Skip navigation

A New Association Partner: Artificial Intelligence

AI makes the attendee and exhibitor experiences better through predictive analytics. Here’s how.

2020 was the “year of technology” in the meetings industry, given the near impossibility of hosting in-person events during the Covid-19 pandemic. But with association-event planners strongly focused on virtual-event platforms, there’s one tech element that hasn't gotten the attention it deserves: artificial intelligence.

In short, AI is the next step in data analysis. AI-based tools can crunch the data associations gather year-round from members, along with member data from event-management platforms, event apps, RFID badges, beacons, and other sources. With that data, “cloud computing is now fast enough to conduct ‘machine learning’ that finds patterns and probabilities unique to each person,” says Jeanne Sheehy, chief marketing officer for association-management firm Bostrom.

From there, AI-enabled apps are then able to present the specific content, personal contacts, and other resources most useful to each attendee, both ahead of an event and on site as more attendee data is collected through the event app. The kicker: Attendees likely would not have discovered or considered many of those resources on their own. That’s the promise of what’s known as predictive analytics.

The Many Uses of AI
For association events, “there are powerful things going on with AI in marketing and in managing an attendee’s journey and experience,” Sheehy says. First, “I am seeing it used heavily with content development and with networking, which is followed by its use in marketing.” In other words, member response to each targeted marketing communication gets analyzed so that the process can be repeated for each attendee in a more refined fashion.

AM1120AIusesSheehy.pngIn order to bring other data into the process that “provides a good, wide windshield for AI to analyze, you can ask potential attendees to add their LinkedIn or other social-media profiles during registration or through the event app,” adds Sheehy (pictured here). “Your system will then start placing attendees in buckets based on similar job descriptions and topic interests, creating what are the best attendee personas we’ve seen to this point.”

“With so many content offerings across multi-day session tracks plus so many possibilities for individual or small-group meet-ups, associations should leverage AI to point each person not just in a good direction, but in the best direction,” notes Will Curran, founder of meetings-technology firm Endless Events.

AI-capable chatbots are another feature that can improve the attendee experience on site, analyzing the information attendees put in and then providing better answers and suggestions to attendees as the event goes on. Sheehy says that products such as 42Chat “use attendees’ mobile devices and its own AI to follow an attendee from the moment they check into the event.” Longtime event-technology consultant Corbin Ball adds that event-networking apps such as Grip and SwapCard also have AI functionality built in to maximize the attendee experience.

Bolt-On or Built-In?
Because today’s leading meeting-management platforms were built at a time when AI did not exist, “they are playing catch-up in this area,” Curran says. “Alternatively, many of the medium-sized event-management platforms that were not big players in in-person events are now becoming bigger players because they’ve built a lot of virtual-first features that naturally lend themselves to AI.” Ball adds that “the major registration companies are moving into AI, but often through integration with specific AI products.”

Brecht Fourneau, senior director of marketing for EMEA and APAC for Aventri, a widely-used meetings-management platform, says that the firm “does leverage AI to offer smart content and networking recommendation to attendees. And we can always help customers who want to integrate any other AI-powered platforms to perform specific tasks.”

Further, while “I cannot say much about future Aventri product releases, we strongly believe that AI will play a major role in future events. Besides giving smart recommendations to attendees, it can also help planners get insight into the quality of content and networking activity. Just think about the possibility that event software could basically compose an entire event agenda by itself, or identify ideal sponsors and exhibitors" based on the totality of data from an event.

Sheehy advises that association planners “look closely at their current vendors and ask which AI capabilities they are using in different areas, and if there are AI apps that they know can be bolted on to their system to add value for attendees, sponsors, exhibitors, and the association. And keep track of which vendors across the industry are updating their systems with an AI-first approach.”

In total, “the benefit of AI is offering the most personalized experience from the minute attendees walk into the meeting space and the exhibit hall,” Sheehy says. “The event host knows what an attendee’s needs are, even if he or she doesn’t fully realize what they might be. As a result, each attendee gets a tangible ROI that is entirely their own.”

And in return, an association gets satisfied attendees who keep coming back.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.