Smart events reflect digital evolution
New technologies can of course deliver numerous benefits in the event industry. Well optimised participant management systems, for instance, can save a company valuable time and money on processing. Mobile apps can give participants a new dimension of networking opportunities as well as practical assistance by providing information and helping them with organisational matters. As they arrive, many guests have come to find virtual platforms helpful and indeed indispensable. Interactive tools have long been an integral part of events, e.g. live voting conducted by the presenter and the provision of content information for anyone who is unable to attend in person. New applications are available for use after an event, to help with the accounting of travel expenses, with reporting and with following up new business contacts – tools that function as interfaces between real meetings and virtual contact.
However, this increasing digitisation of events also has its undesirable side-effects, particularly a ubiquitous and sometimes almost unmanageable information overload, a sense of ongoing availability, the feeling among participants that they are being monitored and of course the potential transparency or even vulnerability of personal or corporate data security. Moreover, the advent of new technologies also presents quite a few challenges, as corporate departments – e.g. travel and event management, IT, HR and accounting – need to be seamlessly networked with one another. Even a single media disruption in the data chain may mean that the next networking level just grinds to a halt. In addition, everyone who is involved, regardless of age and expertise, needs to familiarise themselves with the relevant digital tools. It is therefore vital that they should be user-friendly and suitable for everyday use, while also requiring a good deal of sensitivity in deciding when to use which of the various tools, so that a given application can do full justice to the target group and the content of the event.
So it’s good to think twice before setting up a food printer for lunch at the next conference, a robot to monitor the various stages of the event or a drone to hand out conference papers, and it might be somewhat inappropriate to call a meeting with everyone turning up in the form of 3D projections. After all, it may just be little bit over the top.
Event communication in the 2.0 era
Digital evolution has revolutionised our communication in all spheres of life. Whether it’s a stationary desktop PC or a portable laptop as a work horse or a tablet computer as a lifestyle gadget, we are not far off those visionary future scenarios surrounding smart products whereby our entire working and private lives are totally networked via micro-sensors, with programmed routines and multiple mobile internet connectivity. Data glasses and data watches, service robots, smart buildings, smart vehicles and even smart clothes will transform our world of communication and indeed at an amazing speed.
Over 2,700 trendsetting technology products were presented at the recent international Consumer Electronics Show 2015, most of them with direct impact on our ability to communicate. Human beings as communicators are increasingly merging into the world of virtual technology, with off-body products (e.g. smartphones), on-body gadgets (e.g. smart watches) and in-body technology (e.g. smart pills).
Technical innovations of this kind have triggered a huge transformation of values and new communicational phenomena, particularly in the event industry. After all,an event – which takes place in the real world – is the epitome of meetings between people, of networking, of exchanging information and of mutual interaction.
The new technical options have also led to a transformation of event formats. If we were to believe some of the forecasts, we might conclude that traditional conferences have had their day. More realistically, however, we are likely to see an amalgam of conventional and progressive formats. The audience are no longer just recipients of clever sound effects or humorous presentations, but they are actively integrated into the event. Content is created through a team effort – both analogue and digital content, and indeed before, during and after the event.
In their everyday life and working environment, a modern, forward-looking event participant therefore expects to receive information and to interact with others on the available channels of their choice. This puts the focus very much on traditional qualities such as service, benefit and impact across all the different media platforms – printed media, the web, smartphone apps and social media. In this context digitisation can only be helpful if it transforms products, messages and content into a tangible complex of different uses and into a service that meets the needs of a given situation. In other words, it’s all a matter of service!
Digital event optimisation
Some service providers in the event industry have already implemented this digital trend. The professional planning of an event and good quality assurance require a virtual participant management system as an organisational tool. Web-based information, registration and booking tools are available which save event planners a lot of time, so that they can concentrate on the actual content. But an automated registration procedure, digital planning and follow-up routines also benefit the participants, speakers and service providers.
Analogue networking – a core element at any conference – is enhanced through the use of digital methods when contacting participants about the event. This is where apps are useful for direct interaction, while websites on desktop computers and mobile devices can be used for indirect information gathering, and so-called iBeacons are ideal for live on-site visitor communication via Bluetooth, enabling them to network, to vote, to present questions to speakers and to communicate in real time. Furthermore, organisers can gather smart data after the event and thus use personalised search results to analyse participants’ data and improve the event.
Other areas that have been discovered by the event industry are storytelling and content marketing via social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc. have long been useful in arousing interest in conferences and other events and in ensuring that the relevant content is geared towards the target group. In addition, there are special tools and apps for conventions, meetings and other events. They enable event managers to conduct cross marketing, manage sponsorships, open rating portals, conduct scheduling, book workshops, publish participants’ and speakers’ personal profiles and presentations, send out live information about an event, set up surveys and feedback questionnaires and enable networking and communication between all the stakeholders of an event. Ideally, a participant management system, web-based applications, smartphone apps, cloud storage, visitor terminals, event and presentation equipment and also analysis and reporting tools should all be coordinated among each another, allowing a seamless flow of information and communication.
State-of-the-art event and media technology
While communications technology focuses on the personal devices of individual participants, today’s event and media technology seeks to generate large-scale attraction to an event. Technical innovations are in fact taken into account at an early stage, whenever a building is being planned by today’s modern architects. Yet even existing venues and hotels with conference facilities can have smart systems added to them or can be enhanced by them.
Using multi-screen projections, for instance, it is possible to show a range of images next to one another on a large surface and to create quite impressive effects. A conference room which might otherwise be quite ordinary can be transformed into a spectacular 360° screen, and the wall of a building can be turned into an XXL stage.
Also, an increasing role is now played by LED technology at events of all kinds. The modules of an LED system are flexible, stylish and can help to make full use of the available space at venues of any size whatsoever. One particular benefit is the cost efficiency of LED systems, as they are up to 70 per cent less expensive than conventional projection methods.
If an organiser wants to save human resources and process costs or if they want to ensure a certain level of sustainability by avoiding travelling, there are several options. For instance, they might use satellite venues – a proven method whereby a speaker gives a talk at one venue while being followed in several other places at the same time. The procedure is similar with video conferences where participants can be added in different places via video links. By using augmented reality tools it is possible to avoid the cost of transporting expensive products or large objects, as they can be placed on a large stage and then made visible in 3D through mobile gadgetry.
3D has even become a genuine option for attending meetings and other events, and 3D telepresence may soon replace two-dimensional video-conferencing. In the not-too-distant future anyone wanting to shake hands with the person next to them might find themselves reaching out into thin air.
Facts and figures vs. needs-focused factors
The planning of an event is not just based on hard facts. While there are of course certain facts and figures that are required such as a specific date, a certain number of participants, a destination, a hotel category, a budget, the number of overnight stays, certain requirements on the conference room, the equipment, etc., there are also several needs-focused factors, e.g. the type and purpose of the event, its target group, character, values and motivational elements as well as the need for a specific ambience or atmosphere, etc. Moreover, increasing digitisation means that such needs, in particular, can be a genuine challenge.
Whereas facts and figures are requirements that can easily be digitised, needs-focused factors are specific personal values and individual needs which cannot always be dealt with by organisers, participants or service providers at the click of a mouse button, as neither their identification nor their fulfilment are necessarily possible through some purely digitised processing. And so there are still some sensitive areas where consultancy, planning and bookings are deliberately handled offline. No matter how sophisticated one’s digital media may be, an event still involves bringing together people within the real world – people who need to be motivated, inspired or convinced by a training activity, a business idea, a new product or a brand. This requires far more than simply researching and then booking certain services for an event. In fact, what makes an event unique is attention to numerous emotional criteria that go far beyond facts and figures. They are the ones that “touch” the participants of an event and leave a lasting impression. Although they also require state-of-the-art digital tools, there has to be a high level of personal commitment and a good intuitive feeling for the “analogue” needs of all stakeholders.
Summary: Back to the Future
Despite all progressive digital trends, which have undoubtedly enriched today’s event management and implementation practice, it is important for us to remember certain values in the event landscape. For instance, any new technical dimensions will only work if they are based on a robust foundation of a genuine service mentality.
If there is too much digital activity, interactivity, communication and information, then a traditional talk with an old-fashioned speaker system at the front, a few simple snacks during the break and some nice chats in the foyer can occasionally be perceived as a welcome change.
Any event can make a lasting impression, in both analogue and digital terms, if it has a good mixture of innovative technology, a few cool gadgets, an event format that is geared towards the target group, if it meets current trends and if it has a plausible value system, a few conservative elements, motivational stimuli and some inspiring content.
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