Many people assume that a successful event would only need traditional AV basics: projectors, screens, microphones, and lighting. That’s definitely a good start. But event planners in the know realize that event technology now includes tools that enhance an attendee’s experience in new and creative ways.
This is a review of interactive event technology you’re probably already familiar with. But before we get to the good stuff, here’s the prerequisite.
0. Internet Connectivity
Internet access is a necessity in our modern world. While there are some definite benefits to disconnecting from our mobile devices once in a while, the truth is your attendees’ busy lives won’t stop just because they’re at your conference.
It’s true that many people pay for data plans that allow them internet access without interruption in their daily lives. But when you have people traveling from across the country, they are relying on GPS for directions and fielding emails away from their trusty Wi-Fi networks. This can eat up data fast.
So unless your event’s focus is an escape from technology, or your venue is in a remote location free from the invisible radio waves that deliver our data, in every space and during every moment of your event, your attendees must be able to connect to the internet.
After all, the internet is empowering! Entertaining! And, yes… a little distracting.
But don’t get hung up on that! There are multiple ways to harness short attention spans, the ubiquity of social media, and other technologies that ensure your attendees are engaged and sharing their experiences with the outside world. A few of them are listed below.
But they won’t work if your attendees can’t connect to the internet.
1. Social Media
Social media is all about building a sense of community, creating connections, and sharing experiences with the unlucky folks unable to be there with you.
Preparation must begin months in advance. Your goal is to inform your followers, while stoking their excitement for what’s to come. We recommend that you create a hashtag specific to your event. This hashtag will be used every time you discuss your event in every social media platform where you have a presence.
During your event, you can use social media as an instant means of audience interaction. With your established hashtag, you’ll be able to instantly track and respond to your attendees’ reactions on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Additionally, you can:
• Set up a social media wall to display every image, tweet, and status update for all to see.
• Create polls on Twitter to get immediate feedback from your audience.
• Encourage attendees to share real-time updates and summaries for their followers.
• Take questions via social media postings.
• Conduct giveaways based on social media participation.
A note on hashtags
A hashtag is a word, phrase, or acronym used as a label to identify and organize social media posts on a certain topic. The symbol # is placed before the word/phrase/acronym to activate the hashtag function.
For example: South by Southwest is an incredibly fun annual event that combines music, film, and interactive media festivals into one large multi-week party in Austin, Texas. Every attendee, musician, filmmaker, and company who hopes to be present at next year’s event will use #SXSW17 when posting about South by Southwest. Event organizers will use that hashtag to solicit participation for their Panel Picker programming planning system. Attendees will rely on that hashtag to find out about the best local restaurants, places to stay, and free daytime parties and secret shows.
2. Mobile Device Usage
In the past it would have been perfectly reasonable for an event planner to prohibit the use of cell phones and tablets during a presentation. After all, bright screens can distract from what’s happening on stage, and looking out at an audience of people with their heads down could be discouraging to any presenter.
In our view, the benefits of mobile device usage (with phone ringers off, of course) far outweigh the potential pitfalls. How else will you get real-time reactions and images shared to the world?
When social media works well it’s a shared experience that doubles as free publicity.
And you never know what will go viral.
But if an important moment isn’t shared immediately, it may never be shared at all. So make it clear to your attendees that they should feel free to whip out their phones and tablets when the feeling strikes them.
3. Mobile Event Apps
As we all know, the smart phone begat the mobile app. And our potential for productivity has never been higher.
Its development may be expensive and time-consuming, but a bespoke mobile event app can be the most useful tool available for you and your event attendees. Here are a few options for functionality that would be available if you go this route:
• Event registration – both advance and day of, using credit cards, PayPal, or Apple Pay
• Electronic event badge storage – for example, a bar code or QR code generated for each registered attendee
• Up-to-date schedule of events – with session description, room location, exhibitor details
• Customizable user profiles with in-app messaging capability – allows for a searchable mini social network and encourages networking and interactivity among attendees
• Social media content streams – all event-related social media content collected in one location
• Event updates –push vital information to all attendees, like Wi-Fi codes, venue and schedule changes
There is no limit to the functionality you can provide for your attendees with a mobile event app.
4. Live streaming
It’s so important that you create an immersive experience for your virtual attendees. That means your event must be designed with consideration for the streaming audience. Presenters must be captured clearly on camera. All visual media used as part of a presentation must be visible in stream, or provided as downloadable content. Audio must be pristine. Chat functionality is also a must.
There is a cost for robust, skip-free streaming. To cover that cost we recommend live stream registration to cost at least half as much as in-person registration.
And of course, a recording of your live stream can be saved for your organization’s archives or sold to people who were unable to attend either in person or via the live stream.
Interactive technology is already ubiquitous in our daily lives. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be fully integrated into today’s events. By encouraging use of these specific tools you allow for more interactivity. And you are directing the flow of information for your optimal use.
It’s important to remember that event technology changes rapidly. All we can do is adjust and embrace accordingly. We’re particularly excited about virtual reality and 360-degree cameras. While nothing compares to in-person networking, VR will definitely improve immersion for virtual attendees and provide experiences at future events we are incapable of imagining.
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