Thursday, October 23, 2014

Conference Technology Ideas: Inspiration from 4 Experts

Conference technologies incorporate everything from projectors to NFC devices. Depending on the specific event and attendee needs, there is a huge range of demands event professionals need to meet. It can be hard to keep up and stay fresh, so we asked event experts questions about inspiration, the future, their least favorite trends in conference technologies and more.

1. What is your best source of inspiration when it comes to event technology?

Heidi Thorne: Though they are not necessarily related to events, I read multiple blogs on mobile technology and trends. If it's a trend or interest for the general public, it'll be a trend at events!

Traci Browne: I think the best source of inspiration is observing people in all different situations. Take note of how they are using technology. What types of settings and activities inspire them to grab their smartphone, snap photos and share with their friends. When do they turn to their smartphones for help? Good event technology doesn’t fight for attendee attention; it supports the things they would naturally be doing at the event.

Melissa Michel: So many of us rely heavily on the internet for information, and technology for trade shows is certainly no exception. I look for the latest trends that provide cutting edge capabilities as well as researching what the client’s competitors are doing.
Michelle Bruno: I rely on a couple of sources for inspiration: I love “Wired” magazine. I follow some specific hashtags on Twitter like #eventtech, #eventmobile, and #beacons. I frequently read articles on technology in the retail industry. I watch videos on event technology from the Events Network at BOb.tv and companies with new event technology frequently contact me via email.


2. What is the most exciting way you’re recently seen technology used at a conference or trade show?


Melissa Michel: With the explosive popularity of social media for business, this has to be one of the top areas that really gets me excited for an event! I am constantly amazed at this powerful marketing tool and how it connects everyone pre-, during, and post-show. 

Michelle Bruno: I’m still waiting to be truly excited by technology during an event, but about two years ago, I noticed human beings as charging stations and portable hotspots during the SXSW Festival. Last year, I saw beacons and a beacon mobile app being used to deliver content to attendees and I was very interested in that from a “content form factor” perspective. While they’re not especially exciting anymore, I think mobile conference guide apps changed the way I experience trade shows and conferences in general. Finally, the use of NFC to expedite check-in at an event was pretty amazing to me. 

Rentfusion: As you can see, this was a tough question for the experts to answer! Everyone talks about embracing technology at conferences, but where are the leaders? Why aren’t people wowing anyone?


3. What do conference goers expect at a minimum nowadays in regards to technology?


Heidi Thorne: I think for trade shows, a mobile event app which provides conference agendas, maps, exhibitor lists, speaker info, etc. is a bare expected minimum these days.

Traci Browne: The elephant in the room is still inadequate WiFi and in some venues, even poor cellular service. Attendees need to be able to access their email and make phone calls wherever they are. Add event technology to an already stressed system and you’re going to have problems.
The fact that event planners do not know how to determine what capacity their event needs and how to interpret what is being offered by the venue is a problem. Event planners need to educate themselves, or they need to bring in experts who will be able to determine what the event needs are and negotiate on behalf of the organizer.

Melissa Michel: With more and more events adapting to today’s technology, I feel that most attendees expect good internet capabilities throughout the event at no cost to themselves. I know that this is usually provided within the General Session and breakout meeting rooms but it is often overlooked with the trade show. These costs of course don’t come cheap and I would hope that facilities and their internet providers work together to make this a more cost- effective option in the future.

Michelle Bruno: I think they expect connectivity and power (lots of places to charge their mobile devices). Since we haven’t yet figured out how (as an industry) to deliver those two necessities ubiquitously and inexpensively, it’s difficult for attendees to expect any more than that.

4. What piece of tech do you want to see more of at future conferences? Why?


Heidi Thorne: Large, easily visible, readable and continuously updated digital signage for directions, instructions, announcements and more. If I'm trying to navigate my way through a large convention or conference center, the absence of relevant and accurate signage is totally annoying. This has been a continuous problem over the years that technology could help solve.

Traci Browne: We need better ways to connect people with relevant people, and people with relevant content. Our tech is perfectly capable of doing this. It just hasn’t been a priority for event organizers.

An attendee should be able to find other attendees they wish to connect with based on commonalities easily. Attendees should receive recommendations for sessions and exhibitors they would find relevant based on a set of criteria they have indicated, or based on what they have already found relevant.

Melissa Michel: Going back to my heightened excitement about Social Media, I would love to see more Show Managers highlight this at show site. Many will devise a pre-show plan but they don’t carry it out to completion.

I’m a big advocate of Twitter and Instagram feeds being prominently displayed for all to see. Providing interactive displays at an event is another way to create a buzz and have your message shared by the masses. If you want to include your attendees in sharing your social message, put it on display! These are gaining popularity in General Sessions and keeps your attendees actively participating in your Conference. 

Michelle Bruno: I would like to see more power plugs in conference sessions. And, I would like to see an application that would customize, personalize, and organize my visit to a meeting or event—one that would address my specific objectives. It would have to go beyond telling me where to go and when. It would understand what I really wanted out of the conference and make all of the arrangements for me. Plus, it would supplement my experience with articles, blog posts, and videos to watch when I got home. I’d like to think that someday, there would be a mechanism for making my conference experience rich and valuable—a lot less wandering around and a lot more on-target communication and content.


5. Are there any technology trends you’d like to see come to an end in events?


Heidi Thorne: If we're talking about in-person events, we need to spend less time on the social networks and more time building our living, breathing social networks.

Traci Browne: I’d like to see an end to this idea that unless attendees are constantly sharing their every interaction at an event they are not engaged. People connect to an event differently. Using technology to enable a connection is helpful. But once they make that connection, let the attendees be present in the moment. Allow them the experience without gluing their faces to a device.

Melissa Michel: As technology continues to evolve, I love how everything has become more streamlined. The days of A/V screens on tripods, bulky monitors, DVD players, A/V carts, and a spaghetti string of cords are a thing of the past and something that certainly won’t be missed.

Michelle Bruno: No. People that produce, attend, sponsor, exhibit and speak at trade shows and conferences are at various levels of technological knowledge and preference. Just because I wouldn’t use a particular app or piece of hardware, doesn’t mean that others won’t find it useful. Technology has a way of moving itself into obsolescence.

6. Boil the use of technology at conferences down to a single sentence.


Heidi Thorne: If a technology doesn't facilitate, don't integrate.

Traci Browne: Only consider technology if it improves the event experience for the attendee, not just because it’s cool or makes life easy for the planner.

Melissa Michel: Event technology is ever-evolving...embrace the change or get left behind.

Michelle Bruno: Technology at conferences is all about mobile.

The Key Takeaways


Finding balance between practicality and keeping up with technology in general is important. Things like video walls displaying social media buzz, digital signage and better engagement with attendees are all within current conference technologies’ abilities. It all just seems to be a matter of finding a balance between practicality, forward-thinking and staying within venue limitations.

More About the Experts




Our Question For You

Are you in agreement that there haven’t been many impressive uses of conference technologies recently (question #2)? If you do agree, what do you think is holding the industry back? If not, please share some examples!