Hilary Mason, Data Scientist in Residence at Accel Partners, recently spoke at PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2014 about understanding and using Big Data. Below are her thoughts in an October 2013 interview with Sarah Beauchamp and concrete ways you can use this information when planning your next meeting.


  • There has been more data produced in the last 18 months than in the history of the world..
  • Because of free cloud offerings, it is now cheaper to keep data than throw it away.
  • Most individuals do not understand trends in data because they do not have the tools to evaluate it.


The intention of data mining is to allow you to examine large databases in order to generate new information about ways to improve your meetings and conferences. In other words, by taking a look at all the constructs of your meeting, you can come develop new opportunities based on the consensus of a lot of people, not just a few.

One way to mine information from your attendees is to constantly survey them and make changes based on their feedback. This can be gathered by using easy-to-use tools such as: wireless Audience Response Systems, computer kiosks or touch screen rentals. The key is to spend the time to test out effective questions that will ultimately help you and your team learn.


Mason runs an event called DataGotham for people across all industries that work with data, whose objective is to allow students and hiring companies to collide in a fun, informal way. Because she knows her target audience, the organizers collect the following information from attendees:

  • Where are you from?
  • What company do you work for or university do you attend?
  • What are you hoping to get out of the event?
  • Is your company hiring right now?

They share the results with the group upon arrival at the event and allow knowledge-based networking to begin.


Mason stated you need to ponder the following question:

“Is there data that I can access that can inform this decision in a useful way or give me some context?” 

For example, if you are wondering what you should charge for your conference, conventional wisdom might says it should be “x” but you want to know more because the goal is to have a sell-out event. Then you need to use Big Data to learn what event organizers charge for an event that is like yours — but make certain you are looking at similar content, venue and regional rates.

Mason added that data will not solve your problems, but it will help question your assumptions.


Audience Response rentals are easy, anonymous and provide instantaneous feedback about a speaker, session or conference. In addition they provide quantitative data (or closed-ended answers) which is easier to act upon. The important thing is ask questions and encourage responses with a definition of intent (we are listening to you) and an incentive to respond (win an iPad).

SmartSource Rentals has iPad rentals, Audience Response System rentals and  interactive technology tool rentals for your next meeting or conference.