Picture this. You are attending a conference in 1976. A single speaker is at the front of the room. All you can do is sit and listen. You quickly skim through the sessions listed in the printed programme to help you decide where to go next. You don’t really know who else is attending and the only networking you are able to do is the occasional chit-chat with the people next to you. The conference concludes and that’s it, until next year at least.
This pretty much describes the conference “experience” until the early-2000s, the same format, the same rituals.
Then technology and social media came along, and changed events forever.
Event tech transforming experiences
The same conference today looks quite different. During the presentation you can see live tweets projected on a giant display screen or on the event mobile app. You can also use the app to ask the speaker questions. The app notifies you of upcoming sessions that match your interests or, based on your location, lets you know which presentation will take place in the room next.
The app shows you who is going to attend within your LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter network days before the event. It also recommends interesting matches with other attendees based on your profile and interests. You make arrangements to connect with other conference-goers during the event.
There is so much going on at the conference that you find it difficult to keep up, so you rely on the Twitter hashtag of the event to follow the content.
Then, next year’s conference arrives and, unfortunately, you can’t attend. It is no big deal though because you can follow the live stream online from your office computer and interact with attendees via social networks.
Mobile apps, social media and event technologies are relied upon to manage and maintain an industry that continues to grow, and audiences who demand more
As you may have guessed, technology has changed live events dramatically over the past decade, from the way events are planned and executed to the manner in which business professionals attend and participate. A model that did not change much for decades was turned upside down and transformed by forward-thinking professionals and the incredible growth of smartphones and social media.
Such unprecedented change sparked a new wave of event models that hack the traditional ways of planning events. Meeting design, the art of architecting better events by blending the environment, the performers and the attendees, is living a second life largely thanks to how technology is bringing communities together.
Technology at the heart of management
As event technology has emerged, the industry itself has expanded. Events are often referred to as the biggest industry nobody talks about. The value of the industry in the UK is in the range of £42 billion, according to Business Visits and Events Partnership. Mobile apps, social media and event technologies are relied upon to manage and maintain an industry that continues to grow, and audiences who demand more.
Technology is playing a key role in helping event planners engage their attendees. If the book Engaging Events by Event Manager Blog is correct, in 2016 75 per cent of event professionals worldwide will purchase an event app to increase engagement at their events. By the end of the year, 86 per cent of events will have an official mobile app, according to The Momentum of Mobile Event Apps benchmark study by CrowdCompass and the Event Marketing Institute.
Apps that facilitate interaction between performers and audiences, connect attendees to one another and help remote audiences participate in live events are booming. Hashtags have gone mainstream, with 45 per cent of US Super Bowl ads using them, says Marketing Land.
Is it all peaches and cream? Definitely not. While event professionals continue to invest in technology, they also encounter a number of frustrations, from the lack of adoption of apps and devices to the chronic structural inefficiencies plaguing the venues in which they work. The professionals say poor wi-fi is among the biggest frustrations when dealing with venues and among the most pressing concerns in 2016.
Secret sauce for success
Selecting the best event technology is becoming increasingly difficult. The perennial challenge event planners have is choosing technologies that deliver on event objectives while providing real value for attendees. They also have to meet the expectations of attendees who have very precise ideas about what they want from a conference or meeting. They welcome change, but remain wedded to ritual. Planners who succeed in integrating technology into their events have done so in increments, without disrupting existing processes.
Despite the challenges, there are practical ways technology can immediately bring value to an event:
• Having all event details in a mobile app saves money and reduces waste – paper programmes and event guides are a thing of the past;
• Managing the question-and-answer periods following a presentation with an app saves event staff from having to run through the audience with microphones;
• Connecting with fellow attendees before the event through an app or hashtag on social networks helps reduce the perceived risk of attending;
• Live streaming or what is often referred to as a hybrid event leads to more participants attending the live event in the subsequent year, according to the Chicago-based Virtual Edge Institute.
Of course, technology only adds to a live event if there is a technology strategy in place, which includes:
• Clear assessment of how the selected tools help to achieve event objectives;
• Understanding of the audience’s predisposition towards using technology during the event;
• Accommodation for the technology infrastructure of the venue in which the event is being held.
Adhering to this strategy is the hallmark of event planners who have mastered technology to speed up the planning process or offer a more meaningful and engaging event experience.
Technology has been the fuel of unprecedented change in this sector and we can only expect more change in what is, without a doubt, the most exciting time to be involved in the events industry.