Technology is a tool: use it to improve your events, not distract from their purpose
It’s the future: at a mammoth event, you walk through the front doors and proceed straight to the first hall you want to tackle. As you head into the hall a little peep from your mobile device lets you know your presence has been noted. The registration you completed online and the eticket you downloaded to your mobile device have done their work, thanks to proximity sensors, the next generation of bluetooth style communication and the event organiser’s proprietary app. No queues, no badges, no delays.
It is considered good manners to wear a name badge anyway, but they are no longer a plastic and paper combo dangling from a lanyard that has tangled with your tie or joined forces with your jewellery. When you completed your online registration it was quicker than ever before and also more useful. For one, you’re a member with the event organiser, so they don’t ask you for the same information year after year. You update your account and select your preferred events for the month, quarter or year: done.
Once your eticket arrives the organiser’s app searches your contacts - if you’ve given it permission - and highlights people you know who will be at the show too, either as visitors or exhibitors. Any meetings you make with these folks will show up on your event navigation, colour coded for who’s up next and with an indicative walking time, adjusted for just how busy the event is around your appointment.
This all sounds doable, right? These aren’t technologies on some distant horizon, but really adaptations and applications of technologies that more or less exist right now. Ultimately though, no matter what kind event we might be referring to, it is likely to be about people doing business with other people. As organisers our job is to bring them together. Technology can play a catalytic role in achieving this core aim, helping us to make their time at our events more effective, productive and rewarding.
It is easy to get excited by the technology we can see loaded with potential; the world is full of talk of drones and driverless cars, great examples of exciting things that have burst on to the scene as near-ready viable business solutions. But they can be a distraction too. The real technology that is likely to make a difference to the effectiveness of events, and thus their popularity, is probably already in your pocket right now, we just need to do a better job of utilising it’s full potential.
For exhibitors it’s essential that they find ways to deliver their message and their content effectively, in ways that acknowledge the potential of emerging technologies, without getting bogged down in gimmickry. Knowledge-based content has become one of the core deliverables of contemporary events and a key way to attract and retain a busy visitor audience. But in a packed event schedule it can be nigh on impossible to get to all the sessions you want to attend.
As organiser if we can add simple broadcast technology to our seminar mix, we can offer the tantalising sounding live-streaming to our speakers, expanding their audience outside of the event. Even if the numbers who would login in real time might be relatively small, the true competitive advantage may come in being able to offer an on-demand replay of each session, somewhere between Netflix and TED Talks, with organisers able to create their own online training library of keynotes. It wouldn’t take much to extend the certifiability of these events for those chasing CPD points, with a quick online multi-choice test that goes straight to the certifying agency; all for registered users of course.
Screen time will be come crucial on the stand too; simply having a massive TV blaring out a corporate video will not be enough. Consumers expect to the able to curate their own content experience, so exhibitors are going to have to adapt to this, both with knowledgeable team members available on the stand - either in real life or via technology - and interactive and responsive information delivery systems that go well beyond a brochure and a USB. Who’s to say that recent innovations such as telepresence robots - in their crudest form a tablet device on wheels - can’t be a channel for having any exhibitor’s expert explainers available for any event, no matter where it is.
Such technologies should be a vehicle for engaging with the audience organisers work so hard to create. It presents a key opportunity for exhibitors to convert passive attendees into active participants, by giving them multiple ways to engage with their brand, their content and their people.
There will be challenges though. We’ve all been at events where the bandwidth has failed to cope with demand for wifi internet access, when the halls are full and everyone is checking for mail. Technology infrastructure at global event hubs needs to be strengthened to be able to adapt to these periods of peak load and there are decisions ahead about who will pay for it and how. Allowing independent solutions may provide a technical answer but could disrupt potential revenue streams; finding a balance will be crucial to enabling the full use of technology’s potential.
Data privacy and protection will be key issues too. It will be up to the gatherers of personal data to secure it, both to ensure the privacy of their audience within agreed boundaries, but also to ensure their competitive advantage remains intact. Those who get this right will not only secure their audiences’ information, but most likely their loyalty too.