Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

January 20 2015

A Taste Of What Convening Leaders Attendees Were Drinking At The TechBar

By Mary Reynolds Kane

When more than 4,000 meeting planners and suppliers came together in Chicago last week, they were repeating the same word that’s been appearing everywhere in the industry for the past decade: technology. However, this time, hearing that familiar term felt a bit different.

“The level of conversation about technology is more sophisticated than it’s ever been,” Dahlia El Gazzar, CEO and Founder of The Meeting Pool, says.

As more meeting planners have started pursuing new mobile app solutions, testing new event management platforms and exploring emerging attendee engagement tools, El Gazzar and The Meeting Pool team collaborated with PCMA and Freeman to create TechCentral, brought to you by Dallas CVB. The area debuted in 2014 in Boston, but this year, it expanded to become one of the most consistently popular areas at the meeting. Planners could view demos from some of the up-and-coming names in event technology, hear from experts in short TechBytes sessions sponsored by Events DC and find answers to their own questions at the TechBar and Tech Clinics.

So what’s at the top of the list of those questions? The search for finding solutions to simplify and streamline their workflow.

“A lot of planners are looking for smart and collaborative project management platforms,” El Gazzar says. “Many of them still use Excel or their inboxes to manage their events, and that simply won’t cut it.”

Of course, planners are also looking for ways to transform attendee engagement and using new tools to enhance those interactions at their events.

“Beacons and wearables are on a lot of people’s minds,” El Gazzar says. “Some of them are using these newer tools on a more limited scale such as just targeting a specific group in their event or using geo-fencing in confined areas.”

“You have to start somehow,” she adds. “Smaller scenarios are a great way to do it, and the data you’ll get from the experience will give you ideas to do more on a bigger scale.”

While recent trends are gaining traction in the meetings industry, planners are still focused on finding affordable and efficient mobile app partners, and TechCentral offered a place to discover and compare app offerings in a more friendly environment: the App Alley.

“App Alley eliminated the intimidation factor that some attendees feel on a trade show floor,” El Gazzar says. “There were no big booths and oversized sales staffs. Instead, everyone was on the same playing field with one or two reps and an iPad to help attendees understand how each platform works.”

Teaching About More Than Meeting Tech

Meeting planners may come to Convening Leaders to recognize how technology can transform their own attendee experiences, but TechCentral wasn’t just designed to deliver solutions for on-site needs.

“Technology is playing a crucial role on both the professional and personal side for meeting planners,” El Gazzar says. “They need to understand how to apply new technologies to their own lives before recognizing how they can apply those same tools to their events and conferences.

With that in mind, some sessions aimed to tackle pressing personal questions such as how to tame email inbox overload, how to avoid PowerPoint presentation boredom and how to use the expanding world of apps to be more productive.

Opening A Tech Bar At Your Own Conference

Meeting planners have been working to stay ahead of the ever-evolving technological landscape, but many of their own attendees have struggled to keep up with the rapid pace of change. From physicians at medical conferences to teachers at educational conventions and more, El Gazzar highlights that other meeting planners are embracing a similar TechBar approach to helping their constituents. Over the past year, El Gazzar and her team have helped incorporate a TechBar component at 15 events. Whether attendees need to learn about new sales presentation technology, wearables in the healthcare industry or apps that will enhance team collaboration, she says that a TechBar can help increase attendee ROI.

“Moving forward, every conference needs to embrace a hands-on experience that helps attendees learn how to use practical technologies in their own professional lives,” El Gazzar says. “Just make it fun, and pick the right team to do it.”

“If attendees are going to invest money in a conference, they should be able to find answers to all the questions they have — ,everything from how to turn notifications off on their phone to which CRM solution should I be using for my business,” El Gazzar says.

Those questions encompass a wide range of expertise. From gaining the basic knowledge of how to use Twitter to learning how to work remotely on your tablet as if you are in the office, a TechBar can give new life to an important old adage: there are no stupid questions.

“It’s important to speak in a language that appeals to each attendee’s personal comfort level with these technologies to avoid overwhelming them,” El Gazzar says. “How young or old your attendees or exhibitors are doesn’t matter. If you can keep it simple, engaging and relevant, you’ll be successful.”

Did you saddle up to the TechBar in Chicago? What questions did you have, and what new insights did you take home? Go to Catalyst to share your thoughts.

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