The near future holds the promise of everything from an uplift in occurrence of virtual and hybrid meetings to the more sci-fi potential of holographic presentations, immersive meetings and robotic meet and greets.
The glowing red eye and slightly menacing hum signaled the key moment of Stanley Kubrick’s classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, when onboard computer HAL 9000 began to reason and make its own decisions, the first being to dispense with the spacecraft’s human crew it decided was no longer needed. As a vision of the future, Kubrick was portraying mankind crossing a major bridge of his evolution, taking technology to such levels of sophistication and intelligence as to challenge his own purpose—technology had become master of the universe.
The year 2001 was something of a technological turning point for the meeting industry, as highlighted by the Power of 10 report released at IMEX Frankfurt 2012. Increased use of the Internet has completely transformed buyer-supplier relationships and radically extended pre- and post-event delegate engagement, with implications for the design and economics of events. More recently, there has been a greater expectation of dedicated event apps. And with the near future holding the promise of everything from an uplift in occurrence of virtual and hybrid meetings to the more sci-fi potential of holographic presentations, immersive meetings and robotic meet and greets, what’s next and how can we use it most effectively?
This is a question for delegates wanting to optimize their attendance experience, but it is a more urgent one for event organizers, who must not only be alert to the range of tech options available, but also of how it is changing the essence of events and with it, the organizer’s role in an entirely new event experience. This is especially the case if your event just happens to be showcasing the meeting industry on a national scale, such as IncentiveWorks, Canada’s largest MICE industry trade show, running from August 21-22, 2012, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
“The last decade has seen a major shift,” explained Robin Paisley, general manager for the event. “Technological advances in audiovisual have streamlined processes, email promotions and invitations have cut marketing budgets down to size, plus think of the Internet. We didn’t see it in the same light a decade ago as we do today—think live streaming video, YouTube videos (you can preview speakers without leaving your desk) and Wi-Fi onsite at events, online event surveys, Web analytics to measure traffic and more.”
While keeping up with worthwhile technology may be a labor of love, it is an essential one to maintain the delivery of successful events. IncentiveWorks has already identified the benefits of one of their many key tools in achieving this, with more to be introduced this year.
“We have incorporated so many over the years, but one of my favorite advancements is in the area of Web analytics,” Paisley said. “Seeing how users weave their way through the content you have provided can give you tremendous insight into the way you are operating. You are able to see what they are craving and what’s not resonating with them. I see it as a way to get into the mind of my attendee in advance of the event. I can then tailor some of our onsite experiences to offer more of what they like and less of what they don’t.”
An enriched attendee experience is something that IMEX America (Oct. 9-11, 2012) is also targeting through technological innovation, with this year’s event building on the successes of 2011 and set to further showcase emerging trends in the best use of technology.
“There is now a bigger emphasis than ever on social media, for which we had a team last year and had Twitter streams throughout the show,” said Carina Bauer, CEO of the IMEX Group. “That was a really successful experiment for us. In addition to that we focus on webcasting as well as run a TV station that turns around news items, something that can also be used in the marketing and social media.”
With these two major meeting industry events keen to embrace technology in an industry increasingly demanding evidence of economic return, the developers of tomorrow’s innovations are sensitive to the economic and logistical challenges for event organizers and to addressing their concerns from the get-go in reaching the core of how technology can boost the industry.
“We believe it is incumbent on providers like ourselves to offer products that clearly improve the process of organizing meetings, of gathering leads and of exchanging information in the live face-to-face interaction with clients,” explained Bob James, vice president of marketing at ITN International, winner of the 2011 EIBTM Technology Watch award.
Virtual meetings, in James’ opinion, are a clear example of technology reinforcing the need to meet. Another reinforcement, and the technology that James believes will be the next major breakthrough for the event industry, is near-field communications (NFC), an area ITN is working on intensively.
“We’re developing and offering a smartphone app that allows users to read badges in NFC-enabled phones,” James said. “These are like a latchkey that opens the door to exchanging information, from both people and objects. The content is unlimited—anything you can put on a website can be put on your phone. We expect this to become standard within the next three-to-five years.”
Such innovative technology set to come online suggests major changes ahead for events and their organizers. These changes will focus in on the point of convergence of new delegate expectations, technological potential and event organizer professionalism, requiring the perfect chemistry of the right tool at the right event to secure the goal of quality time for delegates.
“Technology frees up attendees to give them the most important asset of all time,” James said. “It gives them more time to conduct the business that brought them to the event in the first place. Our technology has made it so that you can coast through the shows and delegates can focus on conducting business, discovering, learning and negotiating—the things you went to the show to do—and not on record-keeping or cross-referencing business cards.”
Coasting delegates building a database of information at the touch of their phone will evidently bring modifications to the nature and scale of events for the years ahead and, consequently, another new set of considerations for organizers.
As technology continues to facilitate, and attendees to expect more meaningful interaction of their increased quality time, organizer focus is now on the event evolving to become the right forum for these deeper business conversations.
“Anything that can enhance the networking experience for delegates will take off,” Bauer said. “You have to look at the event and think, ‘What are its key drivers?’ For us it is the business aspect and linking the right buyers with the right suppliers and the networking between the buyers. Any technology that we introduce we really look at it from this point of view—if it can do this, that is where we would put our money.”
“Nothing in my mind will ever replace human interaction,” Paisley said. “Those real conversations that are sparked in the moment cannot be replicated by any technology. I feel strongly that technology is a means to better the experience being had, not to replace it. Period.”
Sorry HAL. One+
Tips from the Pros for your next event:
From the meeting organizers:
“Be ahead of the curve, but not too far. Be out with something within the first couple of years it’s on the market. That way, people have a base understanding of what it is and therefore a greater appreciation of what you are trying to showcase. If you are providing education and inspiration to planners to deliver better events, if they don’t ‘get’ the technology being put forward, they can’t assess its suitability for their own programs. Use what will be successful in delivering ideas.” (Robin Paisley, general manager for IncentiveWorks)
“The most important thing is to work with a registration and database/Web company that you can trust and that can deliver for your needs and to your budget. You need to work out what will make your show tick in terms of technology and identify the companies that can deliver the event registration and the back-end systems, which are absolutely key. The fundamentals are the initial website, data housing and a registration system that has to be absolutely solid, especially if you want to do things like scheduling and diary management, which you want that as much as possible integrated into one system.” (Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group)
From the technology developer:
“Organizers need to keep abreast of the ways that attendees gather information and be sure that what they’re providing them is something different. On top of that, use technology to make the gathering and the synthesis of the information easier. Organizers need to go beyond what can be done online: they have to be cognizant and look critically if there is another way to find this information and if there is, they have to re-think what they are doing. Ask: What will I learn from the event?” (Bob James, vice president of marketing for ITN International)
future of meetings,
One+ August 2012,