Here's a list of technologies to become more familiar with as you plan your association'scommunications for next year.
By Corbin Ball
These are exciting times. The rate of technology change is accelerating with thousands of ideas, apps, and innovations bubbling up to help meeting planners, exhibitors, venues, and other meeting participants to do their jobs better.
What are the major events technology trends that association publishers and communicators should be watching for in the coming year?
- Mobile event apps have become mainstream. Mobile use at events has exploded, and mobile event app providers are expanding and refining the options.Much of the development has focused on replacing existing processes, such as paper event programs, agendas, attendee lists exhibition guides, course notes, paper surveys, directional signage, and program maps. Additionally, event apps offer improved: onsite social media networking, peer-to-peer messaging, gamification applications, CEU (continuing education unit) tracking, and social media engagement.However, mobile event apps are not just about improving existing processes. They can be about providing entirely new services as the next two trends indicate.
- Bluetooth low energy (BLE) and iBeacon will provide a wealth of new options for associations and participants. iBeacons are very low power, low cost, Bluetooth transmitters with up to 150 foot range. IBeacons can share information with Apple and later model Android mobile device apps. This year, iBeacons have been installed in sports arenas, museums, airports, and a variety of retail establishments.Nearly all of the major event app developers are working on ways to incorporate it. Here are some possibilities:
- Gamification and scavenger hunts
- Location information and navigation assistance (example: a geofence can notify attendees where they are on a map and give guidance on where they wish to go.)
- Personalized welcome and other location-based alert notifications upon arrival (example: a badge is printed when the attendee enters the geo-fence with notification sent via the app to the badge printing location.)
- Social media networking and information exchange (example: iBeacon communication can be two-way, so with user permission, the phone app can transmit contact information, social media profiles, specific meeting room access information, meal tracking, food preferences, and much more. Communication between attendees can be enhanced with notification/pictures/information about who is nearby.)
- Automated demonstrations, videos, etc. for exhibit booth products or any other interest point in a conference venue.
- Targeted exhibitor or event management messages to different categories of participants.
- Attendee action metrics (example: organizers can track where attendees are spending their time with alert notifications to problems such as an inordinately long registration line.)
However, event app developers must take care to use iBeacons very judiciously â€” specifically, to provide significant value to event participants. If attendees feel that this technology is an invasion of privacy with no payback for them, they will turn off the Bluetooth reception or uninstall the app.
- Analytics will emerge as one of the most important benefits of mobile event apps. The onsite meeting used to be the black hole of event data management. Planners used computers before and after events, but during an event they were flying blind. Today, mobile event apps offer an unprecedented amount of analytic data â€” a goldmine of useful, real-time information to improve the event experience. Every touch is trackable!App analytics can answer instantly the following questions at any time during the event:
- What are trending hot topics?
- Who are the top speakers?
- What exhibit booths have the most attendance?
- What speakers/exhibitors are "likedâ€ the most?
- Who are the key connectors/influencers?
- What are the attendeesâ€™ ratings on specific survey and/or polling questions?
Further, these analytic capabilities will also extend to and interoperate with online registration and membership management systems to provide greater personalization to participants and greater insight into their behavior (see next trend).
- Big data will become a key component of event marketing and design. Big data combines data from widely disparate sources in an aggregate form to spot trends and make business decisions and to improve customer interaction experiences. Big Data is "the next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity," according toMcKinsey Global Institute.The challenge is that big data takes lots of computer processing and storage resources â€” previously only available to large, very well funded entities. Big Data-as-a-Service (BDaaS) is emerging as cloud providers offer smaller organizations or associations more affordable access to these huge streams of relevant data.An example is the collaboration between ICCA â€“ The International Congress and Convention Association andHuman Equation providing BDaaS for its members. Members can search 436 million articles by 7.4 million academic authors to find local "championsâ€ to help develop events, track trends, and a variety of other deep database search capabilities.As these large data integration services work on a broad, enterprise scale, this same concept will also be used on an event level. Through integrated registration and mobile technologies, it is becoming possible to combine many streams of data generated during event registration, web clicks, exhibitor interactions, mobile app activity, gamification, social media activity, surveys and more to gain insight to improve events and to facilitate personalization for event participants.
- Data breaches and app hacking will likely target events in 2015.The recent data breaches of Home Depot, Target, eBay, the Heartbleed bug and the August 2014 hacker theft of 1.2 billion email address/passwords are examples of increased and more sophisticated hacking activity. Hackers will almost inevitably target some events via an online registration system and/or a mobile event-related app (likely an Android version) in the near future.To limit exposure, make sure your registration company is PCI compliant and take other steps to guard attendee information captured.
- Real-time, automated language translation capabilities will be used for events.The days of the UN-style interpretation booths in the back of the room for international events may be numbered. In 2007, Google Translate, a free text translation tool, became available. It currently translates text to and from more than 80 languages. Since then, a range of mobile apps has added more functionality, including WordLens; voice to voice translations apps like Translate Voice Free and Jibbigo; and Skype Translator (currently in beta testing) to provide two-way video conference voice translation capability.
- Event and hotel Wi-Fi is becoming expected and ubiquitous.According to Hotels.com, free Wi-Fi is the most desired hotel in-room amenity. With hundreds of mobile event appsnow available, Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity are the lifeblood of event communications. This has not been without challenges, with hotels and other event venues scrambling to keep up with the exploding demand.The good news is that the technology exists to provide very high-density, high-speed Wi-Fi connectivity to large groups â€“ and many facilities are starting to catch up. Planners are increasingly examining venuesâ€™ abilities to provide good quality, easy-to-use, and reasonably priced Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity as key factors in making venue purchase decisions.
- The transition from "attendee" to "participant" will continue. The combination of social media and mobile technology has provided a wide range of attendee engagement options. The entire dynamic of meetings is changing; instead of "top-down" it is "bottom-up." In other words, instead of attendees passively sitting at event watching a talking head, meeting participants are demanding a greater say and expect active engagement. This is playing out in several ways:
- Social media apps are used to recruit and engage participants before, during, and after events.
- The highly mobilized social media tools (Twitter, Instagram, Vine, YouTube, and others) are seeing strong use during many events.
- Social media hubs and moderated live event social walls such as TweetWall, Postano, Hashcaster, andSocialWall are seeing greater use.
- Gamification is being tightly integrated into many mobile event apps to increase participant engagement and appealing to peoplesâ€™ fundamental desire for reward, achievement, and competition.
- Matchmaking and networking options are being built into many mobile event apps.
- Event participants are expecting personalized communication and choices tailored to their desires.There are many specialized participant engagement apps and web tools which can be used by speakers, including Conferences i/o, Crowd Mics, Evenium ConnexMe, MeetingPulse, PollEverwhere, Social Q&A,Klowd, and UberMeetings.
- Aerial (drone) video will provide new perspective for event photography â€” if regulatory hurdles are passed. Convention video has been around for decades, but it has typically been limited to tripod-mounted and handheld cameras providing static shots. This is about to change.Remote-controlled, multi-rotor helicopters (sometimes referred to as drones), fitted with professional HD video cameras with stabilizing mounts, are providing an entirely new prospective for event and meetings-related video.One caution: things are a bit up in the air (forgive the pun) regarding drone usage. The FAA has yet to weigh in on the topic and significant restrictions may be coming.
- Attention spans will continue to decrease. Human knowledge is doubling every year, and the rate is accelerating rapidly (IndustryTab, 2014). We are awash in information and barraged with hundreds of marketing messages daily â€” not to mention hundreds of email and text messages as well. About 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. As we desperately try to multi-task to keep up, many of us feel overwhelmed.One of the results is decreasing attention spans that are changing how events are marketed, managed, and experienced:
- Shorter presentation times are being scheduled (the15-minute TED talk style is becoming more prominent).
- More interactivity during sessions is required.
- More audience engagement tools are used.
- Images need to play a prominent role in articles, blogs, website postings, event promotional materials, and computer presentations.
- Short video is the new language of the Internet â€” more powerful than pictures and far more powerful than text. A good video can be worth a thousand pictures. Tip: Promotional videos should be no longer than a minute.
Hereâ€™s a bonus trend: Despite the increased use of virtual meetings technology, face-to-face meetings and tradeshows will remain viable. Webinars and other virtual meetings are great for short information exchange. However, in todayâ€™s multi-tasking and often distracting work environment, attention spans are short. Thirty to 45 minutes is usually the maximum you can expect someone to pay attention to a webinar while sitting in front of a monitor.
Meetings, on the other hand, take people to a more focused environment with fewer distractions. As long as attendees are informed, entertained, and fed, event hosts can keep them engaged for days. The opportunities for networking, brainstorming, and relationship building are usually far greater at face-to-face events than online. For an exhibitor, it is often the best way to meet so many qualified buyers in such a short time. For buyers, it is a great chance to meet vendors of interest â€” all together in one location, categorized, and mapped for your choosing.
Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP is a professional speaker and consultant focusing on meetings technology. With 20 years of experience running international citywide technology meetings, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity. He can be contacted at his website, Corbin Ball Associates-Meetings Technology Headquarters.