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  • Writer's pictureAdam Malik

Could IAEK Be the Hidden Code of Event Success? Building the Framework for the Future of Events Now

I posted my initial idea around the concept of IAEK on the first post on this site, talking about What a Sustainable Digitised Event may look like.

As we have expanded our work around Digitising Events, finding a numerical framework to define any aspect of an event irrespective of form and function has become increasingly important.

With this, we can begin to create predictive models around event success, model and design experiences, and create a better flow for all participants. By finding a way to quantify an entire event or event ecosystem, we can begin to develop successful models to improve their effectiveness and evidence their importance in the digital world.

There is still too much guesswork around events, how they are put together, and their impact on markets. As one of my colleagues said, it is still one of the least evidence-based sectors and disciplines that exists.

I have written on Medium about the initial genesis of the IAEK Framework and all the interviews that led me here. The framework enables embedding Data Science into the world of events to deliver high participation without guesswork and waste.

The Flaw in Our Current Approach

If you talk to an event owner or planner, one of the first things they will say is, “We do events differently.” When pressed about this difference, it is usually not that “different” and very quickly comes down to talking about features and functions. We have more round tables, or we give everyone lunch.

So what is wrong with that? Nothing much on the surface. Nothing seems to be broken. Tables get sponsored, and who does not buy into an exciting and intelligent conversation at a round table?

But what if it is broken? What if the digital storm is whipping up BlockBuster-like winds for the world of events? The threat is real, and we need to know how much time we have to get ahead of the curve.

Too many brands and large companies are beginning to ask some serious and very awkward questions about the impact of events now we are past the “pandemic bounce.”

A person on a boat facing towering waves.
We are sailing into a digital storm. But where is our compass?

The IAEK Framework and the Future of Events

If we can unlock and describe the nature of an event and its participants’ interaction with it using a straightforward code, a bit like DNA, the possibilities of what we can model, create and predict are boundless.

In DNA, its four nucleotide bases – Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Cytosine (C), and Guanine (G) – form a language where sequences delineate an array of genetic instructions. Despite its apparent simplicity, the sequencing and combinations of these four letters culminate in the spectacular diversity and complexity witnessed within the biological world.

In this essay, I want to discuss our current thinking around the IAEK Framework and how we would begin to apply it to Events.

IAEK, as the letters suggest, is formed of four elements or fundamental parts. It is a pure coincidence that it has four. I have been trying to identify a helpful fifth or factor it down to three, but it remains at four.

The Four Pillars of IAEK

While we may still want to play around with the order, it is not that crucial other than avoiding the sequence, which inadvertently gives a nod to a large Swedish furniture manufacturer.

Information Exchange (I) is the fundamental activity where relevant data is shared. I may pick up a brochure or sign up for an event. It's the foundational interaction point without which no event can meaningfully exist.

Action/Decision (A) is at the core of any event and its success. If you choose to attend, you are contributing to its success. If you stay away, you are not. This component seeks to understand and influence the actions and decisions taken when experiencing the event and afterwards, resulting from the information and knowledge exchanged.

Engagement/Experience (E) measures this aspect around an event and its elements. The amount of Engagement and Experience markers a participant, feature, or moment has at an event has a direct impact on its success or otherwise. Encapsulating the affective, experiential, and qualitative dimensions of events, ensuring they're not just informative but also emotively resonant and memorable.

Knowledge Transfer/Gain (K) transpires substantially as more and more Information Exchange markers are created by a feature or interacted with by a participant combined with depths of Engagement or Experience. The more significant the shift in knowledge, the higher the impact of the event and its ability to create a measurable shift in the individuals, organisations, or markets' ability to take action.

Just as we need to translate the information in DNA for it to be useful, knowledge in an event context must be conveyed and assimilated.

A chart of the IAEK Scorecard

A Shared Language for Events and Its Real-World Applications

The proposition is to use the IAEK Framework to synthesise a language for event planning and execution that can as accurately and comprehensively represent the multifaceted experiences and outcomes as DNA does for life. By intertwining these fundamental components, IAEK can aspire to decode the formula for successful, resonant events that can create meaningful shifts consistently.

Encoding IAEK into events isn't merely about elevating individual aspects in isolation but crafting a cohesive, holistic narrative where event components harmoniously converge to create enriched participant experience and maximised value.

We will continue to test the model's versatility and iterate how to use it to enhance the substance and impact of various event elements. As we begin to embed IAEK markers into the models and reporting we deliver via The DiG, we will also share its application in some real-world scenarios. Here are some early scenarios and their potential application in reality:

Reanimating The Stand, aka Booth

For most tradeshows, The Stand or Booth has almost become an unquestioned given. However, we tend to measure its impact less because it is hard. In the digital world, this has become easier.

At the stands, Information Exchange (I) may revolve around product details, company information, or user manuals disseminated through brochures, QR codes, or interactive digital interfaces.

Knowledge Transfer Markers (K) could involve live product demonstrations or expert consultations, enabling attendees to delve deeper than surface-level data.

Action/Decision (A) might involve incentivising immediate sign-ups or purchases through exclusive event discounts or bonuses. Engagement or Experience (E), in its simplest form, is time spent collected in an anonymised way.

The important thing is that giving each stand an IAEK score allows us to benchmark performance and give exhibitors beneficial information on how to improve and maximise their presence.

Roundtables - Hubs of Collaborative Insight

At a roundtable, Information Exchange (I) might focus on providing concise, relevant data to participants to foster informed discussions. Knowledge Transfer (K) is optimised by ensuring a heterogeneous mix of experts and novices, facilitating bi-directional learning.

For Action/Decision (A), creating clear takeaways or post-event action items, like collaborative projects or whitepapers, would yield tangible outputs.

To amplify Engagement or Experience (E), crafting an inclusive, respectful environment and ensuring participants feel engaged and valued is vital—we can now build correlations to know what the core aspects of this environment need to be.

However, these are just features. The fundamental opportunity is to give each roundtable in a sea of roundtables an IAEK score. We now have a non-subjective way to design for and give feedback on quality.

Keynotes - Anchoring the Event Narrative

Within keynotes, effective Information Exchange (I) might involve strategically placing key data points and takeaways, ensuring they're highlighted and easily digestible.

We can elevate Knowledge Transfer (K) by integrating case studies, practical examples, and actionable insights, providing attendees with data and applicable knowledge. The transfer can be activated innovatively, for instance, through an interactive transcript or a real-time co-created white paper by the attendees.

Encouraging Action/Decision (A) could involve post-keynote workshops or breakout sessions where insights can be practically applied or discussed further.

Again, the prize is in understanding the optimal IAEK code of a keynote that creates a significant 'kicker' for an event.

Abstracted image of a DNA.
Intertwining these fundamental elements—IAEK—forms the blueprint for Digitising Event success.

Encoding the Whole Event

We can go on and encode all the event features and, therefore, the event as a whole based on individual and aggregated IAEK scores, which will give us a very robust overview of the impact the event has had in creating a knowledge shift to facilitate action.

We would now be able to use the IAEK lens to view these event elements and dissect, understand, and subsequently enhance the informational, educational, actionable, and experiential value offered at every junction.

It isn't merely about elevating individual aspects in isolation but crafting a cohesive, holistic event narrative where each component – stands, roundtables, keynotes, and beyond – harmoniously converge to create an enriched participant experience and maximise the value they derive from the event.

Participant Profiling: IAEK in Action

As we encode each part of the event, fundamentally, the IAEK model fosters a robust framework to scrutinise and elevate participant values and experiences in a systematic yet nuanced manner, giving us a much better way of understanding cohort behaviour and how participants derive value from our events.

Balancing the need for a consistent, structured IAEK application while still honouring and amplifying the unique essence and objectives of each event and its components is a delicate tightrope to walk.

Information Exchange (I) focuses on how participants interact with the information presented at an event. Evaluating this could involve assessing the ease with which participants can access, comprehend, and utilise information. Employing feedback forms, digital interaction tracking, and direct conversations can shed light on whether the informational aspects of an event resonate with and are valued by the participants in the aggregate.

In assessing Knowledge Transfer/Gain (K), the focus pivots to the depth and applicability of the knowledge shared and acquired during the event. We can now tune post-event surveys and discussions to understand what participants learned and how they intend to apply it, which can provide vital insights.

When evaluating Action/Decision (A), the aim is to discern whether participants are moved to take specific actions or make particular decisions post-event. It could be assessed through follow-up interactions, observing whether participants engage further with presented products, services, or ideas or initiate collaborations and networks spawned from event interactions.

Assessing participant Engagement or Experience (E) involves diving into the emotional and qualitative dimensions of their event journey. Utilising feedback platforms, social media interactions, and direct dialogues can unveil how participants felt during and after the event and whether it crafted a memorable, emotionally resonant experience that will linger and bring them back to future events.

We now have a much more explicit focus on how to tune and codify our behavioural analytics and qualitative and quantitative information gathering.

Intersecting IAEK with Diverse Participant Profiles

We must accept that different participants may prioritise I, A, E, and K differently; segmenting participant feedback based on their profiles, roles, and objectives can further refine the IAEK application.

For instance, a vendor might prioritise 'A' while an attendee might place a higher value on 'E' and 'K'. Understanding and applying these nuances ensures that IAEK is not just applied but is tailored optimally and used to shift and align behaviours so all participants derive the maximum value from their experiences.

By applying the IAEK framework to evaluate participant experiences and values, we can capture a holistic understanding of the impact of an event, enabling us to tweak and tailor subsequent events to more precisely meet and exceed participant expectations, crafting journeys that inform, educate, inspire, and resonate, ensuring not merely successful events, but transformative experiences.

Challenges and Limitations of Implementing the IAEK Framework

Our early experiments of applying the IAEK model show that it is a potentially transformative framework for event planning and evaluation. Still, we are aware that it comes with its own set of challenges and complexities. Implementing it universally across diverse events and participants brings several nuances that must be considered and addressed meticulously. At the moment, we are concentrating on the B2B Event market segment and want to share some of our challenges.

Abstract illustration of connected lines over random shapes.
The events landscape is evolving. But the IAEK Model is agnostic of form and highly adaptable.

Quantifying the Intangible - A Struggle with 'Action'

One of the most salient challenges within the IAEK framework arises when attempting to quantify and measure 'Action/Decision' (A). While 'micro-actions' are easy to identify, such as where someone went, what time they arrived, and so on, some of the more significant actions are harder to discern.

Actions inspired or decisions made due to participating in an event can often be long-term, multifaceted, and influenced by numerous external variables, making them notoriously difficult to measure and attribute to specific event components or interactions accurately.

Determining a causal link between event participation and subsequent actions/decisions requires more thought.

An experience from the past may have an application here. When running an enterprise software event back in the stone ages, we would look for win announcements in a magazine called Infomatics (it doesn't exist any more). Similar signals are now available. For example, we have access to services showing intent data, the modern equivalent of Infomatics, perhaps.

Indeed, there could be a way of measuring the causal impact of an event on a company's intent to engage with products and services the event focused on.

Capturing Genuine Engagement

While 'Engagement or Experience' (E) can be partially gauged through observable metrics like participation duration, interaction levels, and feedback forms, we must refrain from polling participants into apathy.

Beyond mere attendance and interaction, utilising IAEK to understand, measure, and enhance participant journeys ensures that each interaction, session, and moment is crafted with intentionality and empathy.

Capturing the genuine, intrinsic engagement and emotional resonance of participants poses a formidable challenge. Ensuring that feedback and engagement metrics are not merely surface-level but delve into the deeper, often subtle, emotional and psychological aspects of participant experience demands nuanced approaches and perhaps even psychological expertise.

Balancing Uniformity and Uniqueness

Attempting to apply a universal code or model across varied events, each with its unique objectives, audiences, and contexts, risks potentially oversimplifying or homogenising unique event experiences. Balancing the need for a consistent, structured IAEK application while still honouring and amplifying the unique essence and objectives of each event and its components is a delicate tightrope to walk.

Data Privacy and Ethical Considerations

Events have, for some reason, had a poor relationship with Data Privacy; this must change.

Digitising Events and implementing IAEK effectively demands collecting, analysing, and sharing participant data, which brings forth significant ethical and legal considerations. Ensuring that data collection and analysis is conducted ethically, transparently, and in compliance with global data protection regulations while also ensuring that it does not inadvertently dilute or commercialise participant experiences is pivotal.

It is manageable as we can efficiently anonymise and tune the capture of IAEK markers so that they serve only to create maximum participant value openly and transparently.

Adaptability to Dynamic Event Landscapes

The event landscape is perpetually evolving, shaped by technological advancements, cultural drifts, shifting attitudes to carbon neutrality, and global occurrences (like the recent pandemic, catalysing a seismic shift towards virtual events).

One of the fascinating elements of the IAEK Framework is that it is agnostic of form. Its application can work from webinars to large events, giving us a unique empirical measure to allow us to make the IAEK model adaptable, relevant, and applicable by understanding how it applies to each form.

One of the other beauties of IAEK is that it enables an ongoing and focused dialogue amongst all the areas of expertise involved in orchestrating a successful event from event planners, participants, marketers, sponsors, exhibitors, and speakers - ensuring that the model evolves in tandem with the needs, expectations, and landscapes it seeks to navigate.

IAEK and The Future of Event Experiences: Crafting Authentic, Value-driven Journeys

One of the hopes is that incorporating the IAEK model into the fabric of event planning and execution has the potential to reshape not only how we conceptualise and structure events but also how we understand, value, and elevate participant experiences.

While still embryonic, integrating the IAEK framework is more than just a theoretical exercise as we add IAEK scores into The DiG dashboards. It holds genuine potential to forge more meaningful, impactful, and value-driven event experiences, both for organisers and participants.

Innovation in Event Design and Thinking

We are already seeing shifts as we envisage events through the IAEK lens, facilitating innovative event design and enabling planners to craft experiences that are not merely passive or consumptive but are active, immersive, and collaborativeand now measurable.

Beyond mere logistics and programming, IAEK encourages a deeper dive into understanding and prioritising the intrinsic and instrumental values and expectations of participants, crafting events that are not just attended but actively experienced, interacted with, and valued.

Data-driven Decision-making

In this area, we are making some promising advances; data points which were until now thrown away are now forming useful IAEK markers. It also highlights a need for more veracity from some event tech systems, but that is another post.

Starting to codify events and participant experiences through IAEK, we can surface data-driven insights to make more informed, targeted, and impactful decisions.

Looking at some elements of an event with even a rudimentary IAEK Score completely changes how we can view, analyse, and quantify value.

Harmonising Virtual and Physical Experiences

With the surge in virtual events, there is an ambition to harmonise or create hybrid events. Full disclosure: as someone who ran their first (what people are now calling) 'hybrid' event in 2010, I have always felt we need to approach the problem differently.

IAEK holds the potential to guide us to a different harmonisation of physical and virtual experiences, ensuring consistency, continuity, and complementarity. As I had always suspected, the DNA or IAEK profile of an online attendee has markedly different characteristics.

By understanding how I, A, E, and K manifest and are valued differently across physical and virtual spaces, we can leverage the unique strengths and opportunities each format offers into a blend which adds value to the participant.

An illustration of a busy town square.
We need collective wisdom and diverse perspectives as we continuously build on the IAEK Framework.

Sustainable and Inclusive Event Ecosystems

Employing the IAEK framework paves the way for the future of eventstowards more sustainable and inclusive event ecosystems. By understanding and valuing how different participant segments engage, learn, and derive value, events can be designed to be more accessible, inclusive, and equitable.

Beyond mere attendance and interaction, utilising IAEK to understand, measure, and enhance participant journeys ensures that each interaction, session, and moment is crafted with intentionality and empathy. It ensures that events are not just platforms for information and knowledge exchange but experiences that build communities and collaborations.

The journey of integrating and optimising the IAEK framework into the event planning and execution paradigm is just beginning for us. I envisage a future where events are not just crafted but are co-created.

Innovation is an ongoing journey, not a destination. The development of the IAEK methodology is no exception.

I shared this approach with Tim Groot, and in our podcast, he gave a better analogy of the potential of this model. The harmonising tool widely recognised by DJs worldwide is the Camelot Wheel. The ingenuity of this wheel lies in its capability to guide DJs in creating a fluid and harmonious sequence of tracks by effortlessly identifying complementary musical keys. Similarly, the implementation of IAEK has the potential to serve as a guiding compass for event planners, ensuring each piece of an event gets seamlessly interwoven, providing a coherent, harmonious experience for all participants.

So going back to the aspiration of harmonising the physical and virtual, I can see how the concept of utilising IAEK as a tool, much like the Camelot Wheel, to curate harmoniously rich and enchanting event experiences is not just a pioneering step towards meticulous planning but also a stride towards empathetically understanding and valuing each participant's journey and experience.

The creation of the world's first Participant Engagement Engine?

I have already discussed the concept and need to orchestrate non-linear participant journies to begin to solve some of the reasons why virtual events still suck. With the IAEK framework, we may have the anchor needed to orchestrate this: Participant Engagement Engine.

The tech has always been there. However, it has been challenging to harmonise data markers in a sensible way to potentially create AI engines which would enable, guide and execute all the participant journies. It is an exciting prospect.

The IAEK Glue

As each participant has different IAEK motivations, the framework serves as a glue. Our thinking is that it now becomes less about, for example, the vote for a poll but more the fact that the vote happened and where and when it happened to create an action marker which can influence the next subtle permutation of this participant's journey.

It would create a much more rewarding feedback mechanism aligned to maximising IAEK value than all the poll answers which never get used. If I am to carve out an hour of my time to attend an online event, there is an obligation to maximise my IAEK engagement to ensure that my first action should trigger outcome participation.

Joining Forces to Develop the IAEK Methodology

Innovation is an ongoing journey, not a destination. The development of the IAEK methodology is no exception. As I have shared our understanding to date, mixing the conceptual and sharing some initial real-world findings where I can.

It is vital to get different and varied inputs. The evolution and refinement of IAEK should not occur in isolation. It demands collective wisdom, diverse perspectives, and a pooling of expertise and experiences from across the event sector. Thus, we extend a warm invitation to event organisers, planners, data scientists, analysts, and anyone interested in shaping the future of events to join us on this explorative journey.

As we shape this out with some of our pioneering customers, we commit to maintaining an open channel for knowledge exchange and discussion, ensuring that findings, developments, and advancements in the IAEK methodology are shared transparently with the community.


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