As technology has taken an ever bigger role in the execution of meetings, the time-honored notion of the wow factor as a key ingredient in a successful meeting has evolved. Today, it’s not just about creating something that is memorable. It’s also about understanding how meetings themselves have evolved — and what matters most.
“From my perspective, when you talk about the wow factor, you’re really talking about how much you can engage attendees,” says Bellingham, Washington-based meeting industry technology guru Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP, DES, MS. “You’re talking about how much you can get them excited and involved in or emotionally committed to the meeting.”
Ryan Rutan, director of developer evangelism and partner innovation at Jive Software in Palo Alto, California, agrees with Ball’s assessment. But he also notes the essential challenge planners face today.
“When you talk about using technology to create the wow factor at meetings, the first thing you need to talk about is how high the bar is now,” Rutan says. “Over the last three or four years, the ways that technology affects people in their personal lives has leaked into the enterprise. And that has created a very high bar in terms of getting people’s attention and getting them excited. The expectations that people have in their personal lives have carried over into their business lives. And when you look at the things that are out there now, in their personal lives, that creates a very high expectation in terms of how technology is used to impact them at meetings.”
“The real definition of the wow factor is the after-event impression attendees have of the experience. …It’s the takeaway from the meeting and how you connect attendees with that.”
— Ryan Rutan
Rutan also points out that the very definition of the wow factor at meetings has shifted from creating a unique form of excitement or novelty to addressing the individual identities of attendees in a way that powerfully engages and motivates them. “Today, attendees expect you to know all about them and also to give them what they need to know and tell them why they need to know it,” he says. “In turn, you have to take all of that information and then provide it to people in the best possible way, in a way that motivates them and gets them excited about the meeting. But it also has to be informative and strategic. That’s the challenge now.”
From the perspective of most meeting attendees, the wow factor is now determined by how well the execution of the meeting delivers “what they really need and want,” Rutan says. “And to accomplish that, you have to show that you know a lot about your attendees, in terms of what they want and need. Then along with that, you have to show people you know the kinds of people they want to connect with at the meeting and help them do that. So that’s a big part of it now, too. You have to do quite a few different things that are all related to each other to really deliver the wow factor.”
As a result, Rutan says, the expectations of how technology will excite and inform at meetings are growing and evolving, which means a moving target that is sometimes hard to hit. And success can only truly be judged after the fact, he says. “To me, the real definition of the wow factor is the after-event impression attendees have of the experience they had at the meeting. In other words, it’s the takeaway from the meeting and how you connect attendees with that. It’s no longer about, ‘Wow, we had a great band at our opening night party.’ Or, ‘Wow, we got some really cool trinkets.’ Today, for most attendees, I think the wow factor is based on the utility of the meeting and how easy it was to attain the knowledge and information that was needed to make the meeting successful for people.”
Although the use of technology to engage and motivate attendees is limited only by the imaginations of meeting hosts and planners, and innovation and creativity drive the process, gamification has become the gold standard when it comes to using technology to create the wow factor and also accomplish the practical goals cited by Ball and Rutan.
“Just about all of the Fortune 1000 companies are using gamification now,” Ball says. “And the reason is that it allows you to motivate people to do what you want them to do — and do that in a creative way that also brings fun to the meeting with prizes and recognition. The important thing about it is to set the right goals in terms of what you want people to do. But when it’s done well, it certainly delivers the wow factor. And it does that by satisfying people’s desires for things like rewards, recognition and status.”
For the last three years, Rutan has used mobile apps from QuickMobile as his gamification platform for Jive Software’s annual user conference, known as Jive World.
“The way we use it is to show people all of the things they should know about the conference, starting before people ever get there,” Rutan says. “We show them everything they need to know about our products. And in order to get them paying attention and excited, we offer cool prizes like iPads.”
In order to be able to promote and drive downloading of the mobile app, they make it available a month before the conference. “We also create a blog series that promotes participation in the gamification at the event,” Rutan says. “And the blog posts talk about the game, the prizes you can win, the people you can connect with, and the things you can accomplish by playing the game. And the call to action is to download the app before the conference.”
Jive Software also promotes the success of the game after the event, as a way of reinforcing the perception of wow factor having been delivered in a way that is highly relevant and meaningful to attendees. Their entire focus, before and after the conference, is on the needs of their customers, Rutan says.
He adds that the fundamental reason why gamification has become such a popular tool at meetings is that is delivers very precise practical benefits. “If you do it right,” he says, “gamification is all about incentivizing the behavior that you want. And part of that behavior is how attendees absorb and remember the most important information that is being presented at the meeting. That’s where gamification is revolutionary. And very effective. It focuses on what’s important and tells attendees why they should remember it. It also makes it easy for them.”
While mobile app-based gamification has risen to ubiquity, a San Francisco company The Go Game has taken the basic concept to an entirely new level of execution and participation by turning it into a full-blown Hollywood-style production.
The Go Game, founded in 2001 and whose clients include Google, Facebook and Uber, designs interactive adventure games that have now been deployed in 25 countries. The games can be tailored to both iPhone and Android phones.
The Go Game sends teams on a mission that takes place in a “game zone,” which can be a building such as a hotel or resort, a neighborhood or an entire city. Game options include a secret agent game or a movie game. The Go Game also can be matched with virtually any kind of group activity, such as a team-based dance competition.
The underlying technology platform creates and directs the onsite logistics of the game, which in turn can be built around virtually any kind of objective. A large group also can be broken down into smaller groups, so that for example, if it’s a secret agent game, different teams can have different missions that are unique to each group.
In turn, the real time physical results of the games are captured on video by “game runners” who create the “show” that results from participation in the games. That “after effect” makes the game even more memorable.
In effect, The Go Game combines a sophisticated form of interactive live action game playing with teambuilding.
Chris Soto, president of CTC Events and Productions in Fairfax, Virginia, is a devoted user of The Go Game. He has used it repeatedly for different kinds of clients, and both large and small groups. Most recently, he used it for a medical device client that hosted a major meeting in Orlando.
“The purpose of the event was to create bonding among attendees, many of whom were new to the company and who work remotely, so we created a ‘dance off’ event that worked really well,” Soto says. “It was a tremendous success. And the reason is that it drew different kinds of talents out of people, whether that was creativity or physical talent, and that meant that everybody — all different kinds of people that all made different kinds of contributions — played a role in the success of their team. And all of that got recorded on video so people would remember the experience.”
The reason The Go Game works so well, Soto says, is that it gets attendees out of their comfort zones. “And by doing that, it gets them to interact and network,” he says. “The bonds that come from doing all the exciting and fun stuff the games involve just makes it a fantastic networking or teambuilding tool. It works every time. It really unites people in a very unique way. Clients rave about it and say it helps them do the best meetings they’ve ever had. And most important, they usually say they’ve never had as much fun or gotten as much positive feedback on a teambuilding exercise.”
As a planner, Soto also notes how much he enjoys working behind the scenes with The Go Game’s staff to create and manage events. In other words, the company creates a wow factor for him, as well.
“They are always a joy to work with, and they always know what a client expects or wants,” he says. At the participant level, the support you get from the company also means you get a lot of attention, so I know they are going to do a great job of kicking it off and making sure it works. And that means combing technology with creativity and an understanding of why it works so well for groups. And then all of that comes together in the production itself, in the way they stage the whole thing, they way the game is run on location. They just do an amazing job. And they’re very good at adapting it to each group individually, which is another reason why it works so well for so many different kinds of groups.”
Soto says he cannot recommend The Go Game highly enough to planners seeking a tech-based wow factor experience for their attendees. “If you’re looking for a team bonding experience that breaks down barriers and delivers an amazing experience for meeting attendees by combining technology with creativity, Go Game is a fantastic tool,” he says. “I always do my best to sell my clients on it. I tell them if they want a powerful and innovative teambuilding experience, The Go Game is the way to go. I say that because every single time I’ve used it for one of my clients, it has been a home run.”
Although gamification and highly creative options such as The Go Game get most of the attention these days, Ball points out that traditional forms of meeting technology, such as audio-visual, can be used to create the wow factor. And nothing, he says, is more directly related to the success of a meeting than the important presentations made in its major sessions.
One recent example he cites is the screen used at PCMA’s last “Convening Leaders” conference. “It was something like 45 feet high and 140 feet wide — in HD,” Ball says. “So that’s an example of the fact you can use your audio-visual presentation to create the wow factor if you’re willing to do something like that. Then you can talk about things like lighting and audio and the other elements that can make AV truly spectacular now, thanks to the newest technologies. So for me, that’s a very good example of using technology to create the wow factor in a very organic way.”
Virtually all companies use AV at their meetings. And no one would dispute its value in engaging attendees. Yet a relatively small minority of companies go the extra mile to make it truly exceptional —and memorable — like PCMA did.
“The ability to do exciting AV has been around for quite a while,” Ball says. “But because of the advances in things like super high-definition video projectors and audio and lighting, it’s just amazing what can be done now if you want that kind of quality. And the cost has come down, so you’re seeing that level of quality now at more and more major meetings, especially for organizations like PCMA and MPI. But that means the technology is available for any company that wants to do it at that level of quality. And the presentations you’re making at your meeting are the most important thing you’re going to be doing. So that’s where you need the wow factor.”
As for the foreseeable future and what comes next, Rutan is intrigued by and interested in augmented reality. “We’re looking at that now, just to try it out,” he says. His colleague, Iain Goodridge, has proposed using the technology to make sessions more interactive by offering new ways to present, and prompt interaction with, information. And by definition, Rutan says, the dramatically evolving technology delivers a big dose of wow factor.
Ball says augmented and virtual reality will soon begin to assume highly innovative roles in the meeting industry. “Both of them are things that companies like Facebook, Google, Samsung and Microsoft are paying a lot of attention to now,” he says. “They’re making big investments in the technology. They have invested billions of dollars. And we’re starting to see those investments start to come to fruition now with things like augmented reality. When those new tools start to really come out, they’ll become the closest approximation ever to the holodeck from “Star Trek.” And that means wow factor and new ways to engage people. The potential for using those kinds of technology is almost unlimited. And it’s very cool.”
In the meantime, wearable technology such as Google Glass, second-screen technology and beacon technology are beginning to emerge as genuine options for the generation of wow factor.
“There are just so many new ideas bubbling up now,” he says. “And there are new ways to use mobile technology at meetings. Or to improve learning. And all of those things, if they’re used well, will create the wow factor. But to me, no matter what the technology is, it’s about engagement. If attendees are engaged and motivated and involved, that’s really where the wow comes from.” C&IT