The manufacturing space might not be the first place one would think to look for extraordinary events. But once you meet LiveWorx, your view of B2B events is likely to change entirely.
Hosted every June in Boston and attracting a crowd of technologists, engineers and manufacturing leaders, LiveWorx is transforming the traditional event model into a technology storytelling festival.
Keynotes have included the NFL’s CIO, the former CTO of the United States, and an AI expert who created a plant-robot hybrid (seriously). Show floor demos include a live augmented reality experience used to service farming equipment; the ability to leverage CAD designs in real-time to customize a yacht right before your eyes; and generating real-time IoT data from beer taps.
Between demos and keynotes, the event peppers the experience with celebrity-hosted socials spanning the Boston seaport, including guest appearances by actor Paul Rudd and Game of Thrones stars Richard Madden (Robb Stark) and Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy).
To learn more about how LiveWorx is changing Boston’s event scene, DX Journal spoke with some of the team behind the curtain.
LiveWorx has lived its own digital transformation
LiveWorx was born inside PTC, a global software company that works in the industrial space helping manufacturers use technology to drive digital transformation. The event was initially launched (under a different name) for PTC software clients to come together and share best practices.
Over the last four years the event has changed entirely.
LiveWorx moved into the Boston Convention Center in order to create space for exciting new programming, including main stage experiences with aerial acrobatics, a life-size transport truck and 3-level stage, dozens of technology demos and hundreds of breakout sessions from digital transformation leaders.
And the shift in the event’s model and experience worked. LiveWorx grew from an average attendance of 1,500-1,800 people in 2015 to more than four times that number today.
One of the visionaries behind the transformation is Devin Cleary. A self-described “renaissance experiential marketer” and vice president of experiential marketing for PTC, Cleary spearheads the vision for LiveWorx with a team of nine.
Cleary’s broad range of career roles include work as senior director of resources for the American Red Cross and as an events experience strategist with sales and marketing software company Hubspot. This mix of wide, varied experience powers the core of LiveWorx’s interdisciplinary presentation.
At its core, LiveWorx stands out because of its team’s relentless focus on creating moments of surprise and delight that demonstrate a deep connection between humans and technology.
“I look in the most unfamiliar places for inspiration,” Cleary said in an interview with DX Journal. “We look at multiple inspiration facets, from fashion to pop culture, to science, to literature, to history, to futurism. We do everything from blogs to videos to interviews, to participating in things like a fashion week so that we can get a sense of how everything can fit together. We take major global trends and translate them into a business context.”
LiveWorx features a vital reimagination of the expo hall called Xtropolis that provides demonstrations of full production cycles and the technology powering the future of manufacturing — IIoT, blockchain, AR, VR, AI, 3D printing, spatial computing — and how they all work together within a living, breathing business setting. And with a 200,000 foot exhibition area and more than100 exhibitors, the event floor has become a storytelling festival.
“The desire that we have to drive our company’s message into the marketplace is to communicate value,” said Eric Snow, senior vice president of corporate marketing at PTC, in an interview at LiveWorx. “I think we have sort of found a little bit of a secret sauce here, that if you combine education with entertainment and really delight people by using physical objects as a canvas to share digital stories, that can really be memorable and repeatable and shareable.”
A learning experience curated to impress
With so many technology events out there, it’s hard to stand out. But LiveWorx pushes a hands-on, multi-disciplinary approach to its technology tracks and featured displays that captivate its audience, boosting the attendee numbers each year. PTC even encourages competitors to attend in order to better amplify innovation and benefit the education of the thousands of attendees at LiveWorx.
“Over the last three or four years we’ve really transformed LiveWorx and sought to have the event transcend PTC,” said Snow. “We would like to have people come to this event who do business with PTC, or don’t do business with PTC, because we think there’s a tremendous amount of learning that the whole community can experience and share with each other.”
That learning is another key differentiator for the event.
“The benefit of going to LiveWorx is that you can accelerate your learning cycle and absorb and adopt a year’s worth of education in less than seven days,” said Cleary. “That is incredibly powerful. But don’t take my word for it, just look at the 7,000 individuals and technologists who are coming yearly and recognize the boutique quality of how we orchestrate and lay this out. We’re not just focused on the trends — we’re focused on everything to make sure no one is left behind.”
The process is intended to be open-ended, said Cleary, so that the event delivers insights to everyone, no matter what their background is.
Driving tech events into the future
Cleary has big ideas for LiveWorx and where it goes next.
“I want to make sure that companies out there with other events that are comparable in size want to partner with us,” said Cleary. “We should come together to create the mother of all technology events that changes the way people interact, the way they network and the way they absorb content.”
The event is also pushing ahead with a diversity focus that other tech conferences should take note of, committing to 50 percent of presenters to come from diverse backgrounds inclusive of gender and race within the next three years. And that goal is already seeing results — 11 percent of attendees self-identified as women in 2018 and that number increased to 21 percent in 2019.
Cleary noted that in its initial efforts to increase diversity and inclusion at the event, LiveWorx has provided same sex bathrooms and women’s mentorship workshops in order to empower the next generation of female leaders and technologists.
“This is a personal passion project of mine, and it’s something that I’m so grateful that the rest of the organization has fully embraced and will continue to embrace as we go onward,” he said. “This is an event that is truly setting a trend and leading the events industry, changing the way the industry works and operates.”
Pushing ahead with diversity goals is all part of the holistic, human event that Cleary and his team are working hard to build.
“For me, at the end of the day, it’s not just about the success of the event in terms of the numbers, the growth and the acceleration. It’s really about the ways we operate and cooperate, and the way that technology is allowing us to free up our time so we can focus on more creative and innovative tasks. The sky is really the limit.”
So what’s next for LiveWorx?
The event has already started hosting smaller co-located events as part of the larger event offering and it will head further in that direction under the vision of “we are better together.”
The event will also look to expand outside its current home at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center to create hubs around the city and include the entire tech ecosystem in a week-long innovation festival.
“The event we’re producing in 2019 will look minuscule compared to the event we’ll be orchestrating in 2021,” Cleary said.
The digital transformation of events, according to one expert
“You cannot translate a live event into a digital format,” says Microsoft’s Bob Bejan. “You must remake the event entirely.”
One hallmark of this pandemic age?
Virtual events — and lots of them.
Since March, professional events like conferences, workshops, summits, and teambuilding meetings have flourished online — alongside everything from fitness classes and concerts, to mental health management and doctor visits.
Another observation? This shift to virtual events was incredibly fast.
The World Health Organization designated the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic on March 11. Just 12 days later on the 23rd, we published a guide to eight digital transformation events that had already shifted to a digital format.
From the frontlines
One event expert we featured in our digital events write-up is Bob Bejan, Corporate VP of Global Events, Production Studios and Marketing Community for Microsoft.
In early March, Bejan published an insightful article on LinkedIn: Digital Transformation of Live events: Observations from the front line.
“It’s been a pretty intense few weeks for those of us working in events and experiential marketing,” he began, as he outlined what he and his team learned over the course of those first few weeks — many of which are still highly relevant for event producers.
At the top? “Accept that there is no playbook.” Bejan emphasized empathy and understanding — towards both audiences and your team — and offered useful steps for organizations pivoting quickly to digital.
The prevailing tone in March and of Bejan’s piece was that adapting and learning as you go was part of this “new normal.”
Where are we now?
In May, Bejan followed up his March insights with a piece for Fast Company, 8 ways to rethink virtual events for the age of social distancing — published two weeks before the major event, Microsoft Build.
In the article, Bejan reflects back on the previous few months, collecting the biggest lessons him and his team learned in those initial months: “[Microsoft] Build for us, was the first acid test of the programming and production approach we developed as a result of a 14 show crash course in digital transformation. At that time, we didn’t know whether any of this was going to work.”
By the end of March, the Microsoft team had shifted 30 internal and external events to digital through June 2021, and by early May, they had produced 5 large-scale virtual events.
In late September Bejan was back with another update via LinkedIn, on the eve of the “flagship of the flagship” Microsoft event, Ignite.
“Now, four months later, we believe that this kind of approach to events and experiences can work,” he writes, “and is rapidly becoming the center of gravity for our event strategy both in the short and longer term.”
Bejan shared plenty of great reflections on this digital transformation of live events, not to mention some pretty eye-opening data. At the top of the list:
“Virtual events are crazy effective!…At the highest level it’s about the scale. We are experiencing orders of magnitude growth in the number of people who are participating with us at our events….The mix of our audience has completely shifted. Historically, our events would breakdown to 80% US and 20% global; today that mix is 70/30 Global!”
He also shared insights on how digital events are more efficient (“we have been able to reduce our production cost dramatically”), and can — despite common pushback — foster community/create networking opportunities.
Finally, The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) announced that Microsoft will be the technology partner for CES 2021, which is transitioning to an all-digital event in mid-January.
“Our past live events were theatrical, with dynamic speakers on stage commanding a rapt audience,” Bejan explains in a Microsoft write-up. “But the all-digital format requires something more cinematic. We now tailor our content to that format, and we have transformed from a live show production team, to a 24/7 television production network, complete with live anchors from around the world. This new direction required collaboration, hard work and a lot of humility.”
An all-digital CES will be a big step forward for both Bejan and the Microsoft events team and the nature of virtual live events in general. The pandemic isn’t going away any time soon, and organizations are waking up to the overall idea that digital events can balance both cost-effectiveness and high quality.
It’ll be interesting to see the lessons learned from the digital transformation of such a massive event like CES, and how these can be incorporated into the future of live virtual events.
SAAS NORTH NOW Moves online in its first virtual conference
Canada’s largest SaaS conference features global speaker line-up and immersive event experience
Canada’s best and brightest SaaS minds will be coming together to learn, network and grow at SAAS NORTH NOW on September 9 – 10, 2020. In its fifth year, the popular and established SaaS conference usually takes place in Ottawa, but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic forced producers Cube Business Media to do a comprehensive pivot and move the conference online.
“With thousands of delegates converging annually, we knew we needed to find a way to re-create our immersive experience this year that will bring together SaaS entrepreneurs, CEOs and founders, mentors and investors. We moved very quickly to transition our conference to a virtual event that features an impressive line-up of global thought leaders in innovation and technology, as well as numerous meaningful ways for attendees to network and build connections,” says David Tyldesley, Co-Founder of the SAAS NORTH Conference.
The SAAS NORTH NOW program features leading entrepreneurs who will explain how they tackle topics such as how to maintain sustainable growth, navigating capital markets in a downturn, how to dominate your SaaS category, and the global economic outlook and business opportunities for SaaS sectors.
“SaaS is the lifeblood of software companies today,” says Leo Lax, Executive Managing Director of L-Spark, SAAS NORTH Co-Founder. “SaaS business models, marketing strategies, and product developments are continuously being innovated at an accelerated pace. L-SPARK co-founded SAAS NORTH because we are committed to continue building a sustainable global ecosystem. SAAS NORTH is the go-to destination to learn and explore the industry. SAAS NORTH is where today’s SaaS lives, and where the future partners, investors and talent come to connect.”
“SAAS NORTH is an opportunity to connect with some of the greatest minds in SaaS. They swiftly transferred the ethos and core values of the event into a virtual format to ensure attendees from all over can continue to learn, stay connected, and discover the tools they need to help navigate and scale their businesses in our new normal,“ says Jason VandeBoom, Founder and CEO, Active Campaign.
While attendees won’t be meeting physically face-to-face, there will be plenty of opportunities to make connections, meet investors and connect with serial founders to learn from their pivots, rebounds and innovations.
Using industry leading technology, there are many opportunities for attendees to have meaningful conversations with other conference delegates, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors. Prior to the conference, attendees can use AI and advanced filters to identify who they should meet at the event.. There will also be a happy hour, VIP reception, and pre-scheduled meetings on specific subject matters.
The popular Pitchfest, a showcase of up-and-coming Canadian SaaS businesses, is taking place virtually this year with eight start-ups making their pitch for the top prize of $10,000 cash prize provided by Amazon Web Services, up to $100,000 in cloud credits provided by Amazon Web Services, full-service virtual IP manager (VIPM™) valued at $10,000 provided by Stratford Intellectual Properties and a custom explainer video package valued at $10,000 provided by Simple Story,
“I encourage all our virtual attendees to plan for SAAS NORTH as if you were physically going. Clear your calendar, put an out of office message on, set up meetings in advance and schedule breaks throughout the day. Make the most of this opportunity to connect with your peers and learn from the top leaders in the Canadian and global SaaS ecosystem,” says Tyldesley.
Attendees can purchase tickets for SAAS NORTH NOW at just over $133 – a fraction of the usual in-person conference fee.
8 digital transformation conferences and events being offered virtually
“If ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ coronavirus (COVID-19) forced many around the world to rethink our daily lives from work to school to entertainment,” wrote author, futurist, and advisor Bernard Marr in an article for Forbes about how the current pandemic is fast-tracking digital transformation for many companies.
From the ability to work from home, to telehealth, to remote learning, technology has stepped up to the plate to help everyone retain at least part of their work or school routine, and to assist healthcare professionals and systems in managing the onslaught of patients.
And with social distancing and isolation guidelines — not to mention travel restrictions — in place to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, one sector that’s taken a hit is the live events and conferences industry.
“It is easy for me to say with absolute certainty, that nothing like this has ever happened during my career,” said Bob Bejan, Corporate VP of Global Events, Production Studios and Marketing Community for Microsoft, in a LinkedIn post from March 13, where he outlines lessons his team has learned over the last month.
And while many tech and digital transformation conferences and summits have been postponed or cancelled outright, many have gone digital in the hopes of connecting audiences that are working from home and either social distancing or self-isolating. As a bonus, many are either low-cost or complimentary, and content is set to be available on demand for future viewing.
Here are 8 events that have moved their keynotes, roundtables, demos, and networking activities online (or were started as virtual events to begin with):
The Drum’s Digital Transformation Festival
Ongoing until April 30, 2020
This event explores what digital transformation really means for marketing through video presentations, webinars, and editorial content, with a recap of each day. Check out their roundup of eight lessons learned from Week 1 of the festival.
March 31, 2020
Adobe’s annual conference brings together creatives and marketing professionals for the chance to hear the company’s vision for the future of commerce as an integral part of CXM from CEO Shantanu Narayen and Executive Vice President and General Manager, Digital Experience Anil Chakravarthy. Participants can also explore product demos and announcements across six additional keynotes and 100+ breakout sessions in a “choose your own adventure” style
The Remote Work Summit
Unsurprisingly, this summit — the largest remote work conference in the world — was conceived as a digital event, bringing together over 11,000 professionals to learn how to work remotely as an individual, a team and an organization from industry professionals. Who attends? Anyone and everyone who envisions the Future of Work — from remote workers to entrepreneurs to freelancers to people managers.
OCP (Open Compute Project) Global Summit
The Open Compute Project (OCP) is a collaborative community focused on redesigning hardware technology to efficiently support the growing demands on computer infrastructure. With its move online, the OCP Global Summit will include keynote sessions, executive tracks, an Expo Hall with Expo Hall talks, Engineering Workshops, the OCP Experience Center and the OCP Future Technologies Symposium. Q&As, panel discussions, live chats, and one-on-one connections can also be expected.
June 9, 2020
The definitive event for digital transformation has moved online for 2020, and will be free. While few details were released when the decision was made on March 19, LiveWorx is planning to offer as much 2020 content in digital format as possible.
June 22-25, 2020
North America’s fastest growing tech conference was one of the first major events to move online, and is now called Collision from Home. This event, which brings together the people and companies redefining the global tech industry, will feature live stream talks from tech CEOs, international policymakers and global cultural figures. They’ll chat and connect with each other through the bespoke Collision from Home app and they’ll engage with some of the world’s most influential companies and fastest-growing startups.
Hosted by Domo, the fully mobile, cloud-based operating system, Domopalooza took place March 18-20, but a live replay, breakout sessions, charts, product announcements, and plenty of highlights are all now on demand.
SAP Ariba Live
At SAP Ariba Live, the world’s premier spend management event, participants discuss the complex, volatile geopolitical environment; the economic threat of global supply chain disruption; new technologies; evolving regulations; and other important factors that present you with new challenges, risks, and opportunities.
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