More than 240 meeting and event planners gathered in New York City’s Financial District for PlannerTech on August 13 to talk tech with the brains behind some of the industry’s biggest ideas. Hosted at Convene (formerly known as Sentry Centers) by Liz King Events, the day featured 16 rapid-fire sessions designed to get planners thinking about ways to incorporate new digital and social tools into their next event. And they didn’t wait until they left the event to get started—PlannerTech’s #techsytalk hashtag was the No. 2 trending topic in New York on Twitter, and there were 83,683 social media impressions inside the Bizzabo app (which includes Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn) throughout the day. Read on for eight of the best ideas, pulled from PlannerTech’s sessions, to help make your next meeting as tech-savvy as this one.
1. Use video footage to create a content machine. Film interviews with speakers, attendees, and sponsors; collect behind-the-scenes footage; and ask people for their opinions on sessions and experiences at the event, suggests Qrious CEO and co-founder John Federico. In addition to using the videos themselves, you can use screenshots as photos, or publish the audio as a podcast. Fancy equipment is not a necessity—today’s smartphones and tablets have great quality cameras, and all you need is a few free apps to edit the footage. Once you get more comfortable, add a tripod and microphone to create professional-quality video content that will really stretch.
2. Tell a story with your digital data. Her first year at your conference, Merideth, a hypothetical attendee, used an event’s smartphone app to earmark sessions and keep track of who she wanted to connect with. She came back the next year, and according to LinkedIn she now works for someone who she had wanted to meet at the conference last year. Merideth doesn’t show up the next year, so you use her Facebook network to find a common denominator among last year’s attendees and her. By connecting Merideth with other University of Michigan alumni who attend your conference, she’s back in the fourth year. Now, she’s a partner at a firm with the person she had been working for two years prior. Looking back through your data, you find that Merideth became connected to this person on social media while at a session with him in her first year at your conference. You, as a planner, had a profound effect on Merideth’s life. In his session, Kyle Christian Steele, CEO and co-founder of Doccaster, a data collection and analytics platform designed to tell these kinds of stories, used this example to demonstrate the importance of attendee data. As long as you disclose to attendees that you are using their digital information, you can use it to better your event, he says.
2. Have a technology contingency plan.It’s not enough to have the bare minimum when it comes to tech, says Chris Kelly, principal at Convene, where PlannerTech was held. If a speaker is critical to your program, be prepared to conference them in if they can’t physically get to the meeting or to connect to a new speaker if your keynoter needs to cancel. If you’re planning a creative or decision-making session, you need enough whiteboards and flat screens for idea sharing, but you also need a room rigged for a video conferencing so you can bring in an expert or professional at the drop of a hat. Kelly calls it “information persistence.” “If people are immersed in their ideas, they can start to build a shared mind,” he says, and that should never be halted by technical difficulties.
3. Support the technology your attendees already have. “Everyone who comes to a conference today is an expert on tech compared to 20 years ago,” Kelly says. “But if people need a bit of tech assistance usually they just do without, and their meetings suffer.” Combat this by supporting the technology that your attendees walk through the door with and already know how to use. Make sure there are a sufficient number of stations to charge phones and tablets, offer free high-speed Wi-Fi, and run a Twitter feed parallel to the primary presentation so attendees can connect. “When people talk high tech, they want to see a Tupac hologram at the Grammy Awards,” Kelly says, “but [Wi-Fi and a Twitter feed] is basic, and it works.”
4. Use augmented reality to add a layer to your event. To put a complicated subject in simple terms, “augmented reality” is a regular view of what is in front of you supplemented by a digital layer, explains Kristi Casey Sanders from PlanYourMeetings. Once you set up the augmented reality, attendees can use an app to look through a screen and see a layer of information superimposed on the physical environment. This could be useful to find your way around a trade show, by layering a directory right on top of the scene in front of you. Or, scan a program and watch your logo come alive, followed by a video welcoming you to the event and links to supplemental documents—or even links to sponsors.
5. Send a “hashtag e-mail.” In his research, Splash CEO and co-founder Ben Hindman found that the clients he works with see three to four times more social activity when an e-mail goes out on the day of the event announcing an official hashtag. Hindman says not to waste your day-of e-mail on sending an agenda or a list of speakers because attendees most likely have seen it already or will receive it when they register. “Hit ‘em with the hashtag,” he says, “then make sure you have the hashtag on display all over the event.”
6. Make your event go viral. When planning a theme or subject for your event, think about what will invoke a reaction or emotion in your attendees because “viral happens when people feel something,” says Mikki Glass, co-founder of Pickit, a digital sweepstakes management company.And loyal attendees will almost always be willing to help you spread the word about your event—but most planners don’t think to ask. “People who love you will do great things for you,” she says.
7. Incentivize behavior with gamification. Gamification apps like DoubleDutch use points and badges to engage your attendees in a branded atmosphere, says Justin Gonzales, marketing communications manager at DoubleDutch. Attendees can “check in” at sessions, review the event venue or meals, and share photos; completing each task earns them a different digital reward that they can use in competition with others at the event. Sponsors can get involved, too, creating branded badges or offering discounts or swag just for checking in to their session or booth. “Gamification works because it leverages and plays on our natural desire for competition achievement and status to improve on attendee engagement,” Gonzales says.
8. Where will your invitation be read? You need to be nimble with your communication efforts. There’s no one way to invite people to a meeting,” says Event Farm marketing manager Brennan McReynolds. Try to e-mail for people who haven’t responded to direct mail in the past, or consider Facebook. Learn from your RSVP behavior and segment your audience based on response metrics.