By Sadie DeMaioribus, Associate Producer

Cisco Live’s opening video declared, “Between tradition and transformation, there’s a bridge. Cisco [is] the bridge to possible.” My, was that on the nose. Cisco Live’s meeting was the perfect bridge between analog and next-gen engagement, showing us the way forward with a few key lessons.

1) Technology should enhance our interactions, not replace them.

As budgets tighten, one of the first cuts is to live events. Many believe content can be shared via video conference or online training instead. Cisco Live shows us in order to truly engage with a brand and build a culture, you still need the personal touch of a live meeting. See for yourself –  check out the highlight reel of my experience at Cisco Live with my colleague, Brad Younts:

Everything at Cisco Live is designed to create opportunities to connect, digitally and physically. From its highly technical “DevNet Zone,” where programmers and developers can explore and learn, to the “World of Solutions” exhibit hall, where the breadth of Cisco products, partners and even competitors showcase their chops and zealously compete for attendee attention. That competition brings us to our next key lesson… 

2) People love free stuff, but it doesn’t mean they love (or even understand) your organization.

The scale of Cisco Live is ENORMOUS and to compete for attention, many tradeshow booths give away swag in exchange for listening to a product demo. This transactional swag ranged from stuffed animals to gift cards and cold hard cash to Xboxes and drones. Oh, and there were Legos galore.

The real question is: how can you bring purpose into your giveaways and make sure they have a life beyond the meeting? By understanding your audience and what moves them to action.

The most popular swag items were customizable, and the most popular booths leveraged technology allowing you to share your experience with others. People want to see themselves and what they value reflected in your product so it’s important to find an expression of your purpose when considering giveaways, no matter how technical that purpose may be. 

3) Even tech giants are saying, “We have the data. So now what?”

“What to do with all this data?” was burning question on everyone’s mind and an underlying theme in many talks. We are living in a unique time. Technology has given us the ability to monitor every interaction and interface, but so few companies have mastered ways to make meaning out of all that data. This capability highlights the importance of a meeting strategy, or for AJ, a Purpose Platform. By using a strategic, goal-focused tool, we can align on key audience outcomes from the start and consider how to measure for those outcomes when collecting attendee data. One thing Cisco clearly plans to do with their data is measure their CSR goals, which leads us to our next lesson…

4) Business success is goal-driven and measurable. Doing good as a company should be too.

Technology was front and center at Cisco Live, but so was Cisco’s commitment to the people, the community and nature. Cisco Live offered robust social impact programming, including an extensive and super engaging Social Impact Zone. The set up took you through a fact-sharing expo on homelessness in San Diego, then led you to an area where you could contribute to the fight by packing lunches and hygiene kits or making blankets and furniture. During the opening session, CEO Chuck Robbins set the lofty goal of making 23,000 kits over the week.

Cisco also shared how, using their technology and resources, they are creating secure networks in remote areas of the African savanna. By doing this, they can track endangered animals and prevent poaching. This presentation gave attendees the chance to connect Cisco’s various networking products with out-of-the-box problem solving.

Diversity and Inclusion discussions were at the forefront, including a pop-up panel in the World of Solution hall and a breakout session featuring UPS Executive Communications Manager, Janet Stovall.  Ms. Stovall drove home a great point about accountability, “Diversity is aspirational. Inclusion is actionable.”Every other business strategy has consequences for not meeting measurable goals so why aren’t we doing the same for diversity and inclusion?

Later that day, I attended “Women in Collaboration,” a panel with female leaders in technology including two of Cisco’s very own. They suggested that many women are socialized to be communicators and relationship-builders which uniquely positions them to be leaders in technology organizations. Lorrissa Horton, VP/GM of Webex Teams, also said this about mentorship, “[Mentorship] is a commitment. It should be a two-way conversation and there needs to be purpose.” She went on to emphasis the importance of setting goals for improvement with your mentor, a recurring theme for all of the co-curricular programming. Overall, Cisco has set a lofty goal to positively impact 1 billion people by 2025. Cisco Live gave me the impression they’re headed in the right direction.

5) Two words: Surprise and delight

“Delightful” is the only way to describe the wide range of ways to engage at Cisco Live. From the “build yourself as a lego-person” station to the pop-up talks, everywhere you looked there were unexpected ways to engage with Cisco and their products. The mix of digital and analog presented options for every attendee, making it obvious they considered all aspects of the meeting experience and designed several ways for you to keep that experience alive long after you head home.

Cisco Live allows attendees to build lasting connection to their digital networking products and to their community. Chuck Robbins took the stage on day one, reminding the audience that “for 30 years, [Cisco Live] has been about you. And this week is no exception. It’s all about you”. Every talk, event, and activation helps transform perceptions of their products and their company. More importantly, Cisco Live shows us how purposefully deployed technology can help bring us (and our events) into a better, more connected future.