This is the story of Technology First, an Ohio-based association, once rattled by the halt of in-person events in 2020, now making a triumphant return to in-person events. Technology First’s story demonstrates the industry’s growing interest in moving toward smaller, locally held in-person events that are powered by robust event technology.  

Read on to find out how Technology First is navigating the industry’s long-awaited reunion with in-person events and how they have launched two successful in-person event experiences that have engaged and provided ROI for both attendees and sponsors. 

Before you dive in: we spoke with Melissa Cutcher, Executive Director at Technology First, at MPI’s GMID event, about the industry’s return to in-person events. You can watch the session below!  

Get to know Technology First

Technology First, formerly Greater Dayton IT Alliance, is a community of leading-edge IT professionals which provides a forum where thought leaders from a variety of industries can engage and connect to grow their businesses, themselves, and the future of technology.  

Cutcher oversees the organization’s two major annual events: the Ohio Information Security Conference (OISC) and the Taste of IT conference.  

When the pandemic hit in 2020, in the middle of the OISC event, Cutcher and her team had to rethink how they would bring their members together in a meaningful and safe way.  

Two years later, in-person events are back, and Technology First and its members are jumping right back into meeting in-person with the support of their community and powerful event solutions.  

An abrupt end to in-person events 

Cutcher and her team were on-site at Technology First’s 18th annual OISC event in March 2020 when the pandemic hit, and the event came to an abrupt halt. 

“I remember standing in the conference hall, and our representative from Sinclair walks up and she’s like, ‘Melissa, the governor is about to shut everything down.’ At that point, I was thinking we would be shut down for a couple of weeks and life would go back to normal. Unfortunately, it didn’t,” Cutcher says.  

Like many event planners during that week of complete upheaval, Cutcher and her team didn’t have time to waste. They quickly researched event platforms and found the Webex Events (formerly Socio) end-to-end virtual event platform which enabled them to bring their members together virtually. 

Finding an all-in-one event management platform 

Before finding Webex Events, Technology First was using three separate apps for registration, gamification, and lead retrieval for speakers and exhibitors.   

Cutcher says that managing three separate apps for Technology First’s events was overwhelming, and some attendees expressed confusion when navigating between each platform.  

When Cutcher found Webex Events, transitioning to the all-in-one platform was an easy yes.  

“We used to use three different apps to do this one thing that [Webex Events] could do. When we found [Webex Events], it was this moment of, ‘This thing solves all things!’” 

Without skipping a beat, Technology First easily transitioned its Taste of IT and Ohio Information and Security Conference (OISC) events to a virtual format with Webex Events.   

"Very seamless, great feedback from all of our attendees, whether it was virtual or in-person..."

“The transition for us was super simple. Very seamless, great feedback from all of our attendees, whether it was virtual or in-person, about the app and the functionality of the app. Zero problems,” Cutcher says.  

Return to in-person with increased attendee numbers

After almost two years of virtual event experiences, Technology First’s members were eager to get back to in-person events. The proof? Well, it’s in the numbers.  

Attendees were ready to get back to in-person - and they were showing it by showing up.

Technology First’s OISC in-person event in 2020 brought in 450 attendees. When the event moved to virtual, the attendee count dropped to below 200. Most recently, when the event came back to in-person, the attendee number increased to 300 total.  

Attendees were ready to get back to in-person – and they were showing it by showing up. 

“My expectation is that those numbers will continue to go up because of the event being in-person,” Cutcher says. “Dayton is a small but large community and very relational, so people want to be in front of other people, communicating and networking.” 

Return to in-person events with increased attendee numbers

Leading up to the event, Technology First emphasized the importance of supporting a local event experience in its marketing materials. They highlighted that their members could invest in Dayton’s IT community by attending a local event instead of paying extra to attend a conference out of state. 

“What we find from our community is that they like to attend local events. They find that it’s affordable and a great way to obtain current information but also connect not only with peers but mentors and future mentors and employers and potential employees. Making that switch [to in-person] has been very good for us,” Cutcher says.  

Event tech to support an in-person comeback

While making the decision to return to in-person required careful consideration, when Technology First was ready for their in-person comeback, they were equipped with a partner, Webex Events, that could provide a one-stop-shop mobile event app.  

Event tech to support an in-person comeback

While many in-person events used to rely on printed booklets which featured the agenda, sponsor profiles, and general event information, Technology First recognized the opportunity they had to leverage a mobile event app to ensure that everyone had all of the event information at their fingertips. Cutcher says that the event app became the one source of event truth for attendees, sponsors, and volunteers.  

"...We won't do these [events] without an app in the future."

“Whenever anyone was asking, ‘Where do I find one of your exhibitors?,’ I told them to look on the app, and you’ll see the exhibitors and the map of the entire [venue]…. We won’t do these [events] without an app in the future,” Cutcher says.  

Technology First leveraged a variety of features to make their return to in-person events streamlined, engaging, and efficient. Check out some of Cutcher’s favorite Webex Events capabilities:  

Driving sponsor engagement with gamification

What’s an event without some friendly competition? Cutcher says that attendees “love the event game.” Technology First gave booth codes to each of their sponsors, which encouraged attendees to visit and engage with sponsors. When attendees collected codes and entered them into the app, the top five attendees with the most points received prizes.  

All event sponsors and exhibitors also had a presence at the venue and in the app through the sponsor showcase, offering them in-person and virtual visibility. 

Reconnecting through the social wall and live display

A return to in-person events means that old friends are finally reconnecting in-person after two years of virtual meetups and events.  

"It was so cool to see people actually engaging and seeing the pictures that were being posted of friends being able to connect and reconnect."

At the OISC event, Technology First wanted to provide a way for attendees to share about their in-person reunions in the event app. Once attendees posted to the social wall, Technology First displayed the posts on screens throughout the main conference hall using live display.  

“This conference that we just finished in March [2022] was the first time I could actually go out in the great hall and watch the live display. It was so cool to see people actually engaging and seeing the pictures that were being posted of friends being able to connect and reconnect,” Cutcher says. 

In-app announcements save the day 

When an attendee lost their wallet at OISC, instead of attempting to make an announcement from the microphone and potentially disrupting sessions or networking, Cutcher and her team used the announcements feature to quickly problem-solve and make an attendee’s commute home a little less stressful. 

“What do we do? We get on the [social wall], I send out an announcement, and here he is: he shows up at registration and he’s like, ‘Wouldn’t happen to be my wallet, would it?’ It was really cool,” Cutcher says. 

Cutcher also used the announcement feature to quickly communicate event information before, during, and after the conference. 

Building personalized agendas and providing session feedback

Cutcher and her team needed a way to keep all session information in one digital location. They achieved this by providing attendees with a general and personalized agenda, enabling everyone to see an overview of all event sessions and build their own agenda.  

The Technology First team also wanted to ensure that the agenda was widely available in the main conference hall. By connecting their event app to live display, Cutcher says attendees could easily see what was next on the general agenda as they networked in the conference hall. If attendees wanted to view their personal agenda, they could do so directly from the mobile event app.  

To top it all off, Technology First saw an opportunity to collect feedback from attendees on what they enjoyed about the event and what could be improved. Cutcher and her team easily collected these insights through embedded surveys which covered the general event and individual sessions.  

Customizing the event experience in real-time 

Event professionals know that event plans can change in an instant. At one of Technology First’s in-person events, a sponsor joined at the last minute after some of the volunteer materials highlighting sponsor information had already been printed. Fortunately, Kutcher was able to add the sponsor directly into the event app and direct her volunteers to reference the app for that sponsor’s information.  

“I told them that the app is the one true source… It was cool to be able to have that in real-time and keep it current,” Kutcher says.  

Showing sponsor ROI through the live data dashboard

It’s always important for event professionals to show their sponsors ROI, and Technology First is no exception. Cutcher and her team seamlessly exported in-app metrics such as banner clicks, profile views, game winners, and more to share with each of their event sponsors. 

The future of events: in-person paired with powerful technology 

Technology’s first journey back to in-person events shows that the combination of face-to-face interaction and event technology is propelling the events industry into a new era – an era that values both in-person and virtual elements as key factors of event success.

The future of events: in-person paired with powerful technology

Event technology is essential to in-person event success

The return to in-person events will require end-to-end event technology that can keep attendees, sponsors, and staff connected and informed.  

"It became very important that we are part of cutting-edge technology and can use things like an app to engage with attendees, volunteers, sponsors, exhibitors.."

Cutcher says that she will continue to leverage the Webex Events mobile app for her events, as the platform has transformed how attendees interact with each other and the event content. 

Event technology is essential to in-person event success

“It became very important that we are part of cutting-edge technology and can use things like an app to engage with attendees, volunteers, sponsors, exhibitors… We moved to this one app with Webex Events that solved everything for us, but then took it to the next two or three levels above what we were using,” Cutcher says.  

Cutcher also notes that Technology First’s peer group meetings throughout the year will be offered as hybrid experiences, giving attendees the chance to attend virtually or in-person.  

An emerging trend: return to in-person with a twist  

This story also reveals an emerging trend in the events industry – one that points to planners and attendees’ preference for more intimate, locally held in-person events

"...smaller-scale events allow attendees to have meaningful event experiences without making large investments of their time, money, and resources."

For Technology First and many other associations, in-person, peer-to-peer interaction is vital to their success.  

An emerging trend: return to in-person with a twist

In this new era of events, event professionals like Cutcher recognize that smaller-scale events allow attendees to have meaningful event experiences without making large investments of their time, money, and resources.  

“At an in-person event, we’re connecting, we’re seeing each other. We have an opportunity to support and champion and strengthen, and the way to do that is to have people in front of you.” 

Looking for more in-person event inspiration? Check out our case study on how the American Med Spa Association reimagined its in-person event.