Event organizers in higher education know that launching successful events is no small feat. Promoting attendee and sponsor engagement, removing barriers for student attendees, and minimizing paper and printing costs are just a few challenges facing event planners in the higher education space. For Gretchen Keller, Director of Planning and Engagement at Ivy Tech Community College, these challenges presented a unique opportunity to reinvent Ivy Tech’s events program with powerful technology.  

Read on to learn how Keller partnered with Webex Events (formerly Socio) to transform Ivy Tech’s in-person events, and later pivot to achieve virtual event success.  

Taking higher education event planning to a new level with Webex Events

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana’s largest public postsecondary institution and the nation’s largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. 

Over the past 15 years, Keller has worked in many roles for the university, both on the student and administration side, including for the Office of the President. Today, she spends most of her time supporting the State Board of Trustees, Ivy Tech’s governing body, and coordinating state-wide events — typically ranging from 200 to 600 attendees — for the college’s dispersed faculty, students, and campuses. 

As Keller’s role evolved to include organizing events, she jumped at the opportunity to transform Ivy Tech’s events with technology. 

“I thought, how can we reinvent our events? What can we do differently?” she says. 

Keller initially considered using a board engagement app, but decided a mobile event app offered a better solution after experiencing the benefits herself at a separate conference.

As she vetted event technology providers, Keller discovered Webex Events (formerly Socio), one of the leading contenders, also came with an added bonus — a local connection. From the college’s annual Ivy Oscar Awards to the maker of their faculty’s retirement gifts, Keller strives to partner with Indiana-based vendors, making Webex Events the perfect match.  

Keller organized her first in-person event with Webex Events in late 2019, then the pandemic hit. She says she initially panicked, and then went into “overdrive” and figured out how to adapt her in-person events to a virtual format with Webex Events. 

Now with multiple Webex Events-powered events under her belt — including five that she rated as perfect-10 NPS scores — Keller dishes out some of the ways Webex Events solves her most critical challenges and takes her higher education event planning to the next level. 

Eliminate paper and printing costs, streamline efficiencies 

Even before pivoting Ivy Tech’s events to a virtual format, Keller wanted a solution to lower operational costs and eliminate the need to print 100-page documents for the Board of Trustees and full-color brochures for 500-plus attendees.  

With Webex Events, Keller uploaded all event materials into the app, completely eliminating paper and printing costs, saving time, and even lowering stress since she could easily make real-time updates to the agenda and speaker lineup, or fix a typo without reprinting materials and wasting money. 

Webex Events Map Feature in the Web Application

“I was able to cut my budget, sometimes in half, or completely cut my budget, because I was able to put everything into the [Webex Events] App,” Keller says. “That was one of the biggest selling points I shared with our internal team.” 

Keller also found another benefit of using the Webex Events agenda feature. She can send the agenda in advance, rather than waiting to finalize every last detail before shipping it to the printer, a benefit she says is critical when coordinating with busy faculty and trustees. 

Showcase branding front and center 

Branding plays a big part of the Ivy Tech identity, so Keller takes full advantage of the white labeling capabilities of Webex events (formerly Socio), which allow her to customize every app feature and icon, and add the college’s precise brand colors.  

She jokes how she names everything “Ivy-something,” so naturally, she settled on Ivy Events for the event app name, and used the college’s iconic green-and-white tree logo for the app icon, to make it a breeze to find in the app store.  

“The Webex Events branded app tied so beautifully into what we’re doing from a branding perspective at Ivy Tech,” Keller says. “And it also served as a visual for people inside the college to know exactly what to look for when using it for an event.”  

Remove barriers and boost connection 

One of Keller’s top events is an Education Fair for students to network with Ivy Tech’s institutional partners and learn about transferring to a four-year university.  

Many of Ivy Tech’s students come from non-traditional backgrounds, and often attend school while working full-time. Hosting it virtually allowed Keller to run the event in the evening, and helped the college significantly boost attendance.  

Webex Events Web App

“[Webex Events] has allowed more people to attend our events, whether they’re completely virtual or hybrid events,” Keller says. “At Ivy Tech, we want to ‘Go where the students are.’ With [Webex Events], we’re going where our faculty and staff are, too, and making this available to everyone.”  

Keller adds, “We do a survey at the end of our events, and multiple students said, ‘I never would have been able to meet with the four-year university partners. I didn’t even know this was a possibility to transfer to Indiana University with this degree, and I was able to do it because the event took place in the evening.’”  

Promote sponsors with tiered packages  

Keller says Ivy Tech maintains long-standing relationships with its four-year university partners, bookstores, and other sponsors, and she’d already booked 33 vendors for a Student Success Summit when she realized she needed to translate it to a virtual format. Fortunately, the Webex Events sponsorship tools, notably the Sponsor Showcase, made it an easy sell, and she even enlisted a couple of first-time sponsors. 

Webex Events Sponsor Showcase

Keller offered tiered sponsorship packages, with premier sponsors receiving the highest visibility. She added a carousel showcasing sponsor banners, and linked some to promo pages or sponsor websites, depending on the sponsorship tier. She also gave some sponsors speaking opportunities and featured them in contests and giveaways. But ultimately, she says, the best part was how Webex Events tied it all together, making a seamless sponsor experience. 

“They were excited because they were also able to engage with our remote attendees,” she says. “And they really liked how everything connects on the backend. If you clicked on a sponsor, there’s a drop-down and you saw they were featured on the agenda, and then you could click into their bios. Everything just kind of weaved itself around, and it gave us so many opportunities to showcase our sponsors.” 

Drive engagement with gamification 

Keller loves using the Webex Events gamification feature to boost event engagement, and she was surprised by how effectively it drives intended action. “I didn’t realize how competitive some people are,” she says. “It’s just a game, but some people take it so seriously.” 

In fact, at Ivy Tech’s Career Coaching & Employer Connections (CCEC) event in September 2021, 200 attendees completed 2,813 unique challenges, an average of 14 challenges per attendee.  

Webex Events Gamification feature

Keller likes to build out her games around trivia, so attendees earn points by entering the answer into their Webex Events mobile app or web browser. She says it creates a fun and competitive incentive for attendees to discover other Webex Events features, read speaker bios, or engage with sponsors by visiting a website or promotion.   

“I was reading the Ivy Event’s social wall last week and someone was like, ‘I never would’ve thought going to a conference that I’d see my name as an answer to a trivia question,’” Keller jokes. “It’s because we went in and used some of our speakers’ bio info.” 

Customer support ensures event success 

Keller says the top-rated customer Webex Events support team helped her strategize her initial pivot to virtual events, and a recurring team of event tech pros were always just a call or click away whenever she needed help. 

“With the [Webex Events] team, not once have I ever felt like a burden to anyone. I don’t feel like I’m alone setting up the app. I so appreciate [Webex Events] for helping to make sure that our events are successful. If we all had dinner together, I’m sure it’d be an awesome time.” 

Advice for higher education event planners   

Keller says Webex Events not only makes it possible to seamlessly pivot her in-person events to virtual and hybrid experiences, but the ease of use, intuitive design, full customization, and world class customer support give her the confidence to try bigger and better things, and she encourages other higher education event organizers to think outside the box and not fear event technology.  

Webex Events' social Wall promotes attendee engagement

“I just want people to be aware of the opportunities to using an event app, the cost savings, and to not to be afraid of trying something different because we all get stuck in the way of doing things,” she says. “Utilizing the [Webex Events] App throughout the last year has expanded what we think we can do with our events, which is exciting.”