Some innovations can be lifesaving (hello dishwashers! Also, heart transplants, airbags, and carbon monoxide detectors) so advances in technology are always exciting. But “exciting” does not always mean “useful,” and for meeting planners there is a fine balance between upgrading an event and wasting resources on a fad.
Tim LaFleur, CMP, director, event technology and information services at Meetings and Incentives Worldwide, says of new event tech, “It can be a pop of cool, a wow factor. But you have to make sure it brings value to the event. Consider the meeting goals first, then choose the technology.”
For event planners, new technology should fit five criteria or it can be less of an innovation and more of a step backward.
It must further the goal of the conference.
It must improve the attendee experience.
It must not drain a planner’s time away from other needs.
It must be safe and easy to use.
It must be affordable.
Some cool gadgets might fulfill some of these criteria. Hoverboards, for example, are relatively affordable, might improve the attendee experience by making getting around a convention center quicker and more fun, and don’t require much, if any, input from meeting planners. But they do have a tendency to burst into flames, so they fail the safety test, and they don’t further the goal of the conference. (Unless you count the networking and bonding experience between attendees in the first aid room.)
We featured three technologies in our March issue that pass all five tests. Meeting professionals we talked to about chatbots found that the limited amount of time they invested in “training” the bot paid off by freeing up their teams from answering questions onsite. A case study shows how a digital assistant designed for home use can enhance customer service at an annual convention. Attendees entering a conference using facial recognition technology are happy not to stand in line, and meeting planners using biometric software can welcome attendees to an event by name, making the experience both highly efficient and personal. No shuffling through files looking for badges and asking for photo I.D.s.
And after years of using virtual reality for entertainment and the occasional site visit, its value as a teaching tool at conferences is finally being recognized. If you think about, this particular tool is long overdue. Do we want airline pilots practicing high-risk landings in a flight simulator or with a plane full of passengers? Exactly. So why would we teach physicians how to use a new medical device using a PowerPoint, when they could be a virtual participant using it in a surgery? Virtual reality has been shown to produce very high information retention rates, helping you fulfill your educational goals and engage your attendees. VR won’t break the bank, it’s easy to use, and doesn’t require any additional investment of time. Better yet, unlike hoverboards, you won’t end up with blood on the ballroom carpet.
Here’s how some planners are implementing the future, now.