23 July 2014

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Organiser's Guide - technology


From cloud software to Twitter walls, our guide will help you future proof your events and maximise feedback from them.


Have you seen the viral video where the woman gives her elderly dad an iPad for Christmas? On Boxing Day she catches him using it as a chopping board to make the bubble and squeak with.

Her dad’s generation are the Baby Boomers of post-war Britain. Today’s generation are the Millennials. They were born into a technological world where books are read with the swipe of a screen, a phone is just a phone – why would you put the word ‘smart’ in front? – and for every single one of life’s little complications? Well, there’ll be an app to solve that.

The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) believe that 78 million people born after 1990 will hold senior positions within business by 2030. These are the conference audiences of tomorrow. These are the delegates that events need to adapt and develop their technologies for today. So if you still call a phone a ‘mobile phone’, these are five event technologies you need to know about.

1: Checking in

Online registration and ticketing platforms are becoming more popular – and why not? What many event organisers don’t realise is that most of these services can be found in Apple’s App Store and they’re either free to download or cheap to use.

Search for mobile box office apps. The best ones have credit card readers designed for iPad and allow online ticket receipts to be emailed. You can also can gather attendee data and promote forthcoming events to gauge interest.

2: Radio Gaga

Achieving a deeper understanding of delegate behaviour is the holy grail of event planning, right? It’s why your event planner peers are turning to radio frequency identification (RFID) coupled with near field communication (NFI) techniques to collect data from individuals with the swipe of a tag. Attendees can be sent their tags – typically in the form of a micro-chipped wristband – loaded with their personal details, before the event. Or the tags can be loaded at the registration desk. The tag is then used to access, collect and exchange digital information through a simple tap on RFID devices placed throughout the event.

This digital information could be a show update, discount code or someone’s business card. It could also be a game, which can be accessed in order to gain rewards for contributing solutions to a problem, visiting specific exhibitors, answering surveys or downloading sponsor information. Rewards can include points, achievement badges or material gains such as goody bags and room upgrades.

The data collected by the RFID readers lets you, the organiser, know which delegates went where, what they looked at and, most importantly, what interested them, which you can then use in the post-event follow-up.

The RFID chips work in a similar way to an Oyster card. Readers also allow users to amend their own profile details, receive personalised event updates and even request an email of speaker presentations back to their inbox. They can also be used as Facebook ‘like’ stations, allowing attendees to post to social media channels and discuss what they thought about different aspects of the event. 

3: On the app

Simplified communication apps are a cost-effective way to communicate and keep in touch with event teams working on site. Keep the phone bills down by using Skype, FaceTime, BBM or WhatsApp. Or find out who on your event staff uses Yammer, Chatter, WeChat, Viber, Snapchat or Kik as app alternatives to the dog and bone. A quick visit to the App Store will show that developers have been busy designing scores of other useful apps for event planners. 

These ‘native’ apps (designed for use on a specific device) range from presentation tools and event planning guides to content-rich games, auctions and networking aids.

While native apps tend to be non-specific and take longer to develop, ‘browser’ apps can be whipped up on a bespoke basis, incorporating things like delegate handbooks and speaker biographies to reduce the overall printing costs for the event.

Not only can delegates access all the conference material through apps, they can also receive real-time information about which breakout room they’ve been allocated or the people they’re on a discussion table with. Video footage and speaker presentations can all be made available for delegates to revisit in their own time, while built-in event content, such as interactive voting and real-time feedback, add to the overall delegate experience.

Hybrid event technology is also being driven by app developers. The iPad’s navigation features, such as scrolling and pinch zooming, are being maximised within webcasting apps that offer multi-content views of video, slides and interaction on a single tablet screen. For virtual event environments, apps allow users to view live and on-demand webcasts, navigate exhibitions and chat with stand reps, access on-demand content and interact with other visitors.

4: Screen tests

Just as social media has transformed traditional broadcasting by encouraging users to engage with one another online, screen technology has grown more interactive. You can now show information on large screens and event attendees can swipe, rotate, scroll, pinch and tap to their heart’s desire.

Conference delegates can doodle their own name badges on graffiti screens, which can then be printed out and worn with pride or embarrassment. Content can be brought specifically to life on screens, only when delegates pass-by, via the use of motion-sensor screen technology. 

Of course, more and more events are also using screens to display Twitter walls, encouraging real-time feedback and questions in 140 characters or less. By default, Twitter walls can double as an attractive forum for advertising, where banner ads can be lined up to appear at specific times during an event.

If tweets are a vital amplification, feedback or communications tool for your next event, make sure you have an official hashtag in place and that it’s well promoted. A hashtag allows delegates to tag their tweets specifically to your event, which enables you to track the conversation and respond when necessary. Remember, keep it #short and make sure it’s #obvious – you don’t want people #strugglingtoremember what it is.

5: Cloud Atlas

If you’re an event planner with your head in the cloud, you may not simply be day-dreaming of better conference planning. You’re more likely accessing files over the internet from anywhere in the world.

Exploiting the potential to share and develop software and services online, ‘cloud’ computing is the perfect set-up for a company with a dispersed or mobile team looking to improve its communications and organisational structure. Using the cloud also means the budget is not spent on expensive hardware or IT staff to manage and maintain in-house servers. Technology savings can be channeled back into the business, enabling your agency to quote more competitively.

Companies that use cloud software also benefit from immediate updates, so the technology will never go out of date.

Online file sharing services allow event organisers to share and access documents using their phone, tablet or laptop. Cloud-based presentation software may put those interminable PowerPoint sessions out of their misery, introducing features such as a zoomable whiteboard design that makes text and images pop off the screen, helping speakers keep their audience’s attention for longer.

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