Experience Creators You Should Know - Roisin Hunt, Zendesk

Roisin Hunt, of Zendesk, discusses how she honed her skills over the pandemic to now be in position to overcome the challenges that the new meetings/events landscape brings.



This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlights planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic world. 


Name: Roisin Hunt

Company Name: Zendesk

Job Title: Sr. Manager, Strategic Event Content

Years of Experience: 15

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I started my career in live television production. I worked all through university at Setanta Sports station and did all the jobs a young tv student does - lunches, coffees, ironing, and eventually graduating to the studio floor and supporting the on-air talent. I graduated and started at a small production company three days later as a researcher and eventual producer. It was the best training I ever got, as it taught me all the essentials of live events and managing talent, contributors, crews, and all the personalities in between! Since then, I've worked on live events at all levels, from non-profit to larger tech conferences, and the buzz of in-person and long production days really fuels me. During the pandemic, everyone suddenly became the stars of their own 14-inch computer screen, and the skills I'd learned and honed all those years ago were brought back to the surface for compelling on-screen content and engaging speaker delivery. My current role was a newly designed one borne out of this emerging Pandemic world of digital content and a sophisticated content consumer who no longer would settle for sub-par online webinar content. It's been so fun to watch standards rise for digital content and event experiences and to be at the forefront of that at Zendesk.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
How long do you have?! In short, my job is to consider the overall experience and make that as seamless and engaging as possible for everyone, from the AV and tech crew to the speakers, to the attendees. It's always about balancing the collective and the individual's experience. I think a lot about the little things, and at the core, content and its delivery is the lens that drives a lot of my decision-making. I am responsible for developing agenda and experience designs for both in-person and digital events. I also support enablement for regionally nuanced delivery and execution. Part of this also involves seamless production execution, designing running orders, show flows, run of shows (however you like to call them!), and managing and coaching speakers. My face lights up when a speaker shifts just one aspect of their delivery, and it immediately up-levels their message and connection to other humans, aka the audience.
How do you compare planning your first in-person event post-pandemic, to planning meetings/events pre- Covid? What was different and unique? What was similar?
In a post-pandemic world, people are looking for a justified and compelling reason to attend in-person events. What am I getting in person that I can't get digitally? It's exciting to make a departure from the generic stand and deliver 45 min, one-speaker presentations X infinity in windowless hotel meeting rooms. Now we have to be more creative around the experience of the attendee and inspire their excitement and enthusiasm to physically be IRL. The same basic principles apply in a pre and post-pandemic world - what are you saying, who are you speaking to, and how are you saying it in a way that reaches your audience and builds connection? The difference now is that we are more in tune with elevated audience standards around content delivery and consumption.
What challenges have you faced in your work as a meeting and event planner, when working with suppliers or sourcing a venue and how did you overcome them?

There are so many challenges with venues/vendors around rising costs, reduced attendee numbers overall, and company budgets for travel. The list goes on! Events are expensive per attendee. One thing that's come up over the last nine months or so is considering a venue that has the capacity to scale up or down easily to meet shifting audience trends. We got creative with non-traditional venues like museums which opens your options but also not without some risks!
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
We look for larger vendors that are a good culture fit - it tends to make the entire work stream a lot smoother in the long run. And negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. There are always creative approaches to budget, especially when working on economies of scale with vendors.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
It might sound obvious but be human. Events are stressful, and knowing individuals by name goes a long way when there's a last-minute ask or change backstage. Everyone plays an important role in making events successful, from folks on security to the maintenance staff to the crew, to your company's top execs, and external paid talent. So be a decent human to all. That guiding principle has served me well in working with and for others. And snacks - snacks are vital.
With hotels short-staffed, and RFP lead time shortening, what is your advice to other planners to overcome these obstacles when requesting hotels for proposals?
Don't overcomplicate things, and temper your expectations. For example, if you are concerned that staffing is going to be an issue, don't plan for F&B that involves silver service. That may be a slight exaggeration, but in all things - consider the best way to execute as simply and seamlessly as possible.
Since education and relationships are two major pillars in the meetings and events industry, any suggestions on how other planners can learn and network with their peers across the industry?
Don't be afraid to share what you are doing with others and to ask questions - within reason, of course! I am part of a small marketing group that uses WhatsApp to ask about vendors, and it's so practical and accessible. Recently I've started going back to networking events for event planners IRL - even though most of my conversational skills have gotten rusty over the last three years. It's always time well spent, and without fail, I learn something or jog an idea.
This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlights planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic w,orld. 

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