The meetings and events industry is not what it used to be, and technology has become a huge factor in whether a meeting or event is successful. It’s why experts in the industry have taken the time to understand the role of technology when planning and running events.
“Technology is the fabric of our daily lives. We have evolved to a place where our expectations have changed in regard to how quickly we have access to information and the types of communication vehicles we use,” says Jeannie Griffin, vice president, product and technology solutions at BCD Meetings & Events. “More importantly, the value we perceive from hosting and conducting events has changed.”
Today, meetings and events are the second-largest area of spend for most marketing budgets and having the ability to track the progress of interest in products, services and satisfaction with those events all hinges on having technology in place to easily capture the data points one is using to evaluate.
“When you track that detail at an event level, you are enabling online polling, engagement surveys through the app, onsite appointments and, potentially, heat mapping/tracking of the attendee footprint to gain an understanding of interest levels from the attendees,” Griffin says.
Beth Lawrence, president & CEO of Beth Lawrence LLC, says technology
is an important component of our everyday lives, so meetings and events should follow suit.
“If we are constantly interacting with one another through digital means, it only makes sense that a technological component of meetings, events and trade shows allow guests to interact with the event host, sponsors, speakers and one another,” she says. “Technology is shaping the way that we plan events, execute events and engage attendees prior to, during and after events.”
“Technology is the fabric of our daily lives. We have evolved to a place where our expectations have changed in regard to how quickly we have access to information and the types of communication vehicles we use,”
Sydney Wolf, director of sales for metroConnections, a conference and event services company, says technology is still considered modern, cool and trendy, so it needs to be incorporated to elevate the experience to make a meeting feel relevant and cutting-edge.
Her company has helped execute meetings and conferences that attract 3,000 or more attendees, and technology has played a vital role in the registration process through the activation of on-demand badge printing.
“Implementing this technology has essentially eliminated the need for a large amount of staff or volunteers who need to sift through alphabetized badges and puts that experience in the attendees’ hands,” Wolf says. “From the moment they step into the event space, their experience is elevated, efficient and gives them independence by letting them print their own registration materials onsite. It’s made a world of difference for attendees and frees up staff and volunteers for more important onsite roles.”
Jonathan Denmark, LIA, CLTC, CISR, CLCS, president and COO of MountainOne Insurance, says he loves showing videos, infographics and charts at his presentations, and technology has helped him engage the audience and allow attendees to think critically and relate to what they are seeing.
“I recently held my insurance agency’s annual meeting, where I shared results for the year, set goals for the coming year and presented awards to employees for achievements and years of service,” he says. “I started this presentation with a motivation video — something to help ground everyone and level set. Because the presentation is data-driven, charts are critical. I showed a lot of graphs depicting growth in various areas and throughout the presentation, I added more video pictures to emphasize a particular topic.”
Katrina Kent, CMP, CMM, director of corporate events at TD Ameritrade, explains we live in an increasingly “phygital” (physical/digital) world, and it all boils down to the fact that technology enables community and connections between people at live events in ways that just weren’t possible even a few years ago.
“When tech is used to deepen the meaning and impact of the experience for the attendee, whether it’s through an intuitive app that connects you with other like-minded attendees based on specific criteria, or a virtual reality experience that augments the here-and-now at a live event, or a 3D presentation at an event that really drives home the features of a new product, technology is critical,” she says.
“I am really excited about the possibilities as we continue to live and work in a phygital world.”
Today, mobile devices play a huge role in a successful meeting, when less than a decade ago, they were used almost solely
“Now, the presentations, agenda, trade show map and other experiences are either accessible via an app, or they exist on a responsive website attendees can access at any point,” Griffin says. “It’s only about five to 10 years ago when attendees were printing out agendas, getting informational folders upon check-in and that was it. Mobile has made a huge difference.”
Additionally, she believes that tech has made things different in regards to the attendee experience.
“With the concentrated effort being put forth to know and understand me as an attendee, I can arrive onsite and know my favorite coffee might be served, that for my gift I’d like a donation vs. something provided to me, and again, behind those small movements to ensure I have a terrific experience technology has been involved,” Griffin says.
Tech is more of a “need” today than a “nice to have” as it was five to 10 years ago, Lawrence says.
“I would imagine that now, especially for large-scale events and conventions, it would be shocking to attendees to not integrate some type of technology,” she says.
Technology is changing so quickly, Denmark says. Sometimes it’s the little things like internet connection speed, upgraded Excel capabilities, presentations onto HDTVs rather than projectors.
“These technological advances can make a presentation successful,” he says. “At a recent presentation, I was playing a video and my laptop was hooked into a smart speaker, which provides excelled audio quality, and the sound filled up the room. Even five years ago, I would have had to run the sound through a clumsy PA system to capture the sound quality I got with one high-quality smart speaker.”
Wolf notes the biggest technological advance that has changed meetings and events across the board is elevated photography and videography capabilities.
“So many things have been made possible in the last decade, including 360-degree cameras, 3D photos, drone footage, not to mention the significantly heightened capabilities of a simple smartphone camera,” she says. “It’s changed and drastically improved the way we’re able to capture and share meetings and events after the fact.”
Lisa Tanen-La Fontaine, CMO and vice president of LIMRA & LOMA, notes technology is important at these events because that’s where the industry is going and how companies are evolving.
“It’s all about engagement. You really want to engage people with not only what’s happening at the event, but all the resources they have behind the event,” she says.
“Then you want them to carry forward with them everything they learned at the event, and technology can help do that successfully.”
At LIMRA & LOMA’s annual conference in New York City in 2018, a 9-foot by 18-foot-long engagement wall told the company’s story.
“People could go up and touch the wall, and things would blossom and show the offerings we had,” Tanen-La Fontaine says. “Then from there, you could go off to a kiosk and ask for information. We also have iPads in our booth for attendees.”
Nowadays, meetings in the insurance and financial arenas are just not held where technology has not been heavily involved — behind the scenes or front and center. However, it can come in at different parts of the event life cycle.
For example, Griffin notes she has had fantastic communications and marketing for upcoming events that use engaging content positioned just for her, which is enabled by marketing automation.
“For another event, the pre-event experience was a bit more vanilla. But when I got onsite, the self-registration/check in process was at a kiosk, the app was easy to download, I provided seed questions and ranked against others in regards to the general session content and was able to communicate and make one-on-one appointments with attendees easily through appointment schedulers,” she says.
Denmark recently attended a conference where he was asked to download the conference mobile app before it started. During one of the presentations, in a live setting, the attendees were asked to answer questions on the mobile app. The answers (results) from the survey were then shown on a large screen in real time.
“You could literally see the results updating as people worked their way through the app to provide answers,” he says. “This type of integration is fresh and extremely engaging.”
Two events that Lawrence planned this year utilized the event app Socio, something appearing at many meetings these days.
“I helped to build out the interface of the apps for both of these events, including branding, inputting the speakers, schedule, attendees and all other relevant information,” she says. “Using the app’s technology, we were able to send push notifications onsite when room assignments changed, the schedule was modified or we needed to draw traffic to a certain session or sponsor. We could also see, from the app’s ‘connect’ feature, who was connecting with whom and real-time feedback and questions.”
David Watts, venue director at Enclave in Las Vegas, which offers an extensive fiber optic network to easily stream content between all rooms in real time, says tech is only getting faster and more important.
“We are making a huge impact on events as companies are able to utilize every space in the building while getting the same message across to everyone attending,” he says. “Our LED sign right in the front of the building is technology almost all our clients take advantage of. They are able to display their logo or other creative so the venue is branded by them as soon as their guests arrive.”
The walls and ceilings at Enclave are acoustically treated and the private boardrooms are fully equipped with LED screens and video teleconferencing. This allows companies to hold meetings with anyone in the world in their own comfortable setting.
Although some tech will come along and immediately make noise in the meeting industry, it’s more common that technology takes a bit more time to have game-changer effects.
For instance, wearables are becoming must-tech at most meetings, but it has taken some time for attendees to be comfortable with it all.
Technology is also critical to data that will help market the conference to specific attendees and draw specific attendees to the sponsors. For example, scanning apps such as Boomset, which allow sponsors to scan attendees at their booths and retrieve information for later marketing purposes.
Behind the scenes, event planners can also utilize the information provided within the apps and ticketing software to see demographics and level within their particular industry to target programming to attendees.
Onsite, event apps can integrate gamification and live polling into events, livening the attendee experience and allowing them to be a part of the conversation.
There are also branded LED bands that can light up in different colors and vibrate on the wrist of the wearer to indicate time for breaks or to move to the next space, and so much more.
Wolf says that virtual reality has steadily become more prevalent and has gained popularity even within the last year.
“It used to be so rare and expensive to come by, but now it feels commonplace at a meeting or event,” she says. “Oculus glasses are almost expected, giving you access to more content and custom experiences that go beyond the physical space that your meeting or event is in. I truly think virtual reality could potentially change the way we meet in the future — being in the same physical space could become more rare than meeting virtually as the technology continues to advance.”
Overall, technology can be a powerful tool that few people recognize if it goes well, but it’s when it does not go well that everyone notices. That’s why it’s vital to prepare for all contingencies when planning a meeting.
It’s good to think about many different scenarios on what could go wrong, and prepare yourself mentally that some things are going to malfunction, as it is inevitable. If you’re quickly able to correct things because you have a plan, or even make a light joke about the issue, then people might not even notice.
Many believe the next big important tech to impact the industry will be chatbots, and the rise of AI and machine learning.
“Recently I was in Las Vegas for a meeting, and I received a text introducing me to my personal concierge,” Griffin says. “I could send a text to check out or get my room cleaned. I feel the beginnings of machine learning are starting to make some interesting changes to my travel experience, and can only see those becoming more sophisticated and insightful as the algorithms develop.”
Denmark feels the world of web-based meetings is getting better and is the wave of the future.
“I am often hosting internal sales meetings with employees logged in from different locations,” he says. “We occasionally have team members join via web conference from their smartphones. The latest technology allows everyone to see each other, but it’s not without bugs. I think that this technology will continue to advance and provide a really great value added for teams that cannot always be in the same physical space.”
Lawrence says that even though event chatbots have been around for a few years, she sees this technology evolving to become the future of communication for events, calling chatbots “incredible” when needing to communicate to attendees en masse, via text message or otherwise.
“It allows attendees to interact directly with the bot, and for event planners to keep track of questions asked and answered to improve communication for the following year,” she says. “I think it’s very smart that companies like this realize that phone storage space is precious, so asking attendees to download an app may not be as effective moving forward. Chatbots interact over text and ‘learn’ and evolve with new questions that are asked. I think this adaptable, real-time technology is going to be the key for the future.”
She also feels voice-first technology will creep in to the event space and really change the game.
“Integrating Alexa into events, Google Home, Siri or a similar technology will only make it easier to interact directly with attendees,”
Lawrence says. I&FMM