Meri Summers, senior manager of corporate events at Citrix Synergy, understands the impact technology can have on the satisfaction and engagement of participants at a meeting or event.
Each year the Citrix Synergy team plans their annual Citrix Synergy conference, which draws 5,500 customers, prospects and partners for three days of learning and networking. To extend the life of the hundreds of hours of content presented every year at Citrix Synergy, conference planners recently teamed up with Mediasite Events to power Citrix Synergy TV.
The Mediasite Events team captured more than100 conference sessions from 10 different rooms, and helped Citrix customize the online experience with a registration portal, live chat, a custom video portal and project management. Sessions were streamed live and then updated to be available on demand, often the same day. By livestreaming the keynotes and breakout sessions, they turned the in-person event into an online, live and on-demand destination that lives beyond the conference. Thanks to this innovative use of technology, in 2016 the content had more than 100,000 views.
Citrix’s efforts are just one example of ways companies are working hard at engaging their audience at meetings using such things as mobile apps, virtual reality, and interactive portals for presentations and viewing.
“Livestreaming and video capture for on-demand viewing is vital to our events to extend the life of the hundreds of hours of content presented every year at Citrix Synergy and turns the in-person event into an online, live and on-demand destination that lives beyond the physical conference,” Summers says. “A big reason for streaming is because we offer a lot of breakout sessions, and you can only attend so many each day. Even if you’re attending in person, it’s beneficial for you to visit Citrix Synergy TV to find all of the sessions your schedule didn’t allow you to attend.”
Citrix promotes Citrix Synergy TV very heavily on social media and blogs about it, and approximately a week prior to the event, the corporate events team sends an email to customers who aren’t registered to inform them that Citrix will be livestreaming.
“We also reach out to industry influencers who are not attending,” Summer says. “This year we sent invitations for the keynotes, including a link to the sessions we’re livestreaming, so they could add it to their Outlook calendars. We get a lot of viewership of keynotes and breakout sessions, which is very valuable to us as our content is relevant beyond the actual show.”
Another provider planners can tap to produce hybrid events that extend the life and reach of onsite meetings and conventions for a global audience is INXPO. The turnkey, virtual events platform is designed to seamlessly integrate the physical event’s content and experience so it can be promoted and experienced as a single entity for both online and in-person attendees. The online platform drives attendee engagement with interactive tools such as chat, polls,is Q&A and social media sharing, and captures and measures real-time analytics to immediately measure event ROI. Planners have found that rather than cannibalizing attendance at face-to-face events, a digital version can stoke interest in attending the next meeting or convention in person.
Corbin Ball, CSP, CMP, DES at Corbin Ball & Co., understands the key role technology, including mobile apps and virtual reality, plays in engaging audiences. As Ball has seen, just about every component of corporate and incentive travel and events management is being transformed by technology.
“Venue sourcing, promotion, registration, participant engagement, analytics, project management, speaker management, exhibition management and much more all have technology tools to make the process faster, more reliable, more effective and less expensive,” Ball says.
As Ball explains, mobile technology, and specifically event apps, are providing attendees a “Swiss army knife” of tools for information, networking, polling, surveys, wayfinding, notes/brochure downloads and more, which provides better attendee services at a lower cost to the meeting planner.
“It all started when the paper calendar and planner went digital and meeting invitations were able to be sent digitally,” says Kathryn Kosmides, director of marketing and growth at SummitSync. “Then, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and MATs (marketing automation tools) started creeping into the space to help drive registrations or book more meetings. Now, we’re at the precipice of technology — tying all of the disparate pieces in event marketing together to help teams more efficiently host, attend and sponsor events. Meeting planners need to adopt the ever-advancing technology in order to stay relevant, maximize ROI and provide great experiences for attendees.”
SummitSync’s event intelligence platform helps teams identify which events their prospects, leads and clients are attending and schedule a meeting with them. The company integrates into top CRMs and MATs so teams can seamlessly follow up after events and measure the return on event (ROE).
“Teams use our technology to discover who is attending an event, to schedule meetings with other attendees, automatically attribute offline meetings into their CRMs, and to measure their ROE without hours of work,” Kosmides says. “Without attendees and sponsors, events wouldn’t exist. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to help them make the most out of every event they attend by eliminating the signal versus noise problem that happens so often at events. Teams need to know what events they should invest in and who to meet with at those events. If attendees and sponsors boost their ROI at an event, they’re more likely to return the next year.”
Today, we live in a rapidly changing, digital environment but we are still in the early stages of its adoption. As a result, there is a plethora of products and ideas to make meetings more engaging that have been explored for years. For example, when the internet became popular, meeting planners began the adoption of online registration for events; PowerPoint and laptops made meeting presentations more visual; and more recently, with the growth in mobile devices and Wi-Fi, event apps are rapidly being adopted by planners.
“The best meeting environments create energy,” says Tom Brandt, president and founder of etech, located in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Orlando, Florida. Brandt and his team provide event technology solutions for B2B conferences. “When planned and executed correctly, technology dramatically impacts the effectiveness, communications flow, engagement and success of a meetings program. It facilitates success on both the planner and attendee side, and is most effective when it’s used to address the specific needs of that particular program.”
Etech’s innovations focus on building processes, tools and products that enhance the live meeting experience — from the needs of meeting planners as well as the sponsors and attendees. To that end, they have designed a platform called ShowCommand, which reflects the Internet of Things (IOT) model. This platform consists of a network of technology software tools and devices that can be centrally managed to help simplify how meeting planners distribute information and content in the meeting space.
As Brandt explains, there has always been a disconnection between realizing what event attendees feel and what meeting and event organizers know.
“As event organizers, we have historically tried to communicate and listen to our attendees with meeting surveys,” Brandt says. But these surveys often don’t capture the most vital feedback of attendees — until now.
For one of etech’s client events, the Gartner ITxpo Symposium, they introduced an alternative way to live-survey attendees and feed the information back to planners. Gartner Symposium, attended by thousands of people annually, is an industry-leading conference where the world’s top CIOs gain a strategic view of the emerging trends shaping IT and business.
“We implemented live surveys, with digital kiosks placed in high-traffic areas around the meeting venue for attendees to provide feedback on what they were experiencing at that moment,” Brandt says. “We networked the information on a dashboard in the meeting planners’ office, which updated as the survey was taken.”
This gave the planners information to respond to immediate issues versus having to wait to learn until after the event.
“It’s a simple solution to an age-old process, but it put the planners in a better position to enhance the meeting experience for attendees real-time versus the next time,” Brandt says.
As an independent meetings technology analyst, Ball does not publicly endorse any meetings technology product. Rather, he tracks more than 100 mobile event apps. Some of the major players include Quickmobile, DoubleDutch, CrowdCompass, EventMobi, CoreApps, ATIV Event Pilot.
“There many more not mentioned that provide excellent options as well,” Ball says. “In addition, wearables, specifically wearable beacons, can provide a goldmine of data on the attendee journey for the attendee, the exhibitor and the meeting planner.”
For meeting planners and other executives orchestrating meetings, incorporating a virtual reality (VR) experience allows them to take their attendees into a different world and make their points not only by outlining them, but showing them firsthand.
Planners who select a venue by way of a VR or 360-degree experience are ensuring satisfaction because they have a much clearer vision of what the venue will be like after viewing it virtually.
While the full, practical application of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality is still to be realized, the major tech companies (Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft) have invested billions in development, and the industry is waiting to see the major fruits of their labor.
“In VR, on a limited, neonatal basis, we are already seeing virtual site inspections, virtual exhibit booth design, booth engagement technology, meeting room design technology, and attendance at events — such as the NBA’s streaming to China,” Ball says. “AR will have major impacts. This will, at first, be through mobile phones. For example, look for a significant development with the release of the new iPhone, but eventually with AR glasses — an unobtrusive, stylish version of Google Glass.”
For CMPs, it’s all about peace of mind — knowing what they’ll be walking into even if they’ve never been able to visit in person. Attendees who take part in a demonstration will benefit from that added excitement that comes with full immersion.
Gordon Meyer, director of marketing at YouVisit, an immersive technology company powered by Aria, a leading enterprise platform that enables brands and organizations to engage and convert audiences through interactive 360-degree experiences, says the technologies that most impact meetings are the ones that make them better. Virtual reality is no different. VR and interactive technologies are opening the door for better, more memorable experiences.
“Meeting planners are using VR to make better venue choices,” Meyer says. “And meeting runners are using it to better convey content and ideas.”
The VR and interactive experiences are changing meetings in two ways:
First, for venues, 360-degree experiences showcase their spaces in ways they never could before. Meeting planners, after having taken virtual tours, can perfectly visualize what the experience will be like when they arrive onsite. It takes the guesswork out of planning and raises the comfort level for everyone involved.
Second, some of YouVisit’s corporate clients are using VR experiences as central tools in their meetings and presentations. They enable a much more vivid and memorable presentation than PowerPoints.
“Some clients hand out headsets in their meetings and guide participants through a VR experience,” Meyer says. “This works great for smaller meetings as well as huge events like trade shows.”
The biggest mistake Meyer sees is when companies invest in shooting 360-degree video without opting to build in enough interactivity.
“Interactivity is the key to immersive technology. It’s not just a matter of letting viewers look all around them, you have to give them things to do and explore if you want to keep their attention,” Meyer says. “The more interactivity you build in, the better your conversion rates, plain and simple.”
Meeting planners need to consider using technology to improve attendee engagement and satisfaction because technology, when used properly, saves time and money, improves efficiency, improves attendee services and satisfaction, and provides much better analytics. Quite simply, it helps all parties involved.
As with any new innovation, there are inherent problems that arise with each proposed technology being used. The most common problem that Ball is seeing these days is a lack of adoption by the attendees — often due to a lack of promotion.
“For mobile apps, for example, meeting hosts should promote the app in advance, and encourage use onsite with signage and announcements, especially noting the benefits for the attendee,” Ball says. “Also, for widespread adoption, good quality Wi-Fi must be provided — especially for encouraging the interactive components of the apps.”
And the larger the event, the greater need and use of a wide range of event planning and attendee engagement technologies. That said, even small meetings can be improved with the proper use of technologies including an event app.
“In this smartphone-centric world, it is faster and more convenient to interact with the app than to deal with printing, shipping and distributing paper,” Ball says. “Mobile polling can be of great help for small meetings. Social media tools, surveys, message tools, social Q&A all come at cost-effective prices even for small events.”
We are all enamored by technology and the impact it has had on our lives, especially within the meeting and event industry, where there are hundreds of products and applications from which to choose. The top things Brandt recommends to planners eager to create the right technology strategy for their events include:
As Kosmides stresses, if attendees are engaged, CMPs are doing their job right. Does event technology have to be the only way CMPs can drive attendee engagement? Of course not, but utilizing technology can provide unique experiences to the attendees, provide deeper learning, and create stronger connections between attendees which, in return, will make them want to return to the event next year.
One of the most important things to remember when using technology to drive engagement is adoption rate. “Some people are early adopters and might love the technology and be really engaged, but if you as a CMP can’t spread that feeling across the majority of attendees, then it could be a waste of time and resources,” Kosmides says.
And remember, events likely will change more in the next five years, than in the past 15 due to technology.
“Meetings incorporating VR are only going to improve,” Meyer says. “Almost anything you can think of will soon be possible. It’s a very exciting time.”
Companies will be able to integrate VR elements more seamlessly into their events or hold entire meetings in virtual reality. Members of YouVisit’s internal development team already do this, and as the technology improves it will scale dramatically.
Ball predicts that AR and VR will blossom; analytics tools will help improve future events; integration among software products will improve — making it easy to mix and match your event tech deck; wearables will increase in all types (including beacons, bands and AR glasses); onsite registration will be automated; and networking will become much easier and more effective.
“Really incorporating technology into an event marketing strategy is a different beast. Knowing when and where to invest time and resources is proving challenging for teams of all sizes,” Kosmides says. “Whether you host, attend or sponsor events, investing in your event marketing stack is crucial, and there is new technology coming out every day it feels like. Use resources like G2Crowd and other software review sites to make sure you’re getting what you need to make your team successful.” C&IT