Enhancing Events with Evolving Technology

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Enhancing Events with Evolving Technology

By Jason Hensel | Sep 24, 2018

This story is part of a special section from The Meeting Professional, brought to you by ibtm

Here we are, well into the 21st century, and we still don’t have flying cars, jetpacks or whole meals in a pill. We can’t even get streaming services to keep movies forever in their libraries. But we do have a growing collection of robots and chatbots and goggles and gaggles of information.

For a meeting and event professional, figuring out what technology to use, when to use it and how to use it to boost an event can leave one flustered.

But the two questions any meeting and event professional should ask herself when it comes to technology are how will this help make my event more efficient and how will it enhance the attendee experience?

“From what we can see from our research, the latest trends having an impact on how we work are virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), smart-badging, facial recognition and live streaming,” says Natalie Whittaker, marketing manager for Reed Exhibitions.

VR, Whittaker says, helps destinations and venues provide experiences without the need for planners to visit, saving a huge amount of time, thus making the planning process more efficient.

She says the organization is also seeing more use of AI and robots to provide customer and concierge services at events.

“This year, IBTM World will be working with Robots of London to demonstrate possible capabilities and how planners can practically use this technology to deliver a new customer experience,” Whittaker says.

The Attendee Experience

The attendee experience is something Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP, DES, MS, touches on in his “Eight Meetings Tech Trends to Watch for in 2018” report. No. 7 in his list is “Events become central to an overall marketing effort.” Ball believes that this trend will carry over into 2019 and 2020.

“The ability to detail the attendee journey in fine detail is a major game-changer for marketing and events,” he says.

In the report, Ball writes that events offer “a goldmine of data detailing attendee preferences, interests, movements and interactions.”

“These data can help meeting planners make mid-course corrections on existing events and improve future ones; they can provide significantly more value for exhibitors; they can provide attendees with a much richer and more personalized experience,” Ball writes.

When it comes to efficiency, Ball says the maturing of cloud-based event management systems make it possible to digitize nearly every aspect of the meeting planning process to make things easier.

“Newer systems are built at their core to share data and to work with other systems,” he says. “They work internationally. Analytic capabilities are being included. They are becoming easier to use than ever. This is leading to true digitization of the event planning process.”

Other trends Ball sees affecting the industry include direct meeting space booking, augmented reality and AI.

Tech Watch Awards

IBTM World presents its Tech Watch Award each year, and over time certain trends have emerged—trends that embrace efficiency and experience.

“We see that the winners are those companies developing apps or software that solve a specific challenge in the industry,” Whittaker says. “They streamline processes and generally make planners more efficient in their role or they improve customer experience. Recent finalists have included Sciensio, an AI chatbot; Shoflo, an event productions software; and Grip, a matchmaking API.”

Sciensio, the 2017 IBTM World Tech Watch Award winner, develops and deploys “AI chatbot technologies to create real and measurable customer value.”

“It is our belief that long-term success is driven by a product actually solving a business problem—and doing so in a way that is less expensive [or] more complete than other options,” says Robert Caldwell, founding partner at Sciensio. “So, while there are really cool ideas, they have to deliver real value to industry participants. For instance, lots of VR tools are incredibly cool and attract well-deserved attention. The real question is, do these tools ultimately make it easier, less expensive or more experiential in a way that is sustainable?”

AI is a trend that appears to accelerate every day, and Caldwell suggests that the biggest thing missing in the event industry is the application of AI to a business problem it can solve successfully.  

AI is really good, for example, at two things: crunching big numbers/seeing patterns and performing repetitive tasks.

“In this respect, AI can offer incredible insights into macro issues on the number crunching side,” Caldwell says. “However, nearly every single participant in the industry can derive value by using AI to help with customer service (which is, at its heart, a repetitive task).”

He believes that is why eventbots will continue to accelerate.

“From a customer perspective, they allow attendees to access incredible volumes of data easily from the device in their hand (the phone) that they know how to use,” Caldwell says.

And yes, AI will take some jobs, for those worried about that, but it will create many more, he says.

Building Expertise

It’s definitely time to start building expertise now in emerging technologies, suggests Dex Torricke-Barton, director of the Brunswick Group, a financial communications firm.

“Over time, the event industry will also naturally have to adopt technologies like VR and augmented reality, which offer even more immersive experiences,” he says.

Torricke-Barton is a former head of communications at SpaceX, a former executive communications manager at Facebook and a former executive at Google. He will be the second keynote speaker at IBTM World 2018 in Barcelona, November 27-29.

This year, IBTM World is centered around the theme of technology and how it can enhance every aspect of producing great events. Attendees can expect to see experiential technology in the new Exploratory Zone, Whittaker says, including VR, AI, augmented reality, 3D printing and 360-degree live streaming in action to create enhanced experiences and better engagement.

The trend is definitely toward more immersive communications over time, Torricke-Barton says, and in the past decade, the world has gone from an internet comprised mostly of text-based websites to apps that are populated with rich, visual content.

“Today, video is by far the most engaging form of content online, and lately we’ve also seen the rise of more raw and authentic short-form content like Instagram and Facebook Stories,” he says. “Incorporating that kind of rich, visual content is always valuable. It’s still early days for those mediums, [and] like all connected technologies today, the future will arrive sooner than you think.”

Face to Face Meetings

What isn’t a fad is the continued value of face-to-face meetings. Yes, video, webinars and live-streaming are great tools to enhance an event, but the heart of any function is in the attention we pay each other when we’re in one another’s presence.

“Meetings...take people to a more focused environment with fewer distractions,” Ball writes in his report. “As long as attendees are informed, entertained and fed, event hosts can keep them engaged for days. At the minimum, we share a social contract to at least look like we are paying attention at an event. The opportunities for networking, brainstorming and relationship building are usually far greater at face-to-face events than online.”

The greatest value in utilizing technology at meetings and events is going to come from connecting people even better, Torricke-Barton says.

“When people can come together, they can achieve extraordinary things,” he says. “The industry needs to keep working to make those meetings as productive as possible, not just so we’re using those resources wisely, but so that change-makers can collaborate effectively and leave those events better equipped to do what they have to do.”

And that’s where IBTM World plays a pivotal role.

“The opportunity to work with so many senior leaders in such a compact time and geographic time frame is one of the best in the industry,” Caldwell says. “Moreover, as an exhibitor/speaker, IBTM World consistently helps drive the intellectual conversation that is of value to us and incredible value to the attendees.”

IBTM World 2018 features 54 sessions across themes that include innovation, technology and creativity; industry trends; engagement and experiences; safety and security; sustainability and CSR; professional development, recruitment and well being; business development and strategy; and marketing and digital.

“IBTM World is changing, and attendees will leave with inspiration for their own events and the know-how to deliver better business results for their organization,” Whittaker says.

In the end, don’t think of tech as a substitute for meeting live, Torricke-Barton says.

“It’s a useful aid, especially when you don’t have the option to meet,” he says. “But if you do, then a real-world event is always preferable—and a face-to-face dialogue is the best. So, think of adopting tools and content that actually bring people together in the real world more effectively.”



Jason Hensel
Jason Hensel

Jason Hensel is a freelance writer and former editor for The Meeting Professional. He likes improv comedy, bacon and books.