Here’s one thing we know: Technological advancements within the meetings and events sector are in a constant state of flux. This reality, coupled with the ever-changing nature of the way information is being presented during meetings and events, results in a need for planners to stay abreast of the technological changes gracing the industry.
Brian Ludwig, Cvent’s senior vice president of sales, says that even compared to just a few years ago, the technology landscape for meetings and events looks very different.
“Technology is evolving at a rapid pace and it’s changing our industry,” Ludwig says. “Not only have these changes positively impacted the jobs of event professionals around the world, but in the past couple of years in particular, we have seen an explosion in technology that focuses on enhancing the attendee experience.” In the past, event organizers would rely on a handful of disparate tools to deliver an optimized attendee experience or to ensure efficiency in a few limited areas, such as online registration and check-in.
“Now, far more organizations utilize a comprehensive suite of solutions that help to elevate the overall experience and make planning events far more manageable, data-driven, technologically integrated, and most importantly, engaging,” Ludwig says.
Indeed, technology has come a long way in terms of speed, efficiency and ease of use. As Karen Gordon, vice president of growth for Goodshuffle Pro, an event software company in Washington, D.C., explains, an increase in both internet speed and quality of connectivity has resulted in better communication for event companies and planners with both their internal teams as well as externally to clients and attendees.
“We’ve seen an increase in apps being used for both companies and for specific events, as well as more mobile activity in general,” Gordon says. “As software becomes more advanced and intuitive, it is also changing the game for meeting and event planners who are looking to streamline their processes and keep things simple.”
Trends to Notice
As you might expect, the event experience revolves around our mobile devices more than ever. According to Ludwig, studies have shown that some people check their phones every 12 minutes. That’s more than 80 times a day.
“Event professionals recognize that if they don’t leverage mobile devices, audience engagement will suffer,” Ludwig says. “So, they’re turning what could be seen as a distraction into an opportunity — with mobile event apps.” They are becoming commonplace and for good reason — they drive engagement, deliver customized content and support more personalized networking experiences during the event.
“People attend events for two main reasons: That’s to learn and to network. Mobile event apps support both,” Ludwig says.
In the last year or so, Ludwig and his team at Cvent have also seen data and analytics come to the forefront. Event planners and marketing departments especially want to know how their attendees are engaging with their events. They want to know who went where, who spent time with which exhibitors or sponsors, who had appointments and who attended each session.
“They want to leverage that data to both make their events better, and to have better and more pointed follow up from sales and marketing after the event,” Ludwig says. Solutions such as RFID badging provide for passive attendance tracking which helps event professionals understand what their attendees are most interested in and how they’re engaging with the event and the content.
As Ludwig explains, this attendee information has completely transformed the way event planners analyze event data and has helped them continue to improve and elevate the event agenda, content and experience year after year.
Ludwig is also seeing pushes for more innovative technology at events — technology that adds that “wow” factor, including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and voice-technology, such as chatbots.
“With an AR tool, for instance, we can treat attendees to an augmented reality experience with 3D mapping and dynamic signage and, with VR, we can help organizers source and select just the right venue without ever having to leave their office. Overall, the event technology space is becoming more dynamic, more exciting and more focused on the end-users, i.e. the attendees,” Ludwig says.
Meeting and events logistics planning, which includes items such as CAD drawings, floor plans, event diagrams and check-in, also are all being done digitally. As Gordon explains, as people turn toward the cloud for both security/stability and ease of use, she is seeing the rewards of these efficient processes brought to life in forms such as increased market reach and profit.
“Along with logistics planning being made simpler, we are also seeing online communication with clients through channels such as apps and chatbots, many of which are used at trade shows and conferences,” Gordon says. “This virtual communication is beneficial because it gives clients almost immediate answers to the most popular questions, while freeing up staff’s time to handle more individualized questions. This results in a much more efficient and effective event.”
Visual Stimulation at Events
As far as video at today’s events, LED walls are the video screens of today. They are modular, made up of individual displays that connect to form a single large screen. Highly customizable and offering flexible design options, LED walls have many benefits compared to traditional projectors.
“LEDs provide a very immersive experience. You can make LED walls into any size or shape you want — circles, squares, curved walls — any kind of wall is possible,” says Johnny Jan, director of creative services and marketing at Rental and Staging Network Member CPR Multimedia Solutions. “For event planners, this gives a better avenue to think about staging. The LED wall can be a part of the set design, or even wrapping around pillars. Meeting planners can even use LED walls as the curtain on stage, raising and lowering the displays as needed for the event.”
Projection mapping, which is light that projects images onto surfaces, also has many uses. It allows 3D objects of any size to become canvases for light. It drives interest and engagement along with brand awareness as event attendees share pictures of the awesome displays on social media. It also is a unique way to attract attention, leverage sponsorships and share messaging that shine brighter than the rest.
“Projection mapping draws your audience in and creates a truly immersive experience,” says Chris O’Halleran, senior project manager/technical director at Rental and Staging Network (RSN) member ON Services. “It allows you to take ordinary objects and make them extraordinary.”
According to Zachary Rozga, CEO of TheCE, a platform that drives sales and captures leads in various marketing channels, including event marketing, says other organizations are having a hard time finding their old business model relevant in our constantly connected, career-fluid economy.
“Keeping attention, providing a great experience and creating loyalty — while at the same time keeping sponsors happy —is what keeps event producers awake at night,” Rozga says.
“Integrated sponsorship models are changing and brands are looking for more than just an impression on their logo pasted on a website, in the conference hall and connected to the email blasts that go out for the event.” Rather, the trends Rozga and his team are seeing includes audience engagement becoming a key factor for brand sponsorships.
“Proper audience engagement is a key factor in event planning and has to be seen as a continuous process,” Rozga says. “Gone are the days of hosting an event, advertising for people to attend, making sure things go smoothly during the event, and then sending them a post event feedback to figure out what gaps occurred so you can fill them for the next year. Truly successful events have become brands in their own right and then bring their sponsors into the entire life-cycle process.”
From the attendee perspective, the reaction to evolving technological offerings for meetings and events has always been one of interest and excitement. At Cvent’s most recent user conference, Cvent CONNECT, the company surveyed more than 4,500 attendees and asked them specifics about their technology experience.
“Event registration, pre-event communication, mobile event app, and onsite check-in all achieved nearly 90% satisfaction rates or higher,” Ludwig says. Cvent’s attendees also provided record satisfaction ratings for the event’s Innovation Pavilion, where technology comes to life and where attendees get hands-on interaction with Cvent’s current and future solutions.
“They specifically mentioned they enjoyed the addition of newer, more exploratory technologies like AR and VR. Ultimately, attendees embrace the tech that makes their experience less stressful, more enjoyable, more engaging, and more memorable, and we’ve seen the industry rise to meet that standard in the last several years,” Ludwig says.
Experts agree that when meeting planners come to understand the variety of tools available to them now, especially when it comes to comprehensive data analytics, many get overwhelmed and ultimately resort back to their manual event planning processes.
As Ludwig explains, it’s easy to be a bit apprehensive about all the data and technology available to event professionals. “We always encourage event planners to take it one step, one solution, at a time,” Ludwig says. “Don’t chase the bright shiny object. Choose tech that will help to accomplish the goals of the event. It doesn’t have to be an ‘all or nothing” approach and when they use the right technology, and break the information down into manageable data points, the ability to create bigger and better events grows exponentially. It’s a game changer.”
Besides not overlooking the power and value-add of data, Ludwig says the best advice is to start small, see what works well, and build over time as you see the improvements. It might be as simple as replacing the arduous task of manual registration and switching to an automated system.
“Once you recover those countless hours, you’ll find there’s more time to invest in the event and its programming and be able to expand the solutions that are right for you and your audiences,” Ludwig says.
Gordon agrees that the biggest and most common mistake meeting and event planners make when it comes to technology is being scared of it. As she explains, people turn down something before they’ve properly explored it, resulting in misunderstandings of what the technology is and then ancient processes are dragged out.
“Think of all the time and money that could be saved with a simple fix,” Gordon says. Another common mistake Gordon sees are event planners falling for what’s trendy over what’s practical. She sees companies invest in “the next best thing” before they invest in basic business software for their employees.
“You’ll save time and money in the long run if you do the necessary research from the get-go,” Gordon says.
Steve Wildemann, president of Rental and Staging Network and president of Advanced Staging Productions, says the prominent mistake meeting planners can make when it relates to event technology is not bringing in their audio-visual partner soon enough. “Many planners don’t realize an A/V team can help assess a potential venue based on the client’s needs,” Wildemann says. “If looped in too late, last-minute grandiose ideas may not be possible with their time or budget restraints.”
Also, when it comes to early communication, an A/V team needs to know more details than people think. It starts with the goal of the event, who the stakeholders are and what outcome is desired to details such as names and contact information of other vendors to ease communication, information on who is arriving and unloading when so event set-up runs smoothly, and a detailed event schedule so the team is prepared to deal with issues such as the sound of clinking silverware during a keynote speech.
“Audiences are also increasingly tech-savvy, with exceedingly high expectations for how an event should run,” Wildemann says. “An A/V, lighting, and technical support team provides the tools you need to communicate your message. However, event management is more than that. New developments in event technology allow you to create beautiful settings, immersive environments, and interactive experiences.”
As technology continues to make inroads within the meetings and events industry, the focus on event IT security also is paramount.
Jon Harris, CPP, PSP, senior consultant at Guidepost Solutions, says whether it is the presence of security cameras, personnel screening or simply additional security personnel, the awareness of potential threats in public spaces has brokered an acceptance and appreciation for having enhanced security measures.
“As far as the actual technology, the greatest leaps are consistent with the security industry en masse; automation, analytics and the operational value-add becoming more prevalent,” Harris says. “In fact, the automation and analytics are a definite trend — whether it is autonomous security drones or leveraging security camera footage for proactive analysis of potential threat, these technologies are being adapted for deployment in the event and meeting space.” Additionally, Harris has seen an appetite for passive personnel screening technologies, which allow greater levels of access into event spaces, while still providing the ability to check attendees for potential contraband.
One of the biggest challenges as relates to the security technology at meetings and events is that meeting planners need to strike a balance between creating a safe and secure event, and cultivating a pleasant experience for the attendees.
Also attendees want speed and ease, to be kept safe and things made convenient. Much like air travelers, attendees are likely to embrace technology that makes their experience easier and more convenient.
“If the screening process is passive and secondary checks are done by exception, only when the initial passive screening requires it, the majority of the attendees will benefit from this practice, with only few being inconvenienced,” Harris says. “Access control through mobile apps, which also provide valuable event information, are likely to be embraced; people are used to using their phones for access — airline tickets, movie tickets, possibly even their homes. This ability to validate the identity of the attendees, while using a familiar technology, has a high likelihood of acceptance.”
Harris thinks we will see more interactive usage of security technology to enhance the overall event experience, such as an autonomous security robot capable of performing patrol rounds and telling you where you can find the nearest Starbucks. “Sounds like a sci-fi movie? This is actually happening at events today,” Harris says.
With technology advancement experiencing an exponential rate, Rozga suggests meeting planners start thinking now about privacy and compliance. As he explains, increased data scrutiny is coming and event planners, by and large, are either not thinking about it or are completely unaware of it.
“Some of the new technologies that are being promoted for the event industry create some serious privacy risks, such as facial recognition software, that really should be addressed before being dove into,” Rozga says.
Security and privacy issues aside, facial check-in, AR/VR, live sentiment analysis via facial analysis, chatbots, wayfinding, wearables and recommendation engines — these are just a few of the cool tech concepts that Cvent thinks will make a big splash at future events.
“Far from replacing in-person events or rendering them irrelevant, we’re watching technology actually enhance meetings and events, and further cement them as invaluable business opportunities,” Ludwig says. “Digitization is not a replacement for in-person events, it’s a supplement. Tech is now being fully woven into the fabric of these events, rather than serving as a mere accessory to them, and we expect the fusion between technology and events will become even more seamless as the industry continues to grow and develop.”
Also in the sustainability vein, events will begin to incorporate more remote technology. Rozga was recently at an event that featured a full-sized hologram of a featured speaker who was three time zones away. “It felt like he was in the room,” Rozga says. “As costs drive down and bandwidth goes up, these will probably become the norm.” C&IT