry is missing is that human behavior has dramatically changed.

And yes, people will always crave in person. I don’t think in-person will ever be replaced by virtual. We’ve been saying that since 2009. However, there are a lot of meeting formats where virtual is more accessible, it’s easier. It does the same. And I think all of those formats, which are basically what carries a company from annual event to annual event.. all that fills that in is moving to virtual. People don’t wanna travel for a two-hour networking event, they’re not gonna do it. So I think that these event tech companies had to staff up, they now have to adjust because the money is changing, but they will ramp up again as the needs change again.

[00:10:16] Ankush: Because I think you’ve taken all that money in and, as you said very correctly in-person events are coming back. Virtual still needs because, people around the world can still attend these two-hour conferences and, meetings, all the money that you’ve raised, you’re not going to the moon with that, right? I mean, there’s only so much that you’re gonna want to build, which is pretty much enough for anyone to attend anything from around the world these days.

[00:10:38] Liz: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I think it’s, it’s gonna happen. It’s just a matter of when and how long it will take event professionals to catch on. I think you said, you know, yeah. We’re not the most forward-thinking industry all the time.

[00:10:51] Ankush: So what do you think currently, the folks that you work with, your clients, what is the pulse that you see out there with people that you’re working closely with?

What are they thinking about? Are they thinking about communities? Are they debating the pros and cons of in-person and virtual or are they struggling with the event tech?

[00:11:11] Liz: I think a lot of our clients are kind of in this I would say two of the things that you’ve thought about one is in-person versus virtual, what should we be doing?

And I think a lot of them wanna be in person and they’re realizing but “there were a lot of these perks over here that we wanna take advantage of”, and that leads them to the second challenge that they’re facing, which is, “but the event tech is not that great, you know?” It’s like nice to have polling and Q and A it gets annoying after a few times of doing it.

And then, you have you face the challenge. Our clients are facing the challenge of like, you can’t change the platform every year on your attendees. They get very confused. They’re using a lot of techs. So, we are seeing more of our clients falling back to like Zoom because their attendees know it. It’s easy. Their speakers understand it, so it’ll be interesting to see how Zoom even eventually evolves and what it offers versus other virtual platforms.

 I would love to see our clients thinking more about community and year-round programming. Truthfully, I don’t think they’re there yet. I think that’s what a lot of like industry insiders are talking about. But we’re not seeing it on the client side quite yet. At least our audience.

[00:12:19] Ankush: I think we’ve beat up a little bit on event tech. But having said that, do you have like a favorite platform that you like to use? Is, is it zoom? Is it something else you want to toss a name up there? I’m sure you’ll get hit up by a lot of sales guys.

[00:12:33] Liz: We don’t use Zoom that often, honestly. There is a lot of the production stuff that we would love to see our clients embrace just really still are not possible on zoom.

But we do use it for some of our clients. We find that all of our clients have different needs and they use a variety of things. They use Swap Card. They use Hopin, and because we’re independent planners and we work with a variety of clients, we work with a variety of tools. I would say my favorite thing that we use is Stream Yard, which is the production side. And most of the platforms don’t have that built-in. So we’re working with that, regardless of which platform, our clients choose. And then another one is Evmux, which is very similar to Stream Yard. We’re just learning that one. They have some better functionality for the events industry.

[00:13:18] Ankush: Hey, that’s cool. You know, I think. I’m gonna look up a couple of these haven’t come across them before. Liz let’s talk about event marketing, in particular, you know, this podcast Building Awesome Events is geared towards event marketers and event marketing. Let’s talk about the folks who are getting it right, that you’ve seen personally with audience acquisition, what channels do you think are working for them? You know, what do you think is the dependency of acquiring a healthy audience directly to the event programming, right? Cause not, everybody’s gonna be able to bring in Michelle Obama as a keynote, for example.

[00:13:48] Liz: Yeah, I think this is where the community is so important because I mean, in terms of formatting, I think we are seeing a lot of interest in that TikTok style content, really short format, video content and that seems to catch attention.

I think the challenge that event marketers are facing is what does all that attention lead to? How do you get them to attend your events? And also the ownership of all that content, we’ve seen lots of event marketers who build great platforms and then they get hacked overnight. All gone in one day.

[00:14:16] Ankush: Wow. Really? I really, I never heard of that.

[00:14:20] Liz: Oh, it happens all the time on every platform, Instagram, you know, you’ve built your whole platform, and then it’s gone. And they’re not gonna give it back to you. And so I’ve heard a lot of talk in the event marketing community about owning your audience.

How do you get those email addresses? Once you have those email addresses, what are you doing with them? So email marketing, I’ve heard a lot about, SMS marketing. And community building really, I think is a better way to look at that as compared to like a push. But how are you giving value to your attendees through text?

 And these community platforms how are you getting people off, in our case, we’re moving people outta our Facebook group and into a Circle community where we can better engage them. And that’s hard cuz they’re not on Circle 24 hours a day looking at 5,000 notifications. But for at least for us. And I know our clients are thinking too, even if it’s less engagement than we would’ve gotten on Facebook, it’s more important engagement because they mean to be there. They want to be there, and it helps you kind of hone in on that value.

[00:15:20] Ankush: I agree with that Is very similar to the networking problem. Again, a lot of these event tech platforms seem to have, I’ve attended a few events on Swap Card’s platform and for example, every time you make a connection, you end up going out and sending an invite or a request to the other person on LinkedIn anyways, because that’s like your primary over the desk, right? It’s, it’s never gonna be Swap Card. And unless, and you find a way to integrate with LinkedIn. It’s just very awkward, very weird. And you meet all these people, and you have to go back to LinkedIn and sort of add them up.

[00:15:55] Liz: But if you think about it, that’s not that different than an in-person event where you might go to a conference in person, meet all these people, get all these business cards and then you gotta take ’em back and, so I think what you’re talking about would be great, but yeah, it’s not that different than what’s happening.

I think the bigger issue with networking at virtual events is the formats of it, making the space. I love Twine, for example, speed networking, but that’s not the only way that people wanna network.

[00:16:24] Ankush: Twine is so cool. Right? I mean, every time you do like a speed networking thing, the only thing is that you come up with someone that you don’t think you wanna spend the next 10 minutes with. And then, it becomes like a little bit of a horror show.

[00:16:35] Liz: Yeah, you just gotta make those things short. I love Twine though. Lets you kind of like rate your conversations at the end because there have been times where I’m in a conversation, I’m like, don’t put me with that person again and you can do that on their platform, which is great.

 But I think mixing that with like other formats, I’m keeping my eye on like special, I feel like the design of those is lacking. But I think there’s some benefit to just being able to roam around a room and bump into people.

 And I think events should be doing all of those things offering different opportunities throughout your agenda so people can find a meaningful way to connect that’s meaningful for them.

[00:17:11] Ankush: Yeah, absolutely. Liz and our final question for today, coming up as you know, our startup is the world’s first events will platform for B2B. Tapping into social proof, allowing potential attendees to make informed participation decisions, and allowing event organizers to use all of the social proof to grow their event brands.

So what does social proof mean to you and have you seen it work? You know, within the context of, of your work and, and clients.

[00:17:35] Liz: Yeah, social proof is it’s so important, right? Because people do things because other people they know, like, and trust do things. And so that could be something really stupid like, you know, I don’t know, try to suffocate yourself from something you saw on TikTok or it could be something more meaningful, like attending a great event. So I think that it’s, it’s hugely important. I mean, I would love it. You know this is a much bigger conversation. Yeah. I would love for us to like, not be so reliant on social feedback as a society, but that’s not the way we are.

People very much want that. And so, absolutely. I think it’s great to be able to see who else is going to this event. Who has been on the path and what do they think of it, what are the best ways to tap into, the good stuff at that event? I mean, every event has pros and cons.

I know from an event organizer standpoint, that’s a challenge because you can plan the best event and have Mr. Grumpy pants in the corner who has something to complain about the food or the networking or, and so the quality, the quantity, I think, is important to show the quality enough people who are saying this event is great, or it’s not worth your time.

So, I think it’s important. And we have seen from as little as, you know, when you register for an event, there’s that little box that’s like, here are other people, you know, on LinkedIn who are going. I’m more likely to click reserve if that box is filled with people I wanna meet with.

[00:18:55] Ankush: Hey. Yeah, that’s a very interesting point of view you know, and I think really what used to be, word of mouth earlier, maybe for our parent’s generation, is an online review these days, right?

You might not have time to ask friends about, what’s going on, or what the events are they like, but it becomes that much easier to just, hop onto a platform and, look at a bunch of reviews.

[00:19:15] Liz: Yeah. Although sometimes, you know, we don’t need to hear everybody’s opinion about everything

[00:19:19] Ankush: Yeah, absolutely. Well, that being said, Liz, we come to an end today on our podcast here, and thanks a lot for being on our show. Was fun having you. I hope we can do this again soon.

[00:19:31] Liz: Yes. Thank you so much.

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