Time for TechJuly 12, 2022

Planners Are Embracing Today’s Computer Tools By
July 12, 2022

Time for Tech

Planners Are Embracing Today’s Computer Tools


Technological advancements keep any industry fresh, and the meetings and events industry is no exception. Historically speaking, the general look and feel of today’s meeting technology has improved significantly over the last few years, especially with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While meetings historically took place in one location, conference calling enabled participation from anywhere with a phone line. The advent of video conferencing and telepresence technology meant not only could meetings be broadcast to those not in physical attendance, but video could be shared, providing the feeling of “being there” as compared to phone-only participation.

Ben Raelbrook, senior vice president of global enterprise sales at Engageli, says as mobile technology advanced, video participation was no longer limited to desktop computers hardwired to the internet, and anyone with a smartphone or tablet could participate. “These innovations enabled easier video conferencing, and while they usually included some sort of Q&A function or chat feature, they weren’t primarily engagement driven,” Raelbrook says.

New platforms continue to push meeting technology forward, and natively include features and functionality that drive engagement and build community, while offering the flexibility and accessibility to accommodate a 50-person onboarding session or a 500-person town hall meeting or conference. “Table seating allows small groups to dynamically interact even within large event settings, and multiple communication and quiz/polling features allow quick presenter feedback, messages to other users or public questions to all attendees,” Raelbrook says.

Easily accessed interactive event recordings allow asynchronous participants to engage with questions as if they attended live or easily ask presenters questions. Melissa Patruno, executive event producer at Bishop-McCann, equates the advancements in today’s meeting tech to the transformation within the video game arena of the past few decades. “It’s like the video game industry, but an even faster pace. It was only a few years ago that we were building apps in the ‘Atari’ look and feel, and now we are working with beautiful, high-resolution graphics,” Patruno says. “We think brand and event look continuity plays an important role in making our attendees feel the event they are attending has been well cared for, and therefore they are well cared for. Every detail matters.”

When determining the type and level of technology required for an event, Raelbrook says, first and foremost, meeting planners need to clearly define their events’ objectives and requirements to ensure they are using a meeting technology that meets their needs. And audience expectations are a key component of meeting technology selection. Is this a tool you think your attendees will be able to operate easily?

“Don’t over build if the audience can’t keep up. There is so much functionality within event tech platforms and ways to organize information,” Patruno says. For instance, a meeting planner needs to consider the size of the meeting, whether it’s 20 or several hundred attendees, and if they want to record the event for asynchronous participation. Patruno says they also need to assess the attendees, their comfort levels with technology, the hardware the attendees are using, and where they are connecting from in case of bandwidth issues. It’s also important to define the security requirements. Is the meeting going to be open to the public or for an exclusive, invite-only list? Meeting planners also need to consider the meeting format, and if they are looking to quickly disseminate information — i.e., one speaker, many listeners — or build community via a networking event.

“Choosing a meeting technology might require planners to break free of the ‘one-to-many’ model of one speaker and many listeners, realizing that new tech enables in-person, remote and asynchronous attendees to all meaningfully participate and contribute together,” Raelbrook says. “By leveraging the possibilities afforded by new meeting technology, planners can create more engaging conferences and events, and flexibly meet the needs of an ever-diversifying, internationalizing and remote-working workforce.”

Crop view from above of modern colleagues using mobile phones while sitting with notepads and papers at table in cafe having drinks

Crop view from above of modern colleagues using mobile phones while sitting with notepads and papers at table in cafe having drinks

Streamlined Design & Efficiencies

In addition to high-resolution graphics and interactive meeting design, today’s meeting technology offers many more options than previous renditions. As Patruno explains, a hardcoded layout can now be easily customized to fit the needs of your event to put the most important information in an easily accessible location. Depending on what that is, you can make that piece of information front and center. Is your registration desk difficult to find? Send a push notification; build a banner, pop up page or place an icon at the top of the homepage. Have special instructions for a particular session? Send a communication to just that group.

Of course, the pandemic took tech innovation and sped up the adoption process, since the meetings industry was faced with having to meet attendees where they were, which was online. “With virtual and hybrid, you are giving attendees options that now accommodate a variety of preferences,” Patruno says. “Some of these being reducing the barrier to entry, providing accessible attendance options for all those interested — a much larger scale now being able to connect with a larger audience and a positive impact on carbon footprint. Not everybody who wants to attend needs to fly. This is truly a game changer to attendee personalization and customization of experience.”

The flow of information has also been streamlined as of late, specifically by utilizing native and inclusive platforms. According to Patruno, integrations can be challenging and sometimes impossible to set up between products due to privacy and security limitations. New native platforms collect attendee data securely and allow for all information to be housed in one place, eliminating the need to transfer data between systems to create apps, flight itineraries, hotel requests, etc. “Also, there is no data loss or time lost between the time of registration to using the app on-site,” Patruno says. “And the speed has also improved. Live polls and Q&As used to come with so much risk and worry on whether they would work in the session. They are commonplace today and easy to use.”

Jakob Nettelbladt, chief product officer at Mentimeter, says there are three key factors meeting planners should be considering right now as it relates to technology: engagement, inclusivity and anonymity — all of which meeting tech tools help facilitate.

The first factor, engagement, is a challenge for meeting planners today. As Nettelbladt explains, developments in video-conferencing tools have made remote and hybrid meetings a more common and seamless experience. But, while we’re more familiar than ever with remote meetings, there is still an element of disconnect between the people in the room and the people on screen. “It is difficult to virtually replicate the level of engagement that you get in person. Meeting planners should be thinking about how we can use technology to re-create everyday engagement moments, like the water-cooler chats remote employees are otherwise missing out on,” Nettelbladt says.

This means making sure everyone has their voice heard during a meeting. Attendees shouldn’t go long periods without expressing ideas, working collaboratively in platforms such as Miro or Google Docs, or interacting with a presentation element that promotes participation. “Instead of going from meeting link to meeting link in passive attendance, meeting participants need to be nurtured into being active contributors — and much of that is down to the work of meeting planners,” Nettelbladt says.

When planners make a habit of incorporating these kinds of daily engagement moments into their work, meetings will be much more inclusive. “Making sure that everyone gets involved and has their voice heard is a strength in any organization,” Nettelbladt says. “Including a broad range of perspectives, experiences and skills only makes an organization stronger, and their decision-making more efficient and effective.”

Though it may seem counterintuitive, a great way to harness the power of inclusivity is by using anonymity. According to a recent study by Mentimeter, 71% of meeting participants want anonymous ways to engage. Utilizing technology that allows for anonymous input gives meeting planners the ability to unlock that diverse potential in the room. “People who may otherwise not want to voice their opinion because they lack the confidence or fear of being judged often jump at the opportunity to engage anonymously with the context of their response removed,” Nettelbladt says. “Meeting hosts are left with the contribution itself, free of context and bias.”

Jakob Nettelbladt, chief product officer at Mentimeter, says there are three key factors meeting planners should be considering right now as it relates to technology: engagement, inclusivity and anonymity. Courtesy of Jakob Nettelbladt

Jakob Nettelbladt, chief product officer at Mentimeter, says there are three key factors meeting planners should be considering right now as it relates to technology: engagement, inclusivity and anonymity. Courtesy of Jakob Nettelbladt

Technology Component “Must Haves”

Every meeting is different. The real skill in meeting planning is understanding what the right tech is for the meeting at hand. “Tech that allows the presenter to read the room, and a frictionless way for the audience to interact with the presenter is, to me, a ‘must have’ for larger meetings,” Nettelbladt says.

There are some key components that every meeting technology platform should offer both the meeting planner as well as the end user, also known as the attendees. Accessibility, for both in-person and virtual attendees, is also a necessity in today’s meeting technology. Make sure to consider how to make the content more accessible for all attendees by using such things as captions, multilingual subtitles, etc.

Lalit Mangal, CEO of Airmeet, says tools and technologies that reduce time spent on tasks, increase efficiency and help parties interact more meaningfully — external stakeholders, vendors, partners and customers — have also demonstrated an uptick in adoption. “It’s also important that planners consider a way to measure analytics from their meetings,” Mangal says. “Platforms now allow evaluation of views, interactions within the meeting and overall participation data. This information will help planners better understand the needs of the employees and improve the process moving forward.”

Of course, with any technology used within the meetings and events realm, consideration about what will be easiest for the attendee is a must. Examples would be seating charts for breakouts, session surveys, floorplans, as well as scanning/check-in.

Libby Zito, lead attendee experience manager at Bishop-McCann, says some additional meeting technology “must haves” include:

  • A customizable registration platform — Make sure the right people are being asked the right questions up front.
  • Being mobile friendly — Planners need to meet the attendees where they’re at and when they’re online.
  • Video production/animation capabilities — Attendees are on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. They watch video content all the time. You need more video content to relay your message at your conferences.
  • Digital signage — It must be customizable and have the ability to utilize social aggregators.
  • Live Q&A and polling — Keep your attendees engaged even when watching a session live.
  • Strong internet — Use buyouts and hardlines where necessary.

Of course, all of the “bells and whistles” of today’s meeting technology come with a cost. The budget allocated for meetings and events should include technology requirements. “But there are also many workarounds that can save a lot of money and can achieve the same outcome,” Patruno says. These include such things as QR codes for daily agendas versus investing in a full app.

Some additional technology trends that meeting planners are beginning to embrace include customization technology. As Mangal explains, customizable attendee experiences allow planners the freedom to create exactly what they need in the exact moment they need it. “Customizations within the platform they’re using should be thoughtfully created and can be with new tools to make each meeting branded perfectly to the topic or theme of that particular day,” Mangal says.

In addition, there are now a wealth of interactive opportunities that today’s meeting tech tools offer. These include immersive, hyper-personalized experiences. There are new tools available on virtual platforms that allow for interactive opportunities to engage attendees. This could include polling, quizzes, games and more.

Virtual Programming Technology

The experience of remote attendees has come a very long way in recent years. Nettelbladt points out that now, most workers can pivot from fully in-person to hybrid or remote at a moment’s notice. Remote attendees are visible on-screen, attention paid to companies’ provision of bandwidth means that the audio is usually solid, and — especially in smaller meetings — groups are typically very good at including the remote party in the discussion.

When utilizing meeting technology for a virtual meeting experience, consider the virtual attendee’s virtual journey. Is there a way to incorporate more real-time audience interactions to make them feel more included? “Build the virtual agenda as its own experience and consider the factors that play into attending a program remotely,” Zito says. “Utilize virtual event platforms tools to elevate this experience.”

Mangal says utilizing a hybrid-friendly platform’s abilities to engage with meeting or event attendees in a hybrid format also is on the rise. “Humanizing hybrid meetings using technologies and platforms that can augment the experience will involve mimicking real-life event spaces, adding immersive functionalities, hyper-customizing the platform and so forth to maintain prolonged engagement.”

Indeed, given the proliferation of mobile devices, browsers and hardware, Raelbrook stresses that meetings should support the widest variety of tech possible to ensure the greatest possible participation. “An old phone or environment with slow internet shouldn’t prevent someone from participating. Accessibility and flexibility to use the platform across older hardware or lower bandwidths are also must-haves to make a meeting a success,” Raelbrook says.

Embracing Future Tech Trends

As we know, technology advancements in industries are constantly changing, and the meetings and events industry has experienced a tremendous number of technological advancements that have truly catapulted the industry into the future. In the near term, as the use of meeting technology continues to grow and augment or replace in-person meetings, Raelbrook says meeting planners should look for technology that is purpose-built for effective collaboration, makes it frictionless and easy for all attendees to participate, and safeguards personal data. Meeting planners should also look for innovations that measure attendee behaviors to optimize the event experience.

As Zito suggests, NFC chips and RFID tracking will be new tech tools for planners and attendees to embrace. “Right now, it’s still out of the realm of being a possibility for many budgets, but RFID tracking will be more attainable and easier to execute on-site in the near future,” Zito says.

Other tech tool predications include meeting apps for every event, hologram presenters and augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) tools. “VR technology presents an opportunity to truly re-create the feeling of being together with people despite being online, and opens up new possibilities for participants to engage with each other and with event content,” Raelbrook says. “VR technology also promises much of the same granular data that is available with online meeting platforms.”

Nettelbladt agrees that while the prospect of VR, AR and holograms becoming a part of our everyday work lives is much talked about, it is a little too far off into the future and a little too sci-fi, still, to accurately predict whether it will really take off. “There is a great novelty to these ideas, though it remains to be seen what kind of business value they will add,” Nettelbladt says.

The innovation that really has Nettelbladt excited is the development of user-friendly data analytics for meetings. When you make your meetings interactive, what you get at the end of the meeting is a digital artifact that preserves the content, contributions and outcomes of the meeting. If a presenter then re-uses that same presentation multiple times, they’ll begin to see trends and differences revealing themselves over time that you wouldn’t be able to observe otherwise. “Being more data-driven in our meeting strategy is the tech innovation that will add the most immediate and substantial business value,” Nettelbladt says.

Technology advancements aside, meeting tech experts agree that meetings and events have different objectives, and hosting a meeting on a platform that isn’t purpose-built can compromise the success of the meeting. As such, the meeting planner should carefully consider what resources they need, and most importantly, what is the purpose of the meeting and does the tech selected support it?

“Planners should be familiar with whatever tech they decide to use and do extensive testing before an event,” Raelbrook says. “Millions of events and meetings face challenges when people don’t have the latest version of software installed, can’t connect a camera/microphone, or have issues simply accessing a meeting. Things will inevitably go wrong during an event, so it’s crucial to have support staff standing by to communicate to all attendees how they can get their issues resolved.” | AC&F |

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