Friday, February 13, 2015

Conference Technologies 101: Going Above and Beyond Expectations

Holding a successful conference means more than just filling space and getting sponsors. One of the ways many conferences fail their attendees is by ignoring (often simple) ways to enrich their time with technology. Don’t just meet expectations, exceed them.

Expectation: Paper Check-in and Badge Pickup

Even some industry-leading corporate events haven’t caught up with the times. Slow lines, paper or PDF tickets and time-wasting practices don’t exactly get conference attendees excited at the get-go.

Solution: RFID/NFC Technology and Tablets

The future is here. Instead of old-school paper systems and fumbling with bundles of lanyards, conference technology allows speedy check-ins and impressive welcomes. Start your event on the right foot by using tablets, apps, wireless capabilities and location-based technology to welcome guests.

Expectation: Hands-off Training

There’s a lot of show and tell at user conferences with demonstrations and lecture-esque walkthroughs. While highlighting product capabilities and new features is important, there are more effective ways of teaching.

Solution: Tablets and Workstations

Keep attendees engaged and focused while they follow along and actively participate. Even large technology companies rent their own products to train staff or users on at conferences. Let them hold tablets in their hands and experience your product, service and brand while learning from your experts. Thousands of iPads and tablets can do the trick for large sessions while full workstations have their place as well.

Expectation: Boring Presentations and Powerpoints

Bad sound, monotone speakers, uninteresting slides… these can all lead to bored and disappointed conference attendees. It’s an industry staple, though, and the bar is set fairly low.

Solution: Better AV Equipment

High quality sound equipment like wireless microphones and speakers really do make a difference. For the appropriately sized rooms, electronic whiteboards or seamless video walls can spice up visuals. Presenters with no personality? Well, you can try distracting attendees with interactive polls or theatrics, but there’s only so much technology can do for that.

Expectation: Crowded Charging Station

While charging stations are becoming more and more standard, conference goers have come to expect few options, crowded spaces and overly branded spots.

Solution: Don’t Skimp

Especially if you want attendees to stay connected with social media, you have to make sure their mobile devices stay powered up during your event. For starters, make charging stations easily accessible with an appropriate number of outlets. Make them comfy with chairs and refreshments so attendees don’t feel rushed, guilty or unwelcome. Even with sponsored stations or access to salespeople, charging areas should feel like they were made with users in mind, not the bottom-line.

Expectation: Business Card Networking

Let’s face it, event professionals aren’t great at following up, especially when there’s too much paper involved. Business cards get collected and notes taken, but it’s time-consuming to transfer the information to digital versions. Whether its your attendees getting to know other attendees or your staff, there are better ways in the time of LinkedIn and Bluetooth.

Solution: Apps and Experiential Tech

There are plenty of apps and technology like scanners that make turning business card information digital easy. Arm your staff with these. There are also apps, platforms and companies that help facilitate networking-- even before an event begins. Everything from matching attendees by interests, experience or job titles to interactive games will strengthen their networking experience.

Expectation: Promotional Mobile App (or None at All)

“There’s an app for that” isn’t even a funny reference anymore. It’s played out because it’s more often true than not nowadays. Conventions, conferences and expos are no strangers to the app phenomenon. Even so, conference apps often have limited usability (in quality or function), and that needs to change.

Solution: A Better Experience

Especially with the prevalence of location-based capabilities, you can personalize and excite an attendee’s experience. Don’t make the conference app just about your company; integrate local charm and togetherness with dining and extracurricular recommendations. Go the extra mile by giving your attendees networking opportunities and answers to any of their event questions right at their fingertips. Make it something they’ll want to use instead of just needing to. Expert Heidi Thorne previously gave some tips to get conference attendees to use your mobile app.

Recently, 4 experts weighed in on conference technologies, and there was an overwhelming consensus that there’s room for improvement.

What expectations would you like to see shattered at a conference?