3 Women Tech Pioneers on How to Take the Reins

We talk to three women about their paths to the top in the event-technology field.

Why do fewer women make technology a focus of their career than men? Midori Connolly offers one explanation: “It ties into that idea that little girls don’t do math and little girls don’t do science, the message we grew up with.”

Connolly is among three women Convene interviewed who have actively gone against message. Principal at AVGirl Productions, a company that provides customized solutions for events — everything from supplying audiovisual equipment to consulting on mobile solutions — Connolly is one of a growing number of women in the meetings industry who have struck out on their own to help shape the increasingly critical roles social media and technology play in high-level meeting design.

Midori Connolly of AVGirl Productions stresses making technology more “human.”

Connolly has worked in the technology sphere since her late teens, but in many respects her approach to educating clients has remained the same. “I found making technology more human, fun, and relevant really resonated with this [meetings industry] audience,” she said. “I think I was one of the only ones out there pushing the boundaries. I thought, ‘I can teach you how AV works. Don’t be afraid!’ This message of empowerment just stuck.”

Jenise Fryatt, content marketing strategist for Smarter Shift, a digital marketing and content management company, has also been instrumental in cutting through the technobabble surrounding social media and technological initiatives for the many readers of her articles and blog posts. She got her start by zeroing in on aspects of technology that are the most relevant for events. A former reporter, Fryatt began asking meeting stakeholders key questions about technology, mining the #eventprofs community on Twitter for success stories — and to uncover the knowledge gaps around technology and social media.

“Everyone understands what social media is now and that it has great value when it comes to marketing and for events,” she said. “When I first started, there was still controversy about allowing people to use their mobile phones during conferences. People were still putting live Twitter feeds behind the speaker at events! The people who were evangelists for social media couldn’t see that sometimes it can be a distraction.”

Liz King got started on Twitter early in her career.

Liz King, CEO of Liz King Events, also got her start by pioneering the use of social media around events. While working full-time planning events at Columbia University in 2009, she created the Twitter handle @lizkingevents and almost immediately began receiving client inquiries. A few months later, King began blogging about what she was learning about the events industry, which led not only to the official launch of Liz King Events — a company specializing in event planning, product launches, and branding and strategic marketing initiatives for companies — but to her emergence as a thought leader in the area of event technology.

In 2011, King’s collaboration with Liz Mazzei, the former director of sales and marketing at venue-sourcing startup imbookin, led to the inaugural PlannerTech. At the by-planners-for-planners tech event in New York City, 10 companies presented their tech products in rapid-fire, four-minute sessions and then were given the opportunity to network with planners. Its new iteration as techsytalk LIVE reflects King’s recognition that the event she founded has grown into an online and offline community that now incorporates many voices — plus, the new moniker is also intended to bring the “sexy” back to meetings technology.

From Underrepresentation to Empowerment

King said the by-planners-for-planners bent of the inaugural PlannerTech was instrumental to its success — as was King and her partners’ conscious decision to include more women representatives from tech companies than are typically seen at such events. “I think it’s interesting to note that while women make up such a larger percent of the event-industry population,” she said, “there is not the same balance in high-level positions and in tech companies.”

Fryatt has noticed a similar disconnect at work: “The voices that you hear, people taking a thought-leadership position, are more often male than female,” she said, “even though it’s an industry that’s really run by women. It’s mostly women out there planning those meetings.” Fryatt built up both her business and her reputation as a social-media guru by pushing herself to succeed in a largely male-dominated arena. Her one-two punch approach of creating quality content for her target audience and then building relationships through social media has lent her an authoritative voice on social-media marketing for events.

Jenise Fryatt combines social media and in-person networking to maximize her visibility.

Fryatt also leveraged her success online into some beneficial offline opportunities as an attendee at some of the first EventCamp conferences, which seek to bring together influencers to share best practices for social media and technology within the meetings industry. After attending the inaugural EventCamp in 2009, she was offered a position as a community manager at Omnipress, an event management company, where she ran the highly influential Engage365 chat, which was later taken on by Pathable. Several years later, she made yet another career leap on the strength of her virtual reputation.

She advises planners looking to better grasp how to put technology to work at their events to pay attention to the connection between social media, events, and content. “Spend an hour a day perusing #eventprofs,” Fryatt said. Even if you don’t feel confident enough to participate in the discussion, “there’s so much you can learn by ‘lurking.’”

Connolly has also positioned herself as an advocate for the everyday planner who wants to supercharge her career by honing her tech skills. “One of the coolest experiences ever was after I gave a presentation on webcasting,” she said. “I had a woman approach me afterwards and say, ‘What you said today, I’m going to go back to my boss and change my life.’ A few months later, she told me she was confident enough to put together a proposed solution to her boss and then got a promotion.”

Confidence is just as important as know-how, according to Connolly. She once moonlighted in the world of automobile racing as a co-driver, an experience that helps her approach technology in a different way. The automobile is one of the most elaborate pieces of technology we use in our everyday lives, she said, but most people drive without thinking twice about the careful calibrations they need to make when they get behind the wheel. “We can master any technology when we have confidence in knowing why we’re using it and where we’re going to go with it,” she said. “That’s what has kept me going, and it inspires me to see women out there spreading the gospel that technology can be more approachable.”

Kate Mulcrone

Kate Mulcrone is digital editor of Convene.