There are many ways to evaluate and increase attendee engagement, one of the critical metrics for determining the success of a meeting, program or other corporate endeavor. But technology is by far the most comprehensive tool, and it comes in many forms.
These days, it’s almost impossible for planners to keep up with technology. Not only is it evolving at breakneck speed, the scale of its evolution is mind-boggling. Who 10 years ago would have thought we’d be talking about widespread use of artificial intelligence (AI) among event technology providers, planners and the general population? But that’s exactly what we’re talking about — and more. It’s important to note, however, that just because new technology exists, doesn’t mean it’s being used by every planner or that it’s right for every planner or group. Just as importantly, the existence of new technology doesn’t instantly render older technology useless.
In fact, it’s most likely a combination of old and new that planners are working with today — with the help of event technology providers — who are typically on the cutting edge of new developments and products.
Elizabeth Glau, CMP, director of strategy for EGCX Group, points out that keeping up with all the changes may or may not be necessary for planners. “The speed of change keeps getting faster and faster. The need to keep up depends on whether being an early adopter is expected of you in your current role. Some people can get away with not learning about emerging technology until it’s widely adopted. For others, it is critical to be one of the first and lead their peers. If you are the latter, then you already know you have to draw from a wider circle of influence and be able to make connections where the connection isn’t apparent.”
For the most part, she says, changes in technology are very positive for planners. “Access to data and increasingly easy access to insights as well as the ability to integrate data from one system to another are all positive changes for our industry. This makes organizers much more efficient in proving the value of their events and tying events to business outcomes.”
In terms of the most important aspect of technology for planners, Glau points to a theory known as “Jobs to be Done.” The application for planners, she says, “is that you need to be very clear about the job you are hiring your technology to do. If it is just there for the sake of it, maybe you don’t need it.”
The same question is applicable when using technology to elevate engagement at an event. “We’ve made the mistake of thinking just because attendees’ mobile devices are ‘attached to them’ we have to create an experience through that device. Rather,” Glau suggests, “take advantage of the ability to communicate with your attendees directly but use human-centered design when you’re thinking through the attendee experience. Consider the ‘Jobs to be Done’ theory and design engagement around what you want your participants to achieve, then figure out if there’s a tool to get that job done.”
Artificial intelligence will help us be much more efficient as event organizers. As we continue to automate decisions based on data, we’ll be able to use our mental energy and time for creative problem solving.”
Mary Ann Pierce, founder and CEO of MAP Digital Inc., has brought the digital space to financial industry conferences for clients such as Deutsche Bank, Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley. She has been a speaker for PCMA and MPI and taught digital event design at New York University. Today, one of the top three worldwide banks is among her clients, and she has provided technology, networks, webcasts and event software for them for more than 20 years.
“The most important aspect for conferences and events is to make technology serve-up a curated experience for our client’s customer, the attendee, by using any application that enhances their experience.”
Pierce says the path forward must include stakeholders in the meetings and events industry working together to “embrace the API economy” — the application programming interface economy — described as a set of business models and channels based on secure access of functionality and exchange of data.
In short, she says, “The events industry must have standards in which to interconnect technology so that our clients can build the tech stack that serves their conferences and event objectives. The current situation is a ‘Tower of Babel’ that does not serve the planner or the technology provider. Our industry is missing out on the rich opportunities of utilizing analyzed data and content as a digital asset to fuel new relevance and new revenue streams. After over 20 years of event tech operating in silos, we need to integrate, reduce complexity and make event tech deployment simple.”
Just as Glau points to the need for human-centered design, Pierce says events have to be designed “with the attendee at the center, and then technology is found, fused or fashioned to execute the intended attendee experience.”
As an example of how Pierce and her colleagues have boosted engagement and more at a meeting, Pierce points to work for a major financial services client. “We were tasked with building MetaMeetings, an integrated, compliant and interactive event content and webcast management platform with one login so that attendees, speakers and staff could access, upload and share the conference content. The bank also wanted to serve up personalized content and 1×1 schedules to its attendees, thus differentiating its conferences from other banks. Because MetaMeetings is one integrated content-management platform, the bank has access to all the in-depth metadata on each attendee’s journey throughout the conference, whether they were on-site or on the web. And our clients continue to challenge us to build better software so they can do better business. Our MetaMeetings platform pushes and pulls data within their internal platforms, prints name badges and enables dynamic agenda signage. We are also working on integrating a cost-efficient IOT capability for future conferences.”
Pierce also utilized a MetaMeetings platform at an international Masters & Robots Conference, and partnered with two other top technology providers to create an experience for attendees and enhance and track engagement. “We fired up a MetaMeetings platform, brought live shells on-site so that our team in New York could capture video webcasts using AWS (Amazon Web Services), and partnered with two of the best-of-service technology providers: GRIP, which uses AI to match attendees, and Vivastream to analyze the event data to map the attendee’s journey.”
Attendees were shown how to use the platform to make connections, review matches, schedule meetings with fellow attendees and so on. They could also view and share video sessions posted from the previous day.
What was learned? A lot, says Pierce, not the least of which was that the attendees were “hungry for meaningful connections and content, especially the how-to session videos and slides. We analyzed the GRIP, MetaMeetings, registration and evaluations data within the Vivastream platform. We could then show the organizer, sponsors and exhibitors the metadata generated in digital space around the event, including who was meeting, what their interests were, what themes were trending and where there were opportunities for a sponsor to invite specific attendees to a special event, meeting or workshop based on their behavioral data and interests.”
Tim Groot, co-founder and CEO of GRIP, says technology comes into play in different ways for different meeting organizers, but that in every case it should be about, “An increased value offering through cutting-edge technologies that drive a better Return on Time (ROT) for visitors and a higher Return on Investment (ROI) for exhibitors.”
Like Glau and Pierce, he says planners need to focus on the solution as opposed to the individual features of a tech product. “Talk about the goal you would like to achieve by using your technology and the overall experience that you want to provide.”
Perhaps most importantly, he says, keep it simple. “Many events overcomplicate the setup of their event technology, which often results in a more cumbersome user experience and less engagement. Less is more when it comes to meeting technology. Try and keep the setup simple; both the digital part and the on-site meetings are best kept in a dedicated meeting area where you can maximize the impact and engagement and directly act on no-shows and/or any other issues.”
Groot believes that virtual reality and artificial intelligence will increasingly impact meetings. “AI dramatically impacts the quality of the interactions that take place at events by facilitating quality meetings and meaningful interactions. This results in an increased ROT for visitors and a higher ROI for exhibitors. The time of serendipitous meets is over.”
It’s important for planners to know what the experts are doing and where to look in terms of staying current with emerging technology. But at present, AI and other leading-edge tech may be out of the wheelhouse and/or budgets of many planners, or simply not yet needed. Wayne Robinson, CMP, CMM, assistant vice president with FM Global and chair of Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals (FICP), has witnessed the rise of technology at recent events. He noted that Klik wristbands were a hit at a meeting attended by one third of the company’s employees.
Klik is an event engagement platform that enhances an attendee’s overall event experience via, in this case, wristbands. The platform includes a host of features to streamline event engagement including registration, event programming, networking, location services, attendee tracking, gamification and an app for attendees to manage their profile and access important information relating to an event in real-time.
“Everyone gets a band upon arrival,” Robinson says. “Two attendees then press their programmed bands together and each immediately has the other’s contact info, etc. It also was a great conversation starter.”
As the Klik developers suggest, the FM Global planning team upped the ante on engagement by offering prizes for the most clicks. The prize was tied to the keynote speaker. “Our keynote, Erik Wahl, painted a famous athlete or historical figure upside down during his presentation. We auctioned the paintings off among attendees who had the most clicks.”
Robinson says that via Klik they were able to incorporate technology, notifications and information. “For example, we could send out a message to let attendees know where their colleagues were in order to meet up and network. It was fun and useful. It benefitted the company in that it gave attendees a way to instantly meet people and interact. The biggest takeaway was that you have someone who’s been in the company six weeks, and he or she can walk up to the CEO and say, ‘Hey can I click with you?’ That wouldn’t have happen without the wristband.”
Technology, Robinson notes, is helping with engagement whether attendees are employees or clients. FM Global uses augmented reality to simulate disasters and catastrophic events when clients can’t come to its state-of-the-art research campus to experience a fire or other natural hazard. It’s also used in the booth at an annual convention related to risk management. “We use augmented reality for prospective and current clients to show them how we can help to mitigate risk,” Robinson says. “Using AI goggles and video they see what it’s actually like to be in a fire in a warehouse or other facility. It’s gives them a better understanding of the value of our approach to risk mitigation.”
Creating engagement at meetings isn’t just about registration and attendee-to-attendee interaction. Education and presentations still matter, but not necessarily in the same old way.
“The things you can put into a presentation now have totally changed, such as motion graphics,” Robinson says. “PowerPoint is no longer the only viable option. The Adobe Suite of options are commonplace now, such as After Effects. You can drop in anything you want in order to generate enthusiasm — videos, graphics, etc. — but you need to add more to create engagement, no matter your content or your audience. You don’t normally see audience engagement with PowerPoint alone anymore. Video and motion graphics have become an integral part of presentations.”
Podcasts, however, are still very much a valuable engagement tool, even though they’ve been around for years and planners should consider using them. Mike McAllen, executive director, Podcasting4Associations, who has long offered production services for planners and their groups, and whose past clients include Forbes and Wells Fargo, is now concentrating almost exclusively on creating podcasts for clients. “If you have content,” he says, “it’s a great way to get it to your audience.”
Podcasts can be used before, during and after meetings to boost and continue engagement. “If you create a podcast during an event, the audience can participate right then and listen to it later.”
He says podcasts can extend sponsorships and the revenue associated with them, as well. “A lot of groups are doing live podcast recordings and then releasing them after the fact, meaning you can mention sponsors during the live event, and then again when the podcast goes out later. That helps to increase sponsorship as well as engagement.”
McAllen says that a call to action can be included on any podcast that a company or group is sending out, giving organizers a way to measure engagement and the effectiveness of the podcasts themselves.
Booths come down after an event, he says, “But podcasts live on. You can republish them in different ways and send them out again, for example to let attendees experience sessions they couldn’t get to or to make those sessions available to people you want to attract but who couldn’t be at the event.”
You can transcribe your podcast shows and turn them into multiple blog posts. Before a meeting, McAllen says planners can interview people who were at the event last year who can talk enthusiastically about it. They can also interview speakers who will be at the event in order to drive excitement.
Once a podcast of a speaker’s session at an event is wrapped up, organizers can interview him or her again, cutting back and forth between the live session and the speaker providing new insights, extending interest in the podcast and the event.
“When you release a new podcast, it can be set up to go to your targeted audience’s phone automatically,” McAllen say. “It’s a way to whisper in your attendees’ ears all year long. Time is your attendees’ No. 1 asset. Podcasting is a way attendees can consume your educating, entertaining and compelling messages while doing something else — driving, sitting on a bus, working out, gardening, doing dishes or waiting in line at the Post Office.”
Podcasts are available to everyone with an iPhone now, they simply have to subscribe. And Google is coming out with an Android version, meaning your podcasts can soon be part of a Google search, which extends the audience engagement and audience reach. Bottom line: Podcasts are the engagement tool that keeps on giving — in multiple ways.
Whichever technology planners currently use, one thing is clear: The ways of measuring success have changed. Nick Fugaro, CEO of Vivastream, puts it this way:
“Our first recommendation for planners is to revise and evolve their metric of event success. Traditionally, event metrics of success were based on number of attendees, anecdotal information and the small percentage of survey responders. The new metric of success for many of our F1000 corporate customers is attendee and customer insights. This answers questions: What content are our attendees consuming and how can we as event planners become more effective with delivering relevant content based on their behavior?”
He says technology that best captures engagement include session scanning, lead retrieval, mobile, surveys and ibeacons. “Technologies like Vivastream exist to help event organizers understand engagement before, during and after the event by leveraging behaviors and data from the multiple technology implemented from events — not simply a single data source.”
Additionally, he says, post-event “trip reports” are now prevalent. “Trip Reports are a personal URL embedded within the “Thank you for attending” email commonly sent to each attendee following an event. When attendees click the link within the email, they’re presented with their unique personal webpage that highlights their personal journey, interests, and engagement during the event and recommended relevant resources based on the content they consumed.”
Plus, Fugaro adds, the Trip Report link can easily be shared with managers, team members and social followers. “We’ve seen as high as 300% increase in thank you email responses and engagement when Trip Reports are included.”
It may seem overwhelming for planners, but the positive outcomes with new technology are many. Noting that he’s one of the world’s top-10 technophobes, Robinson says, “I do realize the importance of technology and the far-reaching shelf life it provides to our meetings.” I&FMM.