Tools of the Trade Show
Four tech tips to make your event greener, your attendees happier and your life simpler
by Alix Kemp
Has your conference joined the 21st century yet?
There are a plethora of apps, online services and software packages promising to make your event more profitable, manageable, environmentally friendly and, ultimately, more fun. But if you’re still doing most of your planning on paper, where do you start? How do you move beyond Facebook pages and Twitter hashtags to get the most out of social media? From getting your guests in the door to doing it again (and even better) next year, here are some of the latest tools to make your event shine and tips to get the most out of the ones you’re already using.
Illustration Luc Melanson
1. Online Registration
No matter how large or small your event, you can simplify your life with one easy step: Move your registration process online. Brent Taylor, a managing partner with Timewise Event Management, says he’s surprised by how many companies still do manual registration over the phone or through mail-in forms. “The primary tool that can help an organization that’s not using a planner, and the number one tool that we use, is an online registration system,” he says. Many online registration or ticketing services won’t charge you for simple online registration for free events, and for paid events, online registration makes ticket purchasing painless for you and your guests.
Online ticketing doesn’t just make thing simpler; it also makes it easier for you to know how well you’re spending your marketing dollars. Mike Anderson, the CEO and executive producer of Trixstar Productions, says his organization benefits from being able to see the return on investment from its social media advertisements. “Before, we were never able to track where people are coming from,” he says.
2. No Paper, Please
When it comes to conference materials, there’s no need to hand out stacks of paper to your guests. Too many schedules, maps and booklets end up in the trash when everyone goes home. Their smartphones, on the other hand, will stay with them. Move those materials online and make them interactive. Personalized apps for a single event start at around $5,000 and allow you to keep your conference materials easily accessible and even updateable on the fly. Social media features let attendees connect with each other, check in to sessions and provide feedback.
If you’re on a smaller budget, consider using a mobile-enhanced website to make schedules and session information available on the go. You may want to keep a few print copies on hand just in case anyone loses their phone or leaves it at home.
3. Social Media
“Social media needs to have a purpose and have a value to utilize it,” says Taylor. “You don’t want to do it just because it’s cool or unique.” That means there’s no point to having a real-time Twitter feed projected on the wall during your keynote, something that can turn awkward fast if the presentation falls flat or the bar runs out of wine. The value, says Taylor, comes from monitoring social media for real-time feedback about your event. Anderson agrees. “What we’re able to do is control the conversation. If someone is having a problem… 90 per cent of time, if you know where that conversation is happening, you can respond and come up with a solution.”
Taylor says one trend he’s seen is speakers monitoring the conversation on social media at a computer set up on the stage. That allows them to adjust the direction of their talk based on audience reaction and course-correct if it’s not going well.
4. It’s All About Data
Big Brother is coming to conferences, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In 2007, IBM installed tiny radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags in badges at its Information on Demand conference, allowing it to track which sessions were most popular, and which common areas they frequented.
The technology is the same as that used by tap-to-pay credit cards, but the applications are nearly infinite. Organizers can know immediately if a particular session reaches full capacity or determine how much food or alcohol they should serve based on data collected at previous events. A Dutch company called Badge2Match even created RFID-enabled badges that would alert people wearing them if they were within 15 feet of someone with similar interests. Creepy? Well, maybe a little.