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Technology in the World of Events Guest Author: Wes Scott, President & CEO EventWorx Corporation

Technology and innovations play a key role in every industry, including the events industry. Although our key role in events is to bring together a gathering of people face-to-face, to celebrate, meet one another, exchange ideas, and even do business, we use technology in a number of ways, and increasingly more every day.

There is an expectation that events work at the forefront of technology revolutions. Attendees inherently come to events with an expectation of being ‘wow-ed’. They come for an experience, and technology can play a significant role in enhancing that experience.

Each and every aspect of event management benefit from the use of technology in some way, and of course we see this trend not only continuing, but intensifying. If you break down an event into its basic elements, such as project management, marketing and communications, scheduling, sales, content management, guest experience, and event infrastructure, you will recognize technology is playing a role throughout the entire process.

Where did it all take off?

Likely the single greatest technology disruption to events was the Internet. Before the late 1990’s, marketing for example, was limited to direct mail, television, radio, newspaper and magazine advertising. If you were really advanced, you might have been using faxes to market your events. The Internet is the foundation for so many of the tools we use now.

The Internet enables to us communicate and market events through a host of different tools including:

Websites – websites provide the backbone for so many elements of the event, like event information, video, blogs, registration, articles, feedback and so much more.

Search (Google) – today, we do not even type in a URL, we simply Google what we are looking for.

Social Media - social media plays a significant role in events –to market, create excitement, create community, provide advocacy and much more. Attendees are making choices about what events to attend based on who else in their social media circles are talking about that event. According to Event Manager Blog, professionals trust information that comes from social media just about as much as they trust information received from other sources. Social media is likely how attendees will learn about the events, and it likely how sponsors, partners, exhibitors will promote an event.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube Instagram and other social media tools are main stream for events, but then we are also using a number of other tools behind the scenes like Google AdWords, Google Search, Feathr, and Hootsuite. The use of cookies and digital tracking, we specifically target our attendees, based on their interests and demographics (age, gender, jobs, location, education, interests).

Overall the Internet provides tools to generate engagement, exposure, excitement, share information to create attendee advocacy and gain valuable feedback.

The Next Best Thing

In January 2009, Apple trademarked the tagline “There’s an App for That”. And today that holds true more than ever. Next to the Internet, the smart phone must be considered the second more important disruption to the events industry. More than just event mobile apps, we are using our smart phones regularly to run our business, including the obvious social media apps, email and SMS texting to our customers, access to CRM’s, and data in the cloud.

Smart phone technology is improving every day at incredible rates and with that the guest experience will continue to be enhanced.

Other technology we see at events today

What is some of the other interesting technology advances we see at events today?

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

Virtual reality really took off a few years ago, with organizers going as far as internet based-only events. Organizers saw the potential for bringing pre-targeted audiences together for host-live conversations and presentations. However, VR did not create the same experiences as coming together face-to-face, and now VR at events being used for entertainment and gamification as it works well for creating impactful guest experiences and engagement.

Similarly, we will see more in augmented reality, however its benefits seem to be again around pre-event engagement, entertainment and gamification.

The Internet of Things

The concept of the Internet of Things is simply that more of the day-to-day devices and appliances around us are communicating via the Internet or network and sharing data with a variety of hosts.

In events, the IofT is already being used to collect a lot of powerful macro data. The more we understand about our attendees, the more we can personalize the experiences. We use IofT for things like ibeacons and RFID tagging to automate registration, geotracking, and pushing automatic notifications

The data collected can help make better decisions and provide information from everything from security to intelligent lighting to pushing relevant messaging and content to attendees. We will see a lot more IofT as more and more devices are Wi-Fi enabled and connected to the network.

On the topic of the collection of data, is Big Data. We use this term a lot, and in events it is becoming big business. With the power of the Internet, mobile apps, wearables, and the Internet of Things, we are gathering data at incredible rates. All of this is allowing us to segment market based on interests, age, nationalities, beliefs, buying habits and more and improve our products for our customers. These services in turn can be sold to our exhibitors and sponsors.

What Technology is on the Cusp of Mainstream?

Wearables

Wearables can be anything from dongles, to RFID (radio frequency identification) technology in badges and bracelets, and smart watches like Apple Watch, Samsung Gear and Fitbit. According to the company IDC’s and their latest forecast, the wearables market is expected to grow by 8.2% throughout 2018, escalating to double-digit growth in 2019 and beyond – smartwatches are leading the way in wearable technology.

We are going to see wearables become much more mainstream in a number of ways including:

Secure transactions - By registering guests’ payment credentials in advance, event organizers can offer easy payments via wearables at food concessions, stores and other venues, while ensuring sensitive data remains secure.

Wayfinding - Used with beacons, smartwatches can help guests navigate through an event with ease.

Secure access - Wearables can also be programmed to act as electronic door locks for more secure access to sessions rooms, meeting spaces and hotel rooms.

Attendance tracking - Event organizers can gain precise info not only on the number of people attending sessions and activities at an event, but who is in the room.

Traffic flow - Combining wearables’ location data with mapping reveals how traffic moves and where people congregate.

Sponsor messaging - through RFID and push data, we can transmit information to attendees as they go past an area and trigger behaviours.

Gamification - Gamification provides incentives for desired activities such as networking or visiting sponsors.

Sign-ups - Instead of requiring guests to queue for an activity, organizers can enable sign-ups via the wearable and automatically notify the guest when their turn is approaching.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Facial Recognition at Events - For a number of reasons, from ease of access to security to social media, we will see facial recognition become a regular part of events. High-security events like UN Security forums and airports are already using this technology, so why not within events.

Voice Activated Assistants - Will we see events, venues and hotels incorporate tools like Google Home or Alexa into their infrastructure? This again is an alternate way to provide information and collect feedback.

Live translation - The world seems to be getting smaller and we have many more people from many different countries able to participate in events. Live translation provides a tool for attendees with different language backgrounds to easily interact.

Cryptocurrencies

We should expect to see cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin become more main stream, so we will have to get our heads around accepting alternate forms of payment.

Blockchain Registration and ID

Blockchain can help us to better integrate our attendees’ information across multiple platforms and partners seamlessly plus provide additional security measures. This integration will help customize each attendee’s experience, provide better security and provide better analytics.

Social Influencers

The importance of having social influencers support your events is increasing everyday – again, people believe what they see on social media. Look towards tools like Upfluence and Social Sprout to tie in social influencers into your brand and event.

Rideables

Watch for hoverboards and other types of rideables to make a presence at events – either as an expectation that your guest can bring their own, or that event organizers make rideables available to enable people to move through large venues.

Gamification

We are already seeing gamification at events, and this trend is likely to continue. The idea is simply to engage and entertain the audience. And we want to collect that data.

Cashless events

Whether it be through tokens, loading credits on wearables, or using systems like Apple Pay we will see this move forward. This reduces costs, theft and maximizes the guests’ experience.

There are lots of other examples of technology advancements in the areas of staging, lighting and design too. Here is a great video on what we can look forward to seeing on stages coming soon.

Event technology trends aside, the most important things for event organizers to remember is – the technology should be a tool to make the lives of your customers easier and more fulfilling. Hopefully, at the same time technology makes your life easier, saves money, and provides business insights you may not have had otherwise.

I recently read a study from Enterprise Event Marketing that found the use of event technology can increase attendance by up to 20%, but also reduce organizers’ costs by up to 30%. Funny enough, it also found that event organizers sometimes are hesitant to integrate new technology due to costs. This reminds us we have to spend money to make money.

By Wes Scott, President & CEO of EventWorx Corporation, Calgary, Alberta.

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Wes Scott
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shared photos courtesy of UNSPLASH

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