by Alex Palmer | March 25, 2019

Protecting attendee data and safeguarding attendees themselves were the main topics discussed at the opening education session of Successful Meetings University International, held this morning at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York City. The event brought together more than 250 meeting planners and suppliers for two days of networking and education.

Setting the stage for continued discussion, "Perspectives on the Global Meetings Industry" featured a panel of four experts representing a range of responsibilities and concerns. Among the hot topics were data privacy, event security, and the working relationship between global planners and destination representatives.
 
"Given today's regulatory landscape, we need to know where the data is within our organizations, what we're doing with it, where we're sharing it with third parties and how those third parties are going to be using it," said Dan Goldstein, cofounder and partner at Tueoris, LLC.

Why GDPR Is Just the Beginning for Attendee Data Privacy

Goldstein emphasized that not only has the General Data Protection Regulation added urgency to ensuring the security and proper tracking of attendee data for residents of the EU, but such measures will soon apply to the handling of U.S. citizens' data. The recently passed California Consumer Privacy Act, to take effect in January 2020, will put similar requirements in place for that state's residents. Goldstein described it as "a fairly significant law" and expects that other states will follow in California's path.

Using Technology to Understand Conference Attendee Behavior

In addition to protecting attendee data, the panelists discussed how best to leverage it to better understand attendees and improve events in the future. Brad Langley, vice president of channel and partner management for Aventri, discussed how technology plays an important role in both the gathering of data and actually doing something with that information.
 
"We collect reams of data, but the problem is digesting that data -- making it actionable insights that your client can benefit from," said Langley. "Event planners often don't connect the dots afterword and say, 'This is what you really got as a result of investing in that event.'" He pointed to tools such as smart tags and iBeacons, which are instrumental in identifying attendee behavior in real time and can drive program decisions as the event unfolds.
 
Linda J. McNairy, global vice president of American Express Meetings & Events, added that some mobile apps allow attendees to give live feedback to a speaker so that content can be modified while a presentation is in progress, ensuring that audience needs are addressed. Facial recognition is another tool to measure engagement. "It doesn't reveal who this person is, but it does know whether this face is frowning, scowling, confused or smiling," noted McNairy.

Keeping Physical Security Top of Mind

Moderator Loren Edelstein, vice president, content director, of Northstar Meetings Group, brought up attendee security as a priority for all meeting planners and suppliers. On that point, Gregg H. Talley, CEO of Talley Management Group Inc., said, "We're not doing our jobs if we're not thinking about security and actively engaging on behalf of our attendees and organizations." He added that "sometimes destinations aren't prepared to address it holistically upfront with us, and you have to piecemeal it together -- you have to deal with the venue, then deal with the police, then hotel security. That's the level of support I'm looking for from a destination when I go in, so that I'm not driving the dialog. I want to know those relationships and plans are already in place."