Michael Schaiman is S.V.P. Digital Experience, Helios Interactive, a Freeman Company. He has been involved in delivering digital experiences to brands in the experiential space for more than 15 years. He has worked on a wide variety of projects across a broad spectrum of industries — from Super Bowls to Olympics, auto shows, and biotech and pharma events. When he’s not running around the country evangelizing the adoption of new experiential technologies, he can probably be found chasing his kids around the house.
When it comes to event technology, it can be easy for association meeting and convention planners to feel like they’re being swept up in a giant wave of innovation. The field is undergoing a major disruption, with new technology covering everything from the first strategy meeting to the final analytics.
It’s a lot to process. Planners want to stay on the cutting edge so they don’t miss out on the benefits these new technologies can bring, but they also need to deploy new tech strategically, instead of just picking the hottest new trend. How do they avoid missteps and get the solid return on investment (ROI) they need for success?
A planner might want a virtual reality (VR) experience at an event, or they might be enamored by the idea of second-screen technology. Both are excellent tools, but planners need to remember that when it comes to events, technology is there to tell your story and must serve a specific purpose. By approaching events with their hearts set on specific technologies, planners run the risk of making the story fit the tactic instead of the other way around.
To ensure the right tech fit, several steps need to come first:
By uncovering information such as who will be at the event, what they can get out of it and a basic overview of logistics, planners will have a solid foundation on which to base their tech decisions.
From there, it’s time to add flavor by building out the attendee experience with specific tools. To select tools that will provide the best ROI, consider building a foundation on the four strategic pillars below:
1. Innovation: This is the medium through which the story will be told. Tablets, touchscreens, video walls, individual mobile devices, VR or any other tool. What will be attention-grabbing and make people want to try out the experience?
2. Personalization: The overarching message may be the same for every visitor, but how the story is told might vary from person to person. For example, at a marketing industry show, copywriters will have different interests from agency owners. Whatever technology is chosen should help make the overarching message relevant to each group.
3. Shareable: To get an ROI that extends beyond the event, planners need to select tech tools that are compelling, provocative and even fun. Whether it’s a mobile app with elements that can be shared on social media or second-screen technology that gets a team talking after the event is over, the right tools will have a large ripple effect.
4. Data Analytics: The importance of data can’t be understated. By knowing what worked and what didn’t for each audience, planners can make next year’s tech more targeted and more effective. Choosing event technology that provides useable and comprehensive data is a golden ticket into the inner workings of attendees’ minds.
This may seem like a large amount of legwork, but to deliver a solid ROI, strategic thinking is essential.
Once planners have their event foundation and a shortlist of potential tech options, they can dive deeper into tactics by selecting the right technological fit for their event’s needs. There are some trending technologies out there that are worth a closer look:
Virtual Reality (VR): VR is hot right now, but it can be hard to implement well — especially at large events. One option is to create group experiences, where spectators can see on a large screen what the person in the headset is seeing. They can then use their mobile devices to give this person information or instructions, turning the headset wearer into the game’s character and the audience into the gamers. Within the virtual setting, there also can be the opportunity for sponsorships, helping organizers recoup the costs of their VR investment.
Augmented Reality (AR): AR is a fast-growing trend with a huge amount of potential. By providing devices and peripherals to attendees, exhibitors can create product demonstrations, models, entire virtual cities or anything they can imagine — which the attendees can then view through the lens of their device. This is a game-changing technology in industries that sell large equipment. Imagine if a mining equipment manufacturer could create an AR version of a new conveyor system instead of having to rely on 2-D images, scale models or video.
Virtual Events: Virtual events of the past have been met with mixed results in online spaces. However, the technology is becoming more realistic, which will result in more powerful virtual events within the next few years. This will offer great value for people who can’t physically attend, allowing them to virtually walk the show floor, browsing and examining like they would in person.
Attendee Tracking: At events, exhibitors generally only get whatever information is listed on attendees’ business cards. With today’s exceptional technology, planners and exhibitors can learn who’s showing up, what they’re looking at and where they’re spending their time — essentially tracking their activity from pre-registration all the way to follow-up. The data that can be gathered with this new tech will completely transform how trade shows are designed.
Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI is already having a significant impact on our society, and it also will transform the event space. Some events are already using it to craft custom agendas for individuals based on submitted data and past behaviors. This technology will allow planners to use the data gathered from attendee tracking to personalize events on a granular level.
Second-Screen Technology: This technology boosts engagement at presentations, allowing the audience to give feedback, ask questions, obtain further information and receive presentation slides that can be shared via social media. Besides amping up engagement, this technology has an added benefit of providing powerful analytics.
There has never been a more exciting time to be in the event industry, especially with the many amazing technological tools at our fingertips today. By taking a breath, developing a solid strategy and finding the technology that best conveys overall messages, event planners can get the best return on their high-tech investments. AC&F