Is our love affair with technology destroying the visitor experience?

IMG_2921As event organisers, the advent of computer technology has transformed every area of our business.

It’s difficult to explain to anyone with less than ten years’ experience just how laborious the job of registering and managing visitors and delegates used to be. Telephones would ring off the hook as we tried to manage enquiries, bookings, cancellations and name changes.  Registrations came via post and fax and had to be entered into a database if you were lucky (though I do remember some organisations that used to keep carefully typed files) and managed on a day to day basis.  It was unusual if, by the end of your event, you couldn’t name at least 75% of your audience individually.

Websites, automated registration processes, apps, onsite wifi and linked communications make all of these processes obsolete.  And frankly good riddance. (Not least because any spelling mistakes on entry badges are the registrant’s own!) It is so much quicker to find and amend individual records, to send appropriate messaging and to link suppliers to relevant delegates. Exemplary customer service is so much easier when every bit of information is at your fingertips.

Like spectacles for the myopic, technology provides a clear and uninterrupted view.  So now we are on the lookout for other areas to fix. The only problem is that we aren’t researching first if this is what our audiences really want.

Sure, we need to ensure that we give potential visitors, particularly in the B2B exhibition and conference arenas, reasons to attend.  But broad brush, generalised emails and e-newsletters aren’t necessarily the best way to do this. Simply broadcasting constant bland content is unlikely to push visitor numbers up.  Clever use of database information and pre-defined customer journeys will generate far more response. Less is definitely more providing what you are serving is of the highest quality.

At the event itself, there is little point in creating online directories and apps if the visitor cannot find them on your website while standing in the foyer to the exhibit hall.  Or, for that matter, if it requires a registration to the venue wifi or the download of a piece of software incompatible with mobile devices.  By doing this you are already making key information inaccessible  to a proportion of your audience – and that is inexcusable.  Or, you could have the experience I had last week where I couldn’t download the exhibitor list for an event, so I was consulting one of only two you are here boards to try and find the exhibitors I wanted, but I was still thwarted because the stand numbers were printed so small and so high up that I couldn’t actually see them.  This lack of attention to detail is just plain shoddy.

Interruption by technology can be very positive, but why, when we have actually got the visitor in the room do we feel the need to nag them constantly. Some events are worse than going shopping with a toddler.  Every five minutes or less a text or email or notification pops through on a smart phone.  Each one taking the focus away from what you want your delegate to remember from the day. There was a reason why event organisers stopped excessive use of the tannoy system at events… and the same needs to be applied to delegate ‘engagement’ via electronic means… because after a while no one listens any more.

Technology has been revolutionary in event production, management, marketing and operational terms, but that doesn’t mean that it should be used any and everywhere it can be deployed.

 

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What does 2015 have in store for event badging?

RFID badges have been talked about in the B2B events industry for a long time. Now that near-field communication technologies are getting more commonplace, will this technology finally come of age? What investments will venues and organisers have to make to ensure that all of this technology works brilliantly all of the time?

Badge & ScanThere are three acronyms that we just can’t seem to avoid in our events industry at the moment:

– RFID (Radio Frequency Identification)

– NFC (Near Field Communication)

– UHF (Ultra High Frequency)

As one of the front-runners in event badging, IDentilam are always looking for the next big thing. It looks like there’s just no escaping from RFID technology when it comes to events badging, as people in the events industry are continuing to look for more convenient technology that will really change the way conferences work. Although IDentilam have been providing RFID solutions for a long time now, the prospects are ever-expanding and it appears to be the hot topic as we move into 2015.

This all makes sense, as there are lots of advantages to using RFID and NFC technologies for events. Not only is it a popular choice because of the quick and effective registration solution…

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Choosing the right event technology

images (2)I went to a presentation last week held by a leading event technology provider because they keep popping up everywhere and I thought it was about time that I got to know them better.

Now, just to be clear, I consider myself to be pretty technology savvy.  There are lots of things I don’t know but I am at the earlyish end of adoption. And I like things that increase efficiency and engagement.  So I am a receptive audience.

The technology on view was pretty clever, it did a lot of great things and I’m sure that it is as best of breed as the sales team say it is. That isn’t my issue. The big problem is how technology firms present their solutions to what is essentially a non-techie audience.

In the events industry, the majority of people buying into these services are operations or marketing focussed, not IT professionals.  We need to understand in bite sized chunks how a system works, what the benefits are, how the solution replaces some processes and how flexible it is when we need to tweak things at the last minute. After an hour of listening and watching a very good presentation I still hadn’t nailed down the specific benefits which I could take back to a client in order to get them to invest the time and money in utilising the system.  Rather than running through a shopping list of features and benefits, with a link to the app, it would have been much more useful to have a number of examples of how people were using the software in different scenarios. I was left with a feeling that I had seen something great, but I couldn’t actually tell you what it was, and I know that some of the other guests who were there felt the same.

Technology is like rather like the dessert trolley at the end of a three course meal.  Everything looks delicious but which one, in what quantity, will leave you feeling satisfied and replete rather than bloated or disappointed?  The trick is to know your capabilities and capacity before you make your decision.  If you know that what you really need to sort out is your attendee registration systems and you have a team that can handle it in-house, then this is where you must focus in the first instance.  If you want to dovetail your marketing into a full-service CRM system, then you must specify a solution which does this within the parameters of your existing, or planned, skillset.  For a better onsite attendee experience, you should have a clear understanding of your audience, both their technical capabilities and the venues before searching out your app supplier etc.

It is very easy to get bowled over by the bells and whistles of technology, particularly when you are being influenced by the techie evangelists. The most important step you need to take before even entering into a conversation is to create a specification based on your audience and their needs. 

As an old boss of mine once said: “Don’t let technology lead the process, make it your servant not your master.”

Hellen @missioncontrol

The future delegate

Perhaps not embedded microchips, but who knows, wearable technology is becoming more and more commonplace…

9718595843_5bb246913a_bInspired by a tech article on the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3307471.stm), it got me thinking about our event tech future.

Forget badges.

Forget iBeacons.

Forget anything you thought was a great way of tracking your visitors around the event.

Why?

Because you can now offer your delegates implants (in the form of a microchip) so you can see where they go and what they do at your event.

Microchips have been around for a long time already and you’d be surprised by how many people already use them. To give you an idea; I  know that my cat feels safe when she comes flying through her cat flap and the neighbour’s cat gets stuck at the door…

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Event industry fuels technology boom

2011-12-21T164417Z_4_BTRE7BJ1BM700_RTROPTP_3_INDUSTRY-US-SOCIAL-MEDIA-ADVISERSA newly published report has forecast that the Event management software market will be worth US$7.78bn by 2019.  Which would go some way to explaining why as event managers we sometimes feel like we are deluged with new products and services every five minutes.

The report from MarketsandMarkets pinpoints the drivers of this grown as the proliferation of smart phones, an increase in meeting spending, social media user platforms, a greater integration of solutions and the introduction of cloud platforms.  With MICE organisers looking to increase their volumes the researchers identified an additional need to implement best of breed technology that can manage the whole event lifecycle.  Price pays an important role in the choice of technology, with ROI required as quickly as possible.

The marketplace for event technology is vast, covering implementation and deployment services, support services, and training and education services offered by event management software vendors.Add to this event management software solutions such as payment processing software, online registration software, venue management software, event marketing software, event analytics software and it is no surprise that so many different companies of all shapes and sizes are rushing to take advantage of a market valued at US$5.10bn in 2014.

What this shows for event managers is that it is doubly important to interrogate technology providers to test the robustness of their solution.

For more information on the MarketsandMarkets report, go to http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/event-management-software.asp

When is a hybrid event not a hybrid event

hy·brid:  (hbrd) noun
a composite of mixed origin; a conceptual whole made up of complicated and related parts

As with the evolution of all new technologies it takes a little while for the terminology to settle down and become general use.  For the early adopters this can be an incredibly frustrating experience.  Why? Because we’ve already been part of the (extensive and believe me exhaustive) debate, discussion and intellectual tussle and just as we sign off on that particular topic, along come the newbies and start it all again.

So it is in the land of virtual/online/hybrid events.  As conference professionals and other interested organisations begin to understand that the technology isn’t going to go away; that rather than being frightening in its complexity the right solution can simplify marketing and communications; and that there are other people just like them creating very successful conferences and events; so does the supplier network.   The latter are not slow at getting on a successful bandwagon, and nor should they be, but never does caveat emptor apply more than in an emerging market.  Not least because you won’t get many chances to get this right with your audiences, and if you are billing something as a hybrid which falls in any way short of other experiences they may have had, your credibility will be questioned.

With hybrid events rapidly becoming flavour of the month, it is incredibly important that conference organisers are very clear about what constitutes a hybrid and what does not. So here’s a quick synopsis:

A hybrid event is NOT:
  • A recording of the event posted online two or three days afterwards; sorry but this is just an online post-event recording.
  • A live event with a Twitter feed running on a screen at an event; no – this is just an injection of social commentary into your live event
  • A selection of individual blogs, chatrooms and social media forums; aren’t these already essential parts of your integrated communications strategy?
  • A series of event photos; honestly…?

And if you are a purist you would also say:

  • A simultaneous stand-alone webcast; because this is a stand-alone webcast

Why are none of the above really hybrid events? Because they fundamentally miss the point.  A hybrid is something where two parts meld seamlessly together to form a unified whole.  A post-event recording doesn’t allow first-time viewers to participate in the debate; a twitter feed is a one-way stream of consciousness; and a standalone webcast does not allow the live and online audiences to interact with one another.

What a hybrid event IS:

  • An event where a technology solution is used to permit both a live and an online audience to view the same content at the same time. PLUS,
  • Where the online and live audiences can interact simultaneously with the speakers and other commentators via spoken questions and typed chat. AND,
  • Where the online and live audiences can interact with each other within the timeframe of the live event.

With the right technology solution, or blend of solutions the latter point could also be extended so that the conversation with the audience starts in advance of the live date(s), is developed with the input of relevant and well-informed experts and then continues post event.  What is imperative is that you, the conference or event organiser, create an environment, beit online, live or a hybrid of the two, where there is no barrier to integrated conversation and networking.

Hybrid events are delivering great results for organisations such as The Economist so they are there to be embraced.  Just make sure that when you step into the water you are taking the right equipment with you.

You’ve got to deliver what the audience wants

It seems like the technology has finally been toppled from its place at the top of the virtual events debate and we are, at last, getting back to the basics of looking at the needs of the client.  We are once again talking about the multi-faceted communications approach that engages all sectors of an audience.  There is no sense in trying to shoehorn all comms activity into a one-size-fits-all solution, when every other sector of business is constantly trying to find new niches to occupy.

The evolution of virtual events is being driven by one major factor: as more virtual events happen, more people are participating in them and the better we can measure their behaviour.  So rather than making assumptions and creating technology in a vaccuum, we are delivering the goods the customer ordered.

Two research studies* have been released recently which serve to confirm just how quickly behaviour is changing in the physical and virtual meeting industry; their core findings make for interesting reading, not least because of the gulf of expectation between event organisers and their audiences:

  • Live content, be it video or webcasts, is the most popular on a virtual site, and yet only 43% of physical events capture any of their content to post online, and where they do it is often less than 10%.
  • There is as yet little commercialisation of virtual events, whether this is a conscious business decision, a resistance from the marketplace or the resource issue below is as yet unknown.
  • Organisations worry about the additional staff time needed to execute a virtual event to the cost, the quality of the experiencefor the visitor and the complexity of technology.

The benefits for the organiser though are seen quite clearly; more than 82% of past users of virtual events and 84 %of future users questioned in the Tagoras study mentioned the potential increase in audience numbers, an important consideration where physical events were only enabling them to reach a fraction of their total target audience.

So why are event organisers still so reluctant to embrace virtual technologies.

Meanwhile, the potential audience shows no such reticence:

While organisers of physical events continually state that people want to do business with real people, the Business Motivations and Social Behaviors for In-Person and Online Events study found that:

  • 80 percent of respondents are comfortable connecting and networking with strangers.
  • 70 percent are comfortable using a video/webcam to chat and meet others.
  • 33 percent share information by instant messaging at online events, while 28 percent do so at in-person events.
  • 41 percent use Twitter at online events, while 51 percent do so at in-person events.

Another objection often raised by physical event organisers is that online attendees are easily distracted.  But attendees in real time also check their emails, text, tweet, phone and message while sitting in an auditorium.  The only difference is that the virtual attendees can come back to it later.

Respondents seek similar information from exhibitors whether booths are live or virtual: more than half want to see what a company does and how it can help them, and nearly half of respondents want to get company, product or solution information for review or want to see a demonstration or the product itself.

Where virtual events really begin to draw in the attendees though is in accessibility:

  • the environment’s ease-of-access;
  • the ability to ask questions and participate actively;
  • reduced travel costs and hassles
  • reduced time away from family and office

Given the solid evidence, it is hard to see why so many event organisations continue to find more reasons not to embrace virtual technologies than to explore the possibilities. Perhaps it will take some new entrants into the marketplace to steal a march on the naysayers, establishing great virtual events that morph into fantastic physical ones that take the old-guard by surprise.

Remember: if you don’t listen to your customers, and give them what they want, you are giving them every excuse to go somewhere else.

* The two studies quoted are:

Virtual Event Study, done in collaboration with the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, Relate Content & Community Solutions and Tagoras, and funded by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events:

The Business Motivations and Social Behaviors for In-Person and Online Events, a study sponsored by the Professional Convention Management Association, UBM Studios and Virtual Edge Institute: