In the past, you could choose between chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Today, we have flavors like black raspberry taza chip yogurt, brown butter bacon, and sweet avocado cayenne. Similarly, we used to have meeting technology that registered event attendees, period. Eventually, it included sourcing functionality, and later enterprise-level systems offered by Supplier A or Supplier B—but that still seems quaint by today’s standards. Now we have at least eight different categories of meetings technology, with 20-plus specific product types, ranging from event apps to audience engagement solutions to enterprise systems that have become so multifunctional they can even help manage floor-plan design. There are now so many flavors that it has become difficult to decide which we want and, even worse, whether we can combine our scoops of black raspberry taza chip with and our brown butter bacon ice cream, and how they will work together.
What explains this evolution in meetings technology, and more importantly, what does it mean for you? Here I’ll look at the primary reasons for the emergence of new technologies, and in later articles explore their impact on user communities.
As discussed in their book on meeting and event technologies, The Face of Digital: How Digital Technologies are Changing the $565 Billion Events Industry, Marco Giberti and Jay Weintraub note that investors are enthusiastic about event tech because of the size of the industry and the number of potential opportunities. Investors see the event tech space as ripe for disruption, much like the book and record industries were several years ago, and they believe that event participants are looking for more personalized experiences when attending events; more like their interactions with consumer-oriented technologies. Investors are so bullish on event tech that they have invested in close to 400 companies over the past several years, to the tune of almost $2 billion.
This flood of investment has triggered the launch of numerous technologies that rethink the event planning and execution processes, and how attendees experience the meeting. One example of this phenomenon is matchmaking technology. Networking is one of the most important reasons people attend live events, and in the past, participants often depended on bumping into someone in the hall to make valuable connections. Today, systems that use networking algorithms can, by asking a few questions during the registration process, help an event participant identify, contact, and meet people with similar interests.
And as event owners look for ever-greater efficiencies, new or improved technologies, such as participant registration, check-in, and abstract and presentation management systems, are introducing ever-increasing levels of ease and speed. No longer do your 400 attendees have to wait to sign-in to a particular session; these days, electronic badge scanning or even facial recognition software is the fast solution. The bottom line is that demand exists for these tools because they improve event execution and the end-user experience. And the happier attendees are, the more likely they are to change behaviors in the way you, the event owner, want them to, or to continue to demonstrate loyalty to your organization or brand.
Additionally, with 54 percent of companies increasing spend on live events over the past three years (according to the 2018 Harvard Business Review research report, “The Event Marketing Evolution," marketing executives are facing increasing pressure to go beyond their anecdotal beliefs that live events are a valuable part of a marketing campaign, and to justify, using event data, spending 20 percent to 30 percent of their marketing campaign budgets on live meetings. Many of the emerging event technologies can assist in this area. For example, event apps and second-screen technologies are able to collect data on participant engagement during a live event, and can help document which aspects of sessions are most interesting to attendees. Smart badges, beacons, and attendee-tracking apps now typically provide heat maps and dwell time statistics to identify where exactly attendees are spending their time, and how long they spend in each location. The digital touchpoints of many of the new technologies provide a valuable view into the behaviors of your event participants, which translates into insight on the return on investment of your event.
As these new purpose-built technologies emerge, aggregators have found ways to integrate them using APIs (application programming interfaces), in an effort to create best-in-breed solutions. A number of suppliers have designed customizable suites of products that can be combined to provide end-users with exactly the functionalities and capabilities they need. These aggregated systems can be very useful for organizations seeking highly robust functionality, a limited-solution set, or lower-entry costs.
In the next installment of this series, I’ll review the potential benefits and disruptions associated with these new technologies and how they impact the user community.
Shimon Avish is principal and meetings management area leader at Acquis Consulting Group.