Business Tourism Scotland Conference 2013: Cisco Live - An Event Case Study

Bonny Shapira of Cisco Live shares an event case study highlighting the importance of teamwork, using technology and innovation, and engaging audiences in creative ways.


Cisco Live is an educational technology event which has been running for the last 25 years. It takes place in North America, Latin America, Australia & New Zealand and Europe. The event brings together Cisco customers who come to learn about Cisco products and services, and it’s extremely ‘tech’ focused, with 7,000 attendees.  The event is based in Milan for 2014 and 2015.


When Cisco starts planning for an event, it focuses on the customer – some customers pay around 2000 dollars to attend a week of education seminars. Why do people attend the live events when they could get the slides online? They attend for the experience and the interaction. Events are principally about people. This kind of interaction cannot replace virtual experiences - as long as it’s all about people and those interactions and experiences, these events will continue to exist as they do today.


Focus on the attendees: the majority are men, around 40 years of age, very tech savvy, and considered ‘nerds’,  or ‘geeks’ – this is a niche audience – therefore planning an event for ‘geeks’ is different from any other customer.

Top Tip: carefully consider who your audience is – this will dictate your event planning. 

What does the audience want? 

Put yourself in the shoes and the minds of the customer, and ask, “We cannot imagine Cisco Live without…” What are the most important things for the delegate? In this case are they:

  • The Internet connection – network is tantamount for a live, cutting edge 'tech' event
  • Giveaways
  • The Party (customer appreciation event)
  • The Products – to be able to take photos, touch the products, is important – bring the audience real, tangible things to touch
  • The bag  - delegates go crazy for the branded bags
  • The food and drink? It’s important too.

Questions to consider: How do we make the delegate stay the most enjoyable for what he/she pays?


Cisco can‘t do this on its own - to build the week for customers it needs to collaborate with its partners and all involved in creating this event. Cisco treats its partners as partners, not providers, working with JPG and Cisco, working as a team and down to the working relationship that’s been established with them – this is fundamental for success.

Cisco’s formula for success: E = Experience + E= Education + E = Entertainment. Add them together create loyalty.

Content is King

Setting up just one room at the event requires considerable backstage work. The key issue in the event is the content. No compromises can be made to the quality of the content. Cisco performs its own checks on audio and video systems and will bring its own audio and video equipment in order to deliver the best quality experience to the attendees.

Teamwork and Communication

At a previous live event, Cisco built two extra rooms for the event, in order to deal with sound issues. Having built eight soundproofed rooms with an extra investment of 200,000 euros just for that week, the rooms were too hot so they had to find a further solution. Whether the heating or projection system, work is done by the team to ensure the quality of experience for the delegates and Cisco expects to manage this, it’s not enough just to check with the venue. Everyone is responsible to ensure a quality experience for the event attendees. 

Learn From Mistakes

You can guide people to lunch but what happens if they get to the hall and there’s a massive queue? When another external contractor made an error on delegate numbers for lunch, under-estimating around 300 people, this caused a massive queue in the lunch hall. It doesn’t matter how good the content for the show was, because understandably, people got annoyed and bored in the queue and started tweeting about it, which did not make for a good customer experience. This highlights the need for preparation and leaving nothing to chance.

Top Tip: Preparation is key: in this case, fundamentals such as making sure delegate numbers are correct.

The Customer Experience – Creating Loyalty

Experience is all about what the delegate takes back home, the giveaways that they see, the photos they take, the lanyards, what Cisco gives them to get them more into the atmosphere of Cisco live, using technology – last year Cisco used remote control wristbands which would light up when specific words were used in the key note–this was successful despite some initial technical glitches.

The 3 ‘E’s: Education, entertainment and experience - to create loyalty. The idea is to create loyalty. Most attendees are Cisco customers but when they leave the objective is that they are more informed, more inclined to use Cisco products and services and as a result they will buy more of them.

The Future: Where Are We Heading?

The Tomorrow Starts Here campaign –a new brand positioning and campaign related to the Internet of Things was a new campaign which started in 2012. Where do we see these events going and what are the main trends? Here are some examples:


Putting the customer at the centre – the focus on this will continue to increase. Personalisation is all about customising service to the needs of the customer–for example, building a dedicated, personalised agenda on customer preferences. Cisco already provides these for specific customer requirements.


Listen to what customers have to say via social media, listen to them and respond quickly. On the Cisco Facebook page (Europe) we posted photos of the two conference giveaway bag options and asked which option customers they preferred and they told us. As a result we changed the colour and the design – a good example of customer interaction.

Customer Engagement via Social Media

Cisco presentation speakers asked their audience via Twitter what they would like to hear in the presentations, which meant that speakers amended a number of the sessions through audience feedback via Twitter. This kind of communication has been made possible via social media.

Whether Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn: tailor the messages for each specific channel. For example, sponsors are allowed to tweet on the Cisco Twitter account. The messages can be different for LinkedIn, YouTube and other channels.  A conversation on Twitter re the breakout rooms being too hot was then picked up and acknowledged by the Cisco organiser and shared with the organisers. Tweeters were reassured and a solution was sought. These channels can be very useful in listening to the customer, tailoring the customer experience and making a difference to the customer experience.

Top Tip: Use the right social media channel to listen to your customers for valuable feedback.

Social Media at Live Events

There is a social media lounge at every Cisco Live event, always located centrally. Large screens show the tweets and push them out to delegates. Cisco chooses the most interesting comments from Twitter and Facebook and posts them up on screen, as well as during the customer appreciation event in the keynote. 

Mobile Technology

Mobile apps for audience engagement: create longer lasting value

When mobile apps are created for a specific event, they tend to be discarded afterwards. We want the app to be more valuable, to be the nerve system of the week’s experience, not just to find out what sessions are on, to connect with social media or find out what the delegate is missing, but, for example, to include proximity sensors, meaning that your phone location will allow specific feeds telling you what you can do, where you can go and how to get there. A more connected experience.

Mobile apps for engaging with presentation speakers

Mobile is used to provide a second screen experience for the customer. In a presentation, the slides are up on screen and the delegate can see the slides on his/her phone. With the same sequence he/she can take notes on the phone, can ask questions and someone will answer them, instead of raising a hand and having the speaker stop the presentation to answer questions. People would rather ask a question on their mobile than raise their hand, for all sorts of reasons. Trialled in Orlando in June 2013, this was very successful, generating lots of questions. Use of mobile applications continues to be developed.

Creating Added Value from the Experience

With the CS technology all event sessions are recorded – around 30 sessions simultaneously and 12 slots throughout the day, creating almost 360 sessions. Sessions are made available online for anyone, not just those who attended the event. Users can access a list of the sessions from 2011 – 2013 across the locations, search and view sessions and see the recordings and the slides. This adds value to the content and extends its value, not just for event attendees but for others who didn’t attend.

Case Study Summary

In summary, as Bonny and other speakers at the conference have highlighted, events are principally about people. Although technological interaction can arguably be unique and memorable, ultimately human interaction cannot replace virtual experiences. 

As long as it’s all about people and those human interactions and experiences, these events will continue to exist as they do today.

Top Tip: Find a way to add value to your customer’s experience after the event – to maintain loyalty and to reach new customers and audiences.

Find out more about Cisco Live Events.