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Is Technology #Necessary at your event?

Technology used to be a must-have for a meeting, but now it’s just another tool that has to justify itself

Mar 3, 2014

by Alberta Venture Staff

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Consider this the warning label on the gizmo’s box. Technology in meetings, conferences or events isn’t always a win. For one, the time required to develop a program skyrockets when technology is added, says Brent Taylor, managing partner with Timewise Event Management. “So, obviously, it’s easiest to just have a speaker standing up at the front,” Taylor says. “That’s the cheapest way to go.”

Three years ago, the idea of a person and a microphone being the focus point for a meeting would have been heretical – tech was trendy and everyone wanted to experiment with using it to enhance the experience. But Taylor says there’s a shift back toward the basics after disappointing results. “I think we had a tendency to do a lot of this stuff because it was just cool and you needed to do it, but it didn’t really add anything or it added little,” he says. “So we’re finding now that the question is being asked, ‘Does this really add anything to the event and what’s our return on it?’ ”

Tales From the Field

So you’ve read the warning label. Here are a few technology platforms available for your meeting or event, and some real-world stories of how they worked. Or didn’t.

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TECH: Poll Everywhere
COST & DIFFICULTY: 5/10
WOW FACTOR: 8/10
MAKING IT 2.0:
Polling handsets for attendees
ON THE CHEAP:
Smartphone text polling

Instant polling is a win for interaction, McVicker says. “What do you think of this idea? Yes, no?” McVicker says, dreaming of its use in a meeting. “You instantly know what people think of it, so it’s kind of cool. Any time you have an audience that’s engaged and is participating in that kind of stuff, the retention and the involvement of the event is increased for sure, so I think in that regard, I’d definitely be able to sell it on having a return for the investment.”

Real-world story
TECH: Text-message questions
RESULT: Negative

One client wanted the audience to text-message questions to their meeting’s keynote rather than simply asking them live. “The client was ecstatic about the number of responses, but I felt the 10-minute pause – while he vetted the 25 text messages – was an uncomfortable interruption,” Lou Dechant of Mediaco says.

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Real-world story
TECH: Live Twitter questions
RESULT: Positive

“I saw a few speakers who presented and they actually watched the Twitter feed, and they let that drive their presentation,” Taylor says. “It was very cool. They had people posting questions and they were watching for feedback – people were even saying things like ‘Oh this guy is way off base.’ I think that’s where it’s got to go. But again, it’s about cost.”

TECH: Video mapping
COST & DIFFICULTY: 7/10
WOW FACTOR: 9/10
MAKING IT 2.0: There. Big time
ON THE CHEAP: Ha!

“Instead of throwing images up on a white, 16-foot by nine-foot screen, people are starting to project things on different shapes, using whole walls and different surfaces,” Anderson says. “I think in 2014 you’re going to see a lot of video mapping [at conferences and meetings]. It’s the thing to do right now – throwing video images on spheres, or triangles, or sides of buildings. Stuff like that’s going to be very impressive.”

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TECH: RFID
COST & DIFFICULTY: 8/10
WOW FACTOR: 8/10
MAKING IT 2.0: Already there, hombre
ON THE CHEAP: Nope

“When you’re running a conference and you have people who pay a lot of money to have their trade show booth, there hasn’t really been a way of measuring except for people dropping their business card,” Anderson says. “What people are able to do now is scan RFID tags. There’s actually tracking in these tags so that you can see where people are visiting from. You can exchange information with your wristbands, like tapping them together to exchange business cards [virtually]. Some of the festivals you’re even going to be able to buy beer with your wristband – you’re able to load money on to it, swipe your wristband and pay for it that way.”

TECH: Eventbrite and alternatives

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COST & DIFFICULTY: 3/10
WOW FACTOR: 1/10-10/10
MAKING IT 2.0:
Go local, or create your own event app
(cost, 10/10; wow, 10/10)
ON THE CHEAP:
Local alternatives (YEG Live and others)

“There are so many ticketing options out there right now, and they’re all pretty much the same,” McVicker says of online registration tools. “I think sometimes they overcharge. For Edmonton, I really love using YEG Live, if you’re doing ticketing events. Sometimes going local is a pretty cool option.”

“Any online system does offer value,” Taylor says. “Eventbrite can be a very viable option, but if there’s a level of sophistication (multiple registration types, payment types) to the registration process, it most likely won’t be able to handle it.”

ALTERNATIVES
Cvent, SignUp4, a dedicated event app

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Real-world story
TECH: Event apps
RESULT: Zilch

Many of Chatterton’s Alberta clients are reluctant to spend the money to build meeting apps, even if attendees love them, she says. “I don’t know what the resistance is. I know that in the States, it’s used a lot more.”

TECH: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and others

COST & DIFFICULTY: 3/10-8/10
WOW-FACTOR: 2/10-10/10
MAKING IT 2.0: Live Twitter stream, interactive questions (warning: see below)
ON THE CHEAP: To get an advance conversation going with little investment, consider a LinkedIn group, Taylor says.

Real-World Story
TECH: Live Twitter feed at the Make Something Edmonton launch
RESULT: Mixed

“You just have to be very aware that it’s live,” says McVicker, who worked on the launch’s live Twitter-feed, and watched as it trended in Canada. “You can’t moderate it, so you have to be comfortable enough that whatever people say, you can either respond to or you’re comfortable with.” She knows this first-hand, too. During the event, one speaker made a, well, questionable comment about women. A tweet storm ensued on screens all around him, live for the world to see. “Bottom line is you can’t moderate it,” McVicker says, laughing. “You have to be prepared to deal with it. You can’t combat live.”

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Plain talk: Lou Dechant, Mediaco, Edmonton

“My personal opinion of the overall use of social media at conferences and everywhere really is that it internalizes and suppresses true collaboration and networking. We already have a world where everyone is wearing headphones with their noses buried in their mobile device, their thoughts lost in a virtual world of their own making. Granted, I am 48.

If I was 24, I am sure my perspective would be different. I think the best way to encourage sharing and collaboration at a conference is to stimulate the lost art of conversation through breaks designed for networking that include activities that force delegates to meet and have the opportunity to talk to as many new faces as possible.”

Warning: Risks May Exceed Rewards

Another factor to consider when contemplating adding tech to your meeting or event is that using it will increase the number of external vendors you’ll have to rely on. And that always raises the risk levels, says McVicker. “A lot of people oversell you thinking you don’t understand what they’re talking about, unfortunately,” McVicker says of audiovisual companies. “So I’ve found that you really have to work hands-on with any of your supporting technology companies. Don’t take anything for granted.” That doesn’t just mean annoying technical interruptions, either. Now it’s about reputation. “People are getting killed on that,” says Anderson. “Before when you had a bad event, people just at that event knew. Now everybody knows, with word of mouth and social media.”

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