In bringing people together, the hope is that once-in-a-lifetime moments are created: a ground-breaking business idea, or the course of a career is changed. This, at least, is event theory; practice can be very different, especially in the digital age.
We discussed with Dom Honey about leveraging technology to improve the event experience. Dom has spent 20 years in the events industry and his company, Crystal Interactive, has been at the forefront of developing technology to create memorable experiences.
According to Honey, it is the ability to satisfy the innate human need for connection that determines event success. “When people get together, they want to collaborate, they want to learn – they want to share experience.”
However, event planners have to work much harder to encourage delegates to network.
Participants can be glued to their screens without making meaningful human contact. Technology is part of the problem, but it can be part of the solution, too.
“Whether you’re going to a trade show, festival or staff event, what really matters is who you met, what you learned from them and what you shared with them.” Dom Honey
Tech that lets you do the talking
Technology in isolation won’t work. It can help deliver new levels of engagement only if the venue works with the event planner to ensure it is delivered seamlessly.
Technology that shares ideas and questions, enabling problem-solving and supporting creativity, can then become a different proposition.
A successful modern event balances the essential need for human contact with the recognition that technology-based interaction is now universal. To strike this balance, research from Radisson reveals that over the next 12 months, three-quarters of event planners intend to include technology-driven experiences, such as augmented reality and interactive communication with delegates in the events they organise. Wearable technologies, too, can help rather than hinder, face-to-face conversations.
Technology to make networking more human
Smart wearables offer a compact solution to the dilemma faced by the participant who wants to meet peers but fears missing out on vital information. Taking the form of discreet bracelets or badges, these devices facilitate automatic information exchange with another wearer as soon as contact is made. In this way, a natural, face-to-face conversation can take place, but all information is captured as safely as if contact had been made via a mobile platform.
Event venues need to ensure that smart technology is integrated effortlessly into the event so that it enhances rather than hinders the delegate experience.
Venues must provide planners with seamless connectivity (high-speed broadband and Wi-Fi as standard), as well as on-call IT and AV assistance to ensure technology runs smoothly in the background.
Similarly, participants can gather collateral from stands they are interested in simply by activating their device in its proximity, simultaneously allowing the exhibitor to register their interest and harvest their contact details.
‘From a delegate’s perspective, it encourages face-to-face interaction, rather than constantly looking at an app on your phone,’ confirms Honey. ‘From the organiser's perspective, they can track delegates around the venue, and know in real time which sessions are popular.’
At a recent recruitment event, Honey tells us, such devices encouraged intensive networking. Among the 2,000 attendees, there were around 17,500 contact exchanges over the course of the one-day festival. “Purely from a numeric total, excluding the value these discussions delivered to all involved, this demonstrates just how effective technology was at helping delegates make connections.”
Connecting through idea and response
Some planners are taking real-time tracking to another level. At C2 in Montreal, a colleague of Honey’s was wired to biometric sensors, so the event planners could measure his heart rate, blood pressure and even sweat levels as he explored various event formats. Greater use of artificial intelligence (AI) and motion tracking will give planners more insight into the sessions and speakers that are generating the most intense emotional reactions. Over the next 12 months, three-quarters of planners intend to include technology-driven experiences, such as augmented reality, in the events they organise.
As well as offering the exhibitors a way of connecting more intimately with participants, new technologies can allow those participants to interact more freely. As event planners embrace concepts such as the unconference, crowd-sharing technology can help capture the key points of debate, especially when unstructured, and help share ideas across an entire group of delegates.
Seamless tech as standard
Implementing technology can make or break an event. In fact, research by Radisson finds that technical breakdowns, such as of event apps or audio-visual equipment, are among the most limiting factors to delivering a successful event.
“When you've got bright, keen, enthusiastic participants, technology is simply an egalitarian tool to enable ideas to be shared without egos attached,” says Honey. “Rather than one person speaking at a time, which is what you get from a stage, everyone is able to share their thoughts.”
As a result, many conversations can be taking place in parallel, which could be themed, upvoted or downvoted. Very quickly, the best crowd ideas would then surface. Depending on the event, experts in the room can moderate the conversations, provide feedback and promote brainstorming.
Implementing smart tech for event success
Utilising such technologies makes events not only more exciting and memorable, but more human. To achieve this in a coherent way, each technology needs to be consistent with the needs of the attendees, as well as the overall purpose of the event.
“A world-class planner will always see the event through the eyes of the delegate and ensure that, at its core, participation is delivering engagement and an experience to remember,” says Honey.
Operations Director at Crystal Interactive
Dom has more than 20 years’ event industry experience. He pioneered text-based audience response systems for large groups since its earliest days, working with the people and platforms that have defined the delegate experience and the marketplace. Dom can often be found enthusing about audience engagement technology. He’s excited by working out how people and technology come together to solve client problems or improve processes.