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.
This annual review covers many of the major events technology trends to watch for this coming year
1. Mobile event apps have become mainstream and will continue to grow in 2015.
As predicted in my 2000 article The Revolution — Looking into the Digital Future of Events, in my 2004 Tech Trends Review, in my 2010 Tech Trends Review and covered in several other articles, mobile devices have made a huge impact on events!
Now, nearly everyone, including technology laggards, is carrying around a smart phone. 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:
- Replacing paper event programs, agendas, attendee lists exhibition guides, and/or course notes
- Replacing the need for keypad polling and paper surveys
- Replacing directional signage and program maps.
Additionally, event apps have offered improved means of:
- Onsite social media networking
- Group or targeted alerts and announcements
- Improved peer-peer messaging, appointment making and business contact exchange
- Improved matchmaking and networking opportunities
- Integrated gamification applications
- CEU (continuing education unit) tracking
- 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.
2. BLE (Bluetooth low energy) and iBeacon will provide a wealth of new options for planners and participants.
In my 2014 Tech Trends Review (published in September 2013), I predicted that geofencing will become a significant factor for events. Later that month, Apple released iOS7 which incorporated iBeacon technology. iBeacons are very low-power, low cost, Bluetooth (BLE – Bluetooth Low Energy) transmitters with up to a 150 foot (50 meter) range.
IBeacons can interact and 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.
This technology holds great promise for events with nearly all of the major event app developers working on ways to incorporate. Here are some of the possibilities:
- Gamification and scavenger hunts (as used at CES 2014)
- Location information and navigation assistance: 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: For example, a badge could be printed upon when the attendee enters the geo-fence with notification sent via the app to the badge printing location.
- Social media networking and information exchange: 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.
- Exhibit booth dwell time measurement (the longer a person is at a booth, the more likely they are interested in the product).
- 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.
- Automated continuing education unit (CEU) tracking.
- Local area information and deals. Local area merchants could send discount coupons to convention attendees (if the attendee opts in to receive).
- Loss prevention: AV companies or venues could be notified of unauthorized equipment removal using an RFID tag linked to a geofence.
- Attendee action metrics: Organizers will be able to track where attendees are spending their time and can be notified of traffic patterns (i.e. an inordinately long registration line or crowd flow through an exhibit hall).
However, planners and event app developers must take care to use iBeacons very judiciously — to provide significant value to event participants. If attendees feel that this technology is an invasion of privacy with no payback for them or a “pop up spam” device, they will simply turn off the Bluetooth reception or uninstall the app.
This, combined with NFC (see my 12 Technology Trends for 2014 post on this), which Apple has finally adopted for the iPhone), will provide huge opportunities for mobile devices at events.
3. 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.” For example, paper surveys were handed out, but tallying wasn’t completed until after the event – not in time to make mid-course corrections.
Today, mobile event apps offer an unprecedented amount of analytic data – 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 is the crowd flow through an exhibit hall?
- What speakers/exhibitors are “liked” the most?
- Who are the key connectors/influencers?
- What app features are the most popular?
- Who, when, where, why and how are apps being used?
- What are the attendees’ ratings on specific survey and/or polling questions?
As mobile event apps become fully adopted in the business process, these analytic capabilities will likely be considered one of the most useful elements of the many benefits they provide.
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).
4. Big data will become a key component of event marketing and design.
In these hyper-connected times, nearly every activity can be tracked: your website visits, every touch on your mobile device, every Facebook like, any online posting, your profiles, your purchases using reward points, surveillance cameras, and much, much more.
Big data seeks to combine these data from widely disparate sources in an aggregate form to spot trends and make business decisions and to improve customer interaction experiences (sell more)! Big Data is “the next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity” according to McKinsey Global Institute.
The challenge is that big data takes lots of computer processing and storage resources — 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 – The International Congress and Convention Association and Human Equation providing BDaaS for its members. Members can search 436 million articles by 7.4 million academic authors to find local “champions” to help develop events, to 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, surveys and more to gain insight to improve events and to facilitate personalization for event participants. Examples of event big data management can be seen at GenieConnect and BusyEvent among a number of other technology companies working on this.
5. 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.
A few suggestions to limit exposure:
As a planner, make sure your registration company is PCI compliant and take other steps to guard attendee information captured.
As an individual, the standard precautions:
- Use strong passwords.
- Become aware of phishing scams.
- Keep your virus protection up-to-date.
- Consider the use of identity theft protection services.
- Use double-authentication services when available.
6. 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 web text translation tool, became available. It currently translates text to and from more than 80 languages.
Since then, a range of mobile apps have added more functionality:
- WordLens, is a mobile app that enables real-time augmented reality translations of signs/menus/slides (not full pages of text) in multiple languages (at US$4,99/language) without an internet connection needed. WordLens also works as a Google Glass app for heads-up translations.
- Voice to voice translations apps, such as Translate Voice Free and Jibbigo are now available.
- Microsoft’s Skype will soon offer Skype Translator (it is currently in beta testing) to provide two-way video conference voice translation capability.
As these tools advance to provide easy, inexpensive and reliable real-time voice translation, it will be used by event hosts and/or individually by attendees. The world is becoming a smaller place daily!
7. Event and hotel Wi-Fi is becoming expected and ubiquitous.
Free Wi-Fi is the most desired hotel in-room amenity (Hotels.com, April 2014). With hundreds of mobile event apps now available, Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity have become 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.
This is a complex subject with education needed by planners and suppliers.
The good news is that the technology exists to provide very high-density, high-speed Wi-Fi connectivity to large groups – and many facilities are starting to catch up! Planners are increasingly examining venues’ abilities to provide good quality, easy-to-use, and reasonably priced Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity as key factors in making venue purchase decisions.
In the meantime, the larger the event (especially large tradeshows), the more likely that attendees will experience less than ideal Wi-Fi connectivity. In two to three years, as venues digest the “bulge in the snake” of Wi-Fi demand, this will be less of an issue.
8. 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.”
Instead of attendees passively sitting at event watching a talking head, meeting participants are demanding a greater say and expect active engagement. There are several ways that this is playing out:
- Social media apps are being used to recruit and engage participants before the events, 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, and SocialWall are seeing greater use.
- Gamification is being tightly integrated into many mobile event apps to increase participant engagement and appealing to peoples’ “fundamental needs and desires for reward, status, achievement, self-expression, competition, and altruism.” (bunchball)
- Matchmaking and networking options are being built into many mobile event apps.
- Meeting designers are moving to shorter sessions and placing a high priority on audience engagement skills when choosing speakers.
- Meeting designers are moving away from passive theater-style seating to alternate room sets to facilitate discussion and participation.
- 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 inlcuding: Conferences i/o, Crowd Mics, Evenium ConnexMe, MeetingPulse, PollEverwhere,Social Q&A, Klowd and UberMeetings.
- Many “Swiss army knife” mobile event guide apps are building in polling, survey and other engagements tools as well.
9. Aerial (drone) photography will be used for a variety of event purposes (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 fairly 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.
10. 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. The world’s body of information is at our fingertips and available 24/7 wherever we go. We are barraged with hundreds of marketing messages daily and receive hundreds of email/text messages as well. 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 which are changing how events are marketed, managed and experienced. Here are examples:
- 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 being used.
- Images need to play a prominent role in articles, blogs, website postings, event promotional materials and computer presentations (a picture is worth a thousand words).
- Short video is the new language of the internet – more powerful than pictures and far more powerful than text. A good video can be worth a thousand pictures! Two video tips: A: Record in HD. B: Keep it SHORT! In many cases, promotional videos should be no longer than a minute!
11. Bonus trend (a repeat from previous years’ predictions): 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 today’s multi- tasking and often distracting work environment, attention spans are short. Thirty to forty-five 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. At the minimum, we share a social contract to at least look like we are paying attention at an event.
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 – all together in one location, categorized and mapped for your choosing.
Meetings provide a vastly richer, more targeted, and more focused learning experience than nearly any virtual meeting. To put it succinctly, there is no such thing as a “virtual beer!”
These are just a few of whirlwind of changes coming. Do you agree with them? Do you have others? Please leave comments and let me know your thoughts.