Lydia Kamicar is a senior manager in education and learning services at SmithBucklin, and Ashley Pencak is a manager in event services at SmithBucklin, an association management and services company. www.smithbucklin.com
New research shows 1.2 billion people worldwide were using mobile apps at the end of 2012. Experts expect that number to reach 4.4 billion by the end of 2017. With mobile technology use rapidly rising, incorporating mobile apps and gamification into an association’s event strategy can greatly enhance the attendee experience. Specifically, it can increase opportunities for networking and learning, while at the same time generating revenue for the organization. However, choosing the right technologies that align with an organization’s strategic plan can be challenging.
Think of the last conference you managed. Did you monitor Twitter to see what your attendees were talking about? Did a mobile app act simultaneously as your onsite guide, trades show map and breaking news source? With the use of technology becoming more and more prevalent in our daily lives, conference planners not only will be expected to integrate technology into their events, but will rely heavily on these new tools to satisfy their attendees. By looking at two mainstays of meetings technology, gamification and audience response systems, we can begin to incorporate more innovation into the attendee experience.
With the use of technology becoming more and more prevalent in our daily lives, conference planners not only will be expected to integrate technology into their events, but will rely heavily on these new tools to satisfy their attendees.
Gamification is not a new idea. Passport to Prizes on the trade show floor, incentive-based contests and attendee challenges have long been a staple at many meetings. But delivering gaming via technology is a way that many conference planners are finding can increase excitement and engagement. One of our business association client organizations appealed to the growing population of Twitter users among its membership and released a contest onsite that rewarded the most creative tweet to come out of the event. By focusing on the content of the tweet, and not just the number of tweets someone could hammer out, the thoughtfulness of the messages that attendees put into the Twitter-verse increased, along with the number of new adopters of the tool and followers of the association.
Corporations are using gamification to reward loyal customers. For instance, the Starbucks app features a visual goal of filling up a cup as more visits are made and products are purchased. This takes the “punch card” concept to the next level and gives a clear goal of getting something free at the end. Conference planners can leverage this concept and give attendees points or badges for the number of sessions they attend, the number of exhibitors they visit or number of connections they make. By featuring a clear reward or goal, attendees will be more inclined to find ways to build up their status. Competition, and thus engagement, also can build if the results and tracking are made public.
Featuring a mobile app at your event is an easy first step to incorporating gamification. Most providers feature engagement options via point-earning, photo uploading contests and more. Although it may be an add-on to your existing platform, be sure to ask what is included in your mobile app package.
Attendees are looking to be involved in the conference experience more than ever before. Instead of having them passively listen to a lecturer at the front of the room, why not let them drive some of the content? Audience Response Systems (ARS) allow participants to interact in real time with speakers, panels and fellow attendees. It creates a collective knowledge environment and can turn a traditional lecture-style session into an interactive learning session. At one of our health care client organization’s association event, the event strategy was to create a more interactive and communal learning setting. All of the speakers were attendees of the conference; therefore, the attendees were all experts in the field. By utilizing an ARS, the conference planners created an atmosphere that allowed for robust conversation and debate within the session room, which then carried over into their places of business. It also allowed people to connect and continue the conversation after the event concluded.
Polleverywhere.com is an online system in which attendees use their personal mobile device to text a code or open-end comment to the speaker. The only device requiring an Internet connection is the laptop displaying the poll results in real time. Your mobile app provider also may have an ARS element. Maximizing the usage of your app also will help you increase the number of downloads and the comfort your attendees will have with the tool.
Traditional handheld ARS devices also are still in action. From the simple keypad with limited options to Blackberry-type devices — such as the IML Connector that allows you to type open-ended questions, answer polls and even ask live questions via a microphone feature — these technologies elevate the level of interactive audience engagement to make your meeting even more productive.
ARS and polling tools also should be thought of as marketing devices for the association. Picture this: attendees are asked to type in one word that they associate with your conference. A word cloud grows throughout the event and is displayed in the general session, in the networking area or at the association’s booth for attendees to watch grow and discuss. This feedback can be used to show what attendees value most about the conference and how to engage them throughout the year.
Your presenters may look to tailor their content to the attendees in their session. By using ARS to poll the attendees on what topics are most important to them, the presenter will understand what areas to focus on and prioritize. In essence, the audience is choosing the direction that the session takes by making their voice heard via the tool.
ARS and gamification programs can come in very different price points. Depending on the association’s budget, it’s important to first know the goal or the desired outcome. Then you can choose what tool and delivery method will be right for you and your attendees. It is also key to know your demographics. If you have a high percentage of international attendees, ARS systems may not work via a mobile app unless connected to Wi-Fi. Depending on the location, Wi-Fi access can be both pricey and potentially unreliable, making some of your attendees unable to participate and potentially frustrated. The traditional handheld ARS systems or kiosks set up for those without access to the mobile app via their personal device can be a great solution.
So how do you dip your toes in? Begin with your goals in mind and compare them to how your attendees prefer to interact with each other. Start subscribing to meetings technology blogs and sign up for alerts to stay on top of the latest trends. Dedicate resources to ensure the event’s success. If you are expecting your attendees to fully engage, they will expect the same from you. AC&F