Adapting Our Events Post Covid
Alexander St. John | Twilio
Alex St. John at Twilio talks about how the disruption of the pandemic gave his mighty team the incentive to explore building custom tools within Swoogo to completely rebuild Twilio Signal 2023.
Alex St. John at Twilio talks about how the disruption of the pandemic gave his mighty team the incentive to explore building custom tools within Swoogo to completely rebuild Twilio Signal 2023.
Alex and his Mighty Signal Team!
Alex from Twilio talks about digging deeper into the open infrastructure of Swoogo to create novel event opportunities within Swoogo. You’ll learn about:
- The evolution of Twilio Signal from 2020-2023
- How Twilio’s values and Swoogo go hand in hand
- Twilio’s Heroes avatars
- How Twilio builds their own tools, within Swoogo
- How events and brand teams should work together
- Getting the most out of your hybrid experience
Our favorite quote: “That's where you see this evolution from 2020 to 2023. We learned to lean into Swoogo more. Instead of building the site on top of APIs that we've connected, we decided we're going to build directly in the Swoogo platform.”
Tricia Williamson | DocuSignView Session
Alexander St. John | TwilioView Session
Ashesh Satvedi | BoxView Session
Rebecca Sullivan | Inc. & Fast CompanyView Session
Keith Zanardi | Penske Media CorporationView Session
Stefanie Ordoveza | GuildView Session
Experience Uncon IRL 2023View Session
Intro to Uncon IRL 2023View Session
Keynote: Uncon's PurposeView Session
Special Guest: Leonora ValvoView Session
Brandon Wernli + Josh Shepherd | BW Events Tech & AtlassianView Session
Josh Bernard | StagedgeView Session
Ben Krebs | Event ConceptView Session
Caitlin Marr + Jon Juarez | Show ImagingView Session
Katie McEntyre | OpusView Session
Next up to the stage, we have Alex St. John from Twilio. Awesome. Thank you. Thank you.
Would you mind introducing yourself, everyone?
Yeah. Good morning, everyone. I'm Alex St. John.
I'm the Principal Events Marketing Manager at Twilio. I handle all things event technology at the company, on our mighty Signal Conference team.
Very cool. So, you mentioned Signal.
Okay. So, I want to first show a couple of slides here.
This is Twilio Signal from 2020, and then, drum roll everybody, to show Twilio Signal 2023.
Yeah. It's an evolution.
So, there's been a lot of change between 2020 and 2023.
I think that's the understatement of the year.
Can you talk to us about the changes that you saw and what you've learned over the past few years that got you from this, to this?
Yeah. I'm sure like most of you experienced in 2020, it was a mad dash to figure out how to pivot that year. At our company, at Twilio, we have a set of values that I want to bring up, because I think this informs so much of what we do through our work. And the values are we're builders, we're owners, we're curious, and we're positrons. And I think that has influenced so much of what we've explored over the last few years.
And so with that, we are builders, and we're all about building it ourselves. So in 2020, we did that task. We built everything from scratch, which was an endeavor to say the least. And it worked out in a lot of great ways, and there were wonderful lessons learned, but I think one of the most successful things that was learned by the team that year, was maybe lean into our partners more. Maybe leverage the folks who have already built out-of-box tools that we can lean into and customize more, and build on top of, instead of taking it on ourselves to create everything from the beginning.
And that's where you see this evolution from 2020 to 2023. We learned to lean into Swoogo more. Instead of building the site on top of APIs that we've connected, we decided we're going to build directly in the Swoogo platform. We're going to leverage what's there and how to benefit ourselves with that. Same with leaning into our design and brand teams more, and how to kind of hand hold, creating better processes through the years as well: getting a UX designer, getting graphic designers on the team connected with each other, and through a very, I would say, rigorous process, but also still very agile.
You know, we have a lot of things come up through a process that we have to adjust, and we have to keep moving forward. I'm sure all of you can relate to that. So that has really helped inform us. And then over the years, I think we've listened to our audience.
We've learned to pivot, year by year, through our audience and through what they enjoy and what they appreciate. One of those things is, we have a developer audience. A lot of our attendees are developers, and we realized over time that we had this keynote, a vision keynote, that was very business heavy, and a lot of developers didn't want to sit through and hear all of this business talk. So we created a secondary keynote over the last few years.
We have now a developer keynote, specifically to dive into technical content with our developer audience. And we still have a vision keynote that is more focused overall on the business, the vision of Twilio, and where we're going. And I think just hearing our audience and adjusting our process along the years has really helped with our pivots.
Super cool. So, okay, your three values were, we are builders ...?
We are builders, we are curious, we are owners, and we are positrons.
What's a positron?
So at Twilio, it's really important for folks to stay positive, to stay optimistic, but not a false sense of positivity. That we're actually there to support each other, to succeed together, but through it, instead of fighting, instead of bickering, instead of laying their retention, it's about, how do we hear each other? How do we listen to each other? How to respect each other and stay positive. Through tough times, through good times, through all times. And I think personally, that's something that drew me to Twilio in the beginning, and I can honestly say it; they are they are actually practicing what they preach.
Everyone in the company is so inclusive and welcoming and positive. And even with something like creating a virtual experience, and not really knowing what's going to land, we're going to take a lot of risks. We're going to build things that are kind of an experiment. It can get stressful during those processes.
And it's always going back to that core identity of, like, but we're not going to be stressed at each other. We're not going to be mad at each other, because together we're taking this risk as a team, and we're creating something unique. So why not just dive in together and do it? And I really love that mentality at the company.
That's really cool.
That's really cool, especially for events teams. Right? It's like a constant, you know, reevaluating, going back and, you know, thinking things, the ideation processes --
-- can get a little contentious, but, you know.
I think that's something through our mighty Signal team.
Our Signal team is only five of us that plan this user conference that we've been doing for years, and it's a mighty team. And I think recently we kind of decided, what the phrase is that kind of describes it and it's like, that's showbiz, folks. You run with it. You see what happens and it's become an underlying, like, theme for our team to always go back to and kind of joke. Like, that's showbiz, you know. From one day to the next, things are going to change, and you have to roll with it, and you can't let it get to you.
I used to have a button on my desk that said, that's show biz, baby.
It was just like the Staples's Easy Does It. Okay. I'll need to order some of those.
So one of the things that you mentioned was, like, the playfulness and, like a lot of the pieces of the brand. One of the things I wanted to show everybody was your Heroes program or your Heroes avatars. Yeah. Can you explain what what we're looking at here? Yeah.
Oh, Heroes are a lovely thing, and I cannot take credit for this. I have to give full credit ... Well, give credit where it's due, to our brand team and our Signal team. They came together and they birthed this wonderful concept before, actually, we went virtual.
This was something they did in-person, and they created Heroes, which are unique user avatars people create as their identity through the conference.
And it really was, you know, again, one of these things where, we're builders, we're curious, let's try something out. We know our developer audience really loves this 80s, vintage video game kind of aesthetic, and we're like let's lean into that. Let's explore. And so our brand team came up with this awesome concept of, hey, you're going to go in and you're going to create your own Hero, your own avatar. And at an in-person conference, the avatar kind of followed you through the experience.
You'd go to check-in at reg, it would pop up on the screen. You'd be going to your session through BLE tracking, where you're able to say, look, there's your Hero following you to your session. And it became, like I said, a part of their identity. It became like, I didn't have to be Alex at the conference.
I could be this Hero I created. And so when virtual happened and we had to pivot, it was like, how do we pivot this this aspect that people are really fond of, and really tied to our event? And so we brought it into the virtual world. People started building their Heroes. And, again, so when they go to a session, they would see who's watching and it would be the different Heroes there of who's watching.
When they go to emote during a keynote and they click the emote, it's their Hero that emotes up the screen, and helps show their enthusiasm for that session. And then things like here, each year we kind of experimented with different, unique, I would say gamification aspects. So one year we had Canvas City Heights, and it was this lovely way for people to create canvases through kind of an old-school, like Microsoft Paint, application where you'd create these very cool, laborious, pixelated canvases of different things. I mean one of them was literally like Spongebob themed, and they did it through Paint, of painting Spongebob's face.
It was a competition amongst attendees. People got really into it. They got very detailed with the Canvas City Heights, and it was a lot of fun. And I think it's just something that we've kind of, it's just come along for the ride. For the attendee journey, that these Heroes, and how they've evolved over the years. One year we did Gamification for Good, where our brand team created a whole Choose Your Own Adventure game that followed them along as they were in the virtual experience platform, and it would ask questions that were reinforced through content about sessions, content that was in the platform.
And as they answer the questions, they get further into this game. And by the end of it, they're actually able to donate to a charity based on their progress in the game. So it was a really lovely, fun, you know, experience to create for attendees. So the Heroes have been a lot of fun, and these are actually two of my Heroes that I created myself.
So again, a lot of fun, a lot of core identity there. Once we're all creating them at Twilio, we're adding them as our Slack images, our Zoom images, and we're sharing them all over. Because they're just, like I said, this quirky nice touch to give us.
That's so cool. The resemblance is uncanny.
So, Twilio being a martech platform as well, you've had the chance to use a lot of your own tools. The chance to drink your own champagne when you're running these events.
Can you tell me a little bit more about how you've been able to integrate Twilio into your event process?
So going back to that whole, we're builders, so we decided, why not build our own products into the solution? We're a communications company, data and communications company, and we have a lot of great tools that we can leverage ourselves.
One great example is, we decided when we pivoted to virtual, why don't we create our own help chat, through our tools? We created a Flex contact center, through Twilio Flex, that users are able to chat in and ask for support. They get a direct, live person chatting with them about it. They were able to chat directly with product experts. So say, hey, you talked to someone in the initial support line, and they're like, I really want to dig into this product more. They connect you with a product expert.
And then from there, it could even elevate to an actual video conversation between you and this product expert. That's just one example of how we've built in Twilio products.
Some other examples have been, we have live booths.
So, we have product booths, where people can pop into a virtual community hall. They can ask questions in real time, in a live booth, have their question answered with these experts, and have a nice engaging time with them.
All of that was built through Twilio Video, Twilio Live tools. Even just how we've been able to capture the data on the platform. We've used Twilio to segment and integrated that into Swoogo to capture data and analytics, and kind of call that data better for our usage and insights of the attendee journey.
So, a wide variety of products, and again, it's one of these things where we decided, hey, why don't we just build this in and see what happens? And Swoogo has been this great partner that has been so flexible for us build in, and that's why we love it.
Awesome. So, you mentioned these booths that folks can go in and talk to folks.
So, I ran a few virtual events at previous companies. And I always had the hardest time getting people to go into those booths. Have you experimented with different things? Or in order to get folks to go to those virtual booths?
Yes. So, not every concept lands perfectly, as I'm sure some of you have experienced. Sometimes you try something one year, and you're like, oh, that didn't really hit exactly where we wanted to. But instead of just abandoning it, we're always about, how do we build on this? How do we learn? And how do we grow this experience? So the live booths are a perfect example.
The first year we did this, we let it be a little more open-ended like, hey, there's open office hours, you can go drop in and talk to someone and see what happens.
And we realized that people needed a bit more hand holding.
They needed a bit more guidance and more direction for this interaction.
So, the next year we decided, you know, those were successful. People did pop in and they did communicate, but we want to make it more targeted. We want to have more specific conversations, and really make people feel like they've been heard at the event. So the next year, we decided to have more intentional time for these product booths, where we actually put it into the agenda. We said, this is the time you go and you talk to these experts. And we had experts for every Twilio product, and we had many ready to go, and it was much more engaging. A ton of people showed up. They really enjoyed it.
And we are actually, you know, success of the event, we're able to capture a lot of great quality leads for our sales team through those interactions. So again, it was like, that moment of, we're curious, how do we expand on this curiosity and get it more intentional?
And each year we've been able to build on that intentionality, you know, through virtual, and now going back into in-person experiences.
So, we're doing something very similar with the Ask the Experts booths in the back. I'm sure a lot of you had the chance to see those. And I love what you mentioned there about being very prescriptive in saying, this is what you will do at this specific booth. Versus it just being like, super over in it.
Did anybody have any questions for Alex?
Questions to get started?
Okay. In the back there.
Hi, Alex. And I hope I'm allowed to ask questions, but Alex, I love the design for Signal 2023.
I think it's the perfect blend of simplicity, but not, like, overly minimalistic. So please pass that kudos on to your team. I guess my question is, can you just talk a little bit about, from a design perspective, how the design comes together through the planning process, and how you work with your design team to create something as beautiful as this is?
It is a very collaborative process that I can actually speak a lot to this year. This year the Twilio brand has decided to kind of rebrand the company in general. So we were the first step of that rebranding. Signal became kind of the experiment, the brainchild, for this rebranding.
And so we worked really collaboratively with our brand, our designers, to come up with this concept, in what it would be. Many different iterations of, ideation of, we want it to look this way, but we don't want it to seem too much this way. And we want it to still bring through the fun that is Twilio. So it takes, I would say, the process for this was at least three to four months with the team. From first, just ideating, working with a UX designer to create those wire frames. The initial foundation. Then working with our brand and design team to figure out, what is the actual skinny of this page? What is the design, what are the colors, what are the thematic elements? And then taking it, kind of having a through line through all of our elements of our experience.
If you travel on the website and see the different pages, you'll notice certain pages have a different flair to them, based on what it's about. We have another program that we do, an executive program called Creator Summit, which has a similar branding, but it's a little more elevated. Because it's our executive event. So it's a more darker blue touch, but it still has these abstracted blocks and shapes, and things like that, that bring together the design.
It is a lot of work and openness with the designers, but also openness with hearing our feedback and understanding what our attendees want. Because they really lean into our team and understand where the event professionals, and their design professionals ... how do we bring those two worlds together, and then create something that everyone will be able to enjoy?
So this Creator Summit, this is an in-person experience. Right?
Can you tell me how you're approaching ... so, Signal is, it is virtual. How you're approaching these, like hybrid events?
Yeah. So this year, our Signal conference is virtual again, but we do have some in-person elements.
So we have a couple of regional programs we're going to have in the fall, and we have a Creator Summit that we have in San Francisco. And the Creator Summit is something we've been doing for years, we've always had this Creator Summit in addition to Signal. Creator Summit's just, like I said, it's a more elevated executive experience for them to attend. And we're actually, this year, doing a really cool feature where we're kind of bringing the two worlds together. Where I'm going to actually do our live keynote for Signal at the Creator Summit.
So our CEO is going to be there with other executives. They're going to do it in-person for the Creator Summit team. It's going to be streamed online for all of the attendees. So, yeah, it's always a fun adventure figuring out how to bring these two worlds together and have a hybrid approach.
For sure. For sure.
I love that it's not ... you didn't just make Signal the virtual, or the recordings of the Creator Summit. Right?
Yeah. It's very integrated and very purposeful in each, where you've built a specific Signal event, and you've also built a specific Summit as well.
Yeah. And we even have a fun ... not only is, like, the keynote live stream, we even have a fun bit during the developer keynote, because we love to do live coding, where we switch during a prerecorded developer keynote, and we switch to about ten-fifteen minutes of live coding demo during that time as well. And we do that at the Creator Summit, and Jeff, our CEO, gets his coding gloves on, and he goes for it, and it's a fun time.
Yeah, we all know what coding gloves are.
Yeah. If you don't, you should get some.
That sounds so stressful. I cannot type when somebody else is looking at me.
Yeah. It is. It's stressful to produce.
It's stressful to watch, but then it ends up being so rewarding. Last year we did are really tongue-in-cheek. We had Lou Montulli, who invented cookies, as one of our speakers at Creator Summit. And so we decided to leverage Segment, our product to ... oops, sorry, microphone. We leveraged Segment, our product, to then build into the experience.How can we see what people's Heroes were and then print those heroes onto a literal cookie?
So we used a 3-D printer, cookie printer, live, and we did the demo of the coding, and then people's Heroes printed on the cookies in real time. It was really fun. People that were online, virtually, got to see their Hero, like, on the cookie on the screen. It was a lot of fun, a lot of good wow factor, there.
That sounds like a very existential experience, eating yourself.
Right. Yourself. Literally.
I think some people preserved them. I think some people took them back and lacquered them so they could preserve the cookie.
So cool. Any other questions for Alex?
I'm sure we got a couple.
One other thing I wanted to chat a little bit more about is, if you've gone to this Signal page, you've likely gotten like a couple social ads. Right? About that. How has your team approached social media for the promotion of this event?
Yeah. I can't speak too in-depth about the social promotion aspect, because it's a lot of other teams doing that. But I think what's great about our promotions and our social media team is that, like you've seen with our design here, like I've mentioned already, we want it to be a through line, through every piece you see.
So you might see on Instagram, all of the sudden an ad pops up, it looks like this concept. It's very similar, it's very inviting and welcoming too, is what I think the social media team is going for as well. And they really lean into that. They also just have a lot of fun. Our social team is great about keeping up with trends and I really love that about them. I think when there was, like, the Little Miss Sunshine memes, they leaned into that heavily last year, and it was a lot of fun.
So they, yeah, they just do a lot of great work with our promotions person to figure out how to really bring this out into the world.
That's so cool. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Alex.
We appreciate it.
Big round of applause for Alex.