Event Tech UpdateJanuary 1, 2018

Stay Up to Speed So You Don’t Get Left Behind By
January 1, 2018

Event Tech Update

Stay Up to Speed So You Don’t Get Left Behind

CIT-2018-01Jan-Event_Technology_Update-860x418Planners are gradually adopting a growing variety of event technologies, but are a long way from reaping the full benefits. As a result, experts say, they are missing out on ways to increase planning efficiency and improve the attendee experience.

According to a survey by Meeting Professionals International (MPI), more than 60 percent of planners agree that technology makes event management easier, but 92 percent say they aren’t leveraging the technology.

Planners fail to get the most out of technology in part because of their anxiety about it. According to a study by etouches, a provider of cloud management software and sourcing solutions, nearly half of planners believe technology is a “pain point.”

Fifty-six percent of planners are most worried about choosing the right content, while 51 percent are anxious about managing registration. Forty-four percent have the most angst about using technology to communicate with attendees onsite.

Get Over It

Experts say that planners must get past their apprehensions.

“Technology is impacting what we do in our industry,” says James Spellos, CMP, president of Meeting U and expert and lecturer on event technology. “But sometimes we make the mistake of thinking only about the technology that’s designed for our industry. We have to break that bubble and understand that this conversation really has nothing to do with technology itself. But it has to do with your creativity and how creative you can be in using these tools.”

But first, planners must get past their “pain points,” which stem from the following, according to the etouches study:

  • Planners have negative experiences with technology and can’t or don’t want to keep up with the rapid advances.
  • They fear new technology won’t work and are turned off by its incompatibility with other platforms.
  • They lack the time to learn new technologies.
  • Many planners lack the budgets for emerging, cutting-edge technologies.

Slow Adoption

It’s no wonder that planners are notoriously slow adopters of technology. But that may change eventually, experts say. After all, there was a time when planners only sporadically used basic social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Though many planners now commonly use social media to engage attendees and market events, there are still those who don’t. “Social media is a bandwagon that we need to have already been on,” says Spellos. “We really shouldn’t be having that conversation now, yet we need to because we still have people who are hesitant, resisting and not comfortable.”

Planners shouldn’t adopt a new technology just because it’s new. The benefits differ depending upon on the size and type of meeting, the attendees, goals and other factors.

Experts advise planners to choose a technology by asking questions such as the following:

  • How does the technology help achieve meeting goals, engage attendees and increase learning?
  • Can it increase planning efficiency, save time and money, and improve the attendee experience?
  • Would it help manage onsite logistics, data and registration?
  • Here are some of the key established and emerging technologies that can help planners now and in the future.

Get Appy

Adoption of apps among planners is growing, largely because everyone uses a smartphone. One day, planners may be able to plan an entire meeting using mobile devices and apps. Apps are available for nearly every pre-meeting, onsite and post-meeting task.

Before meetings, apps allow planners to track and schedule tasks; reserve rooms and make restaurant reservations; submit RFPs; select properties and venues; and market meetings and conventions. Apps also allow attendees to search for parking, avoid delays such as road closings and reserve parking in advance.

During meetings, apps can register attendees and allow them to network; provide real-time program updates; and offer teambuilding activities. Apps can track attendee engagement, including the number of participants who attend meetings, sessions, activities and exhibitor booths.

Post-meeting, planners can use apps to survey attendees and create and analyze results.

Generate Information

Technology can be used during the entire planning process to generate a wealth of information about attendees.  “It can help planners decide where to bring the next event, what sessions and topics were popular, what components of a meeting have to be changed, what are the most popular exhibits and attendance patterns. That’s critical information but planners are leaving it on the table,” says Spellos.

Apps are a primary way that planners can take advantage of omnipresent mobile phones. “Mobile is the name of the game today,” says Anthony Paola, CMP, managing director, Travel Leaders Group, a Plymouth, Minnesota-based corporate strategic meetings management company. “It is important that any technology meeting planners and attendees use is mobile-friendly. For any offsite event, both attendees and planners are mostly on their smartphones, not their laptops. If corporate meeting technology can’t work with that, then its help will be quite limited.”

Some planners aren’t leaving it on the table.

Kelly Elliott, creative manager of Shaumburg, Illinois-based Total Event Resources, is using apps for several real-time purposes. “They are an essential component of nearly every event we produce,” says Elliott. “We use them to communicate information before, during and after events. We use them to engage audiences, foster collaborative learning and networking, generate lead retrieval and monitor continuing education requirements.”

Apps allow the collection of data and metrics that previously would not have been possible, and that enables the design of more impactful and memorable experiences.

Elliott cites an example. “We are currently working with a new corporate client to innovate and evolve their annual convention,” says Elliott. “Past survey results demonstrate that the majority of attendees want to be involved in the program more as active participants and less as passive observers. We are engaging the attendees prior to the event via a mobile app to gather information that will allow us to make adjustments during the planning phase that will lead to more customized experience.”

During the event, Elliott will use technology during sessions via live polling, audience Q&A and competitive gamification that will involve attendees as content contributors.

Software Tools

The rapidly growing number of event software tools generally focus on the planning basics. Some tools are aimed squarely at professional planners and those who may fill the role but have other work titles.

Travel Leaders Group recently introduced such a tool called the Simple Meetings Optimizer. According to Paola, “Not everyone who plans meetings is a meeting planner. A small business might not be able to invest in a full-time planner, and even at a large company, meeting planners might work on only the largest events. This leaves non-specialists to handle the more simple meetings. But simple can be a bit of a misnomer. These events still require smooth execution and a good experience for attendees.”

The tool has a mobile website that doubles as an app and allows users to reserve hotel rooms; arrange transportation and food and beverage; send out schedules; and track attendance. Users also can track spending to keep meetings within budget.

Software providers also are trying to develop integrated software systems that handle planning functions from beginning to end. However, progress is proceeding gradually because meetings, incentive programs and trade shows each have different needs.

That’s why some providers offer access to a suite of non-integrated systems that fulfill a variety of needs. Lanyon’s Active Network, for example, includes the following separate, non-integrated products: Starcite (sourcing and strategic meetings management software); RegOnline (attendee management); and Passkey (room block management). Cvent’s offerings include Crowdcompass (mobile event app); OnArrival (check-ins); and Elite Meetings/Speed RFP.


Social media services such as Periscope, Facebook Live, Facebook Instant Video, Instagram and Snapchat are constantly upgrading their livestreaming capabilities, and more properties are offering the bandwidth to support its use during meetings and events.

Planners believe that technologies such as livestreaming, which allows remote participation in meetings, breakouts, keynotes, general sessions, seminars, networking and most other activities, won’t lessen the importance of onsite meetings or threaten attendance. To the contrary, the technology helps to augment, not replace, in-person meetings because it provides another option for attendees and can generate interest in attending the in-person experience.

According to Elliott, “There was a fear that technology would replace human elements in live events. We have seen the exact opposite happen. Technology is bringing audiences together more than isolating them. It enhances live events and provides clients and planners with tangible metrics that are invaluable in determining the ROI and success of an event.”

Virtual Reality

Virtually reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are the future of meetings, experts predict. “We are seeing a rise in AR and VR use in events,” says Elliott. “As the hardware and content become more cost-effective, we predict these will be a ‘must have’ and not a ‘nice to have’ for many of the events we produce.”

In addition, says Elliott, “AR and VR augment the aspects of a live experience by allowing attendees to engage in something that may not otherwise be possible because of cost or geographical constraints. It leads to a sharable, memorable experience that has a direct impact on ROI.”

VR promises to revolutionize hotel and venue selection by offering three-dimensional walkthroughs and experiences of options such as décor, lighting and seating arrangements. Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Starwood, Marriott and Shangri-La Hotels are among the many that offer VR.

Brandt Krueger, owner of Richfield, Minnesota-based Event Technology Consulting, asks planners to imagine the following:

“You walk into an empty ballroom on a site visit, put on AR glasses, and instantly have every configuration of chairs and tables overlaid,” says Krueger. “You could walk through and see if crescent rounds might make the room too tight or use theater-style seating. Technical directors could walk into a room and instantly measure ceiling heights and see every electrical outlet highlighted for convenience.”

Exhibitors and destinations will increasingly use VR to market their services and products.

Spellos offers examples: “The British Columbia Tourism Board put out their second version of its VR film ‘The Wild Within’ to promote tourism in its area,” says Spellos. “The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) is using its Virtual Reality Companion app to showcase attractions. Suppliers and exhibitors are using it to showcase their products, services and exhibit space. They can send out portable cardboard VR viewers.”

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) will become more popular as technology improves its compatibility with hand-held devices. “AR will become a huge part of how we do business because we will be able to bring it right to the person’s mobile device,” says Spellos. “That engagement level that we know is so crucial becomes an even more important part of the (AR) experience.”

Spellos offers an example of how planners will be able to use AR. “People never decide which breakouts they want to attend until they get there, and you have cardboard signage with the speaker’s picture and information,” says Spellos. “What if you put your phone up to the sign and up pops a 30-second video of the speaker and the subject of the session?” That’s possible to do now, Spellos adds.

Krueger cites another example of AR use at a conference with 2,000 attendees at the Gaylord Opryland.

“The keynote’s presentations were combined with animation and video to utilize the entire canvas of displays, and the latest in digital media servers was used to keep all the video and presentations in-sync,” says Krueger. “The client also presented a live demo of Microsoft Hololens (a VR technology), which we successfully patched into the video system, allowing the audience to see what the user was seeing.”


Events are gradually adopting wearables such as technologically enabled registration badges that allow attendees to avoid long waits in check-in lines for sessions and exhibitions. Beacons located in meeting rooms and exhibition floors scan the wearable devices and immediately register attendees.

Wearables, when synched with an app, can record a range of meeting data. The devices track attendance at meetings, exhibits, sessions and breakouts, allowing planners to gauge the success of events in real time. The devices also can track attendee satisfaction levels, attendee traffic flow and the most popular topics discussed.

Wearables also make networking easier. Attendees can exchange information confidentially and decide what information to share about themselves. People can swap information anonymously simply by pressing their badges.

The wearable technology Loopd, an etouches platform, connects wearable smart badges with an app and an analytics function in the cloud.

Loopd can track attendee movements onsite, allowing planners to determine which functions, seminars and exhibitions are the most popular. Loopd also tracks the vendors that attendees meet, and encourages networking by suggesting others who may have similar professional interests and reasons for attending.

Educate, Educate

Adoption can improve only if planners educate themselves about technology by reading, networking with peers and asking questions of experts.

According to the MPI study, planners wish they had more training in most areas of technology, including mobile apps, registrations, livestreaming, social media, audience response systems, websites and survey platforms. Those who do will be most successful at driving attendance through improved onsite event experiences.

As Spellos emphasizes, planners must actively explore uses for meeting technology or get left behind. “You can’t wait,” says Spellos. “By the time you bring it to a committee and have them talk about it, four new things have already been developed.” C&IT

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