Event professionals are well familiar with the headlines about the industry’s continuing technological transformation. Building new opportunities with blockchain, broadcasting holograms, and 3D-printing a convention center — the road ahead seems to rely on machines, goggles, and robots.
While some of the bigger changes may be years away, what’s on the immediate horizon for the face-to-face industry? To get a sense of what to expect in the new year, I caught up with David Haas, director of digital marketing services at Freeman. As costs come down for some of the most exciting digital technologies, Haas says he believes that meetings and events will welcome some of the tools that have matured over the last few years.
Attendees Will Be Able to Get Answers Anytime
Digital engagement begins long before an opening session. Event organizers have been slowly catching up to the consumer-facing world in terms of building intuitive websites, and in 2019, Haas expects to see more meetings and conferences add the convenience of chatbots to the pre-registration experience.
“Retail brands, insurance companies, and banks have been using chatbots for years,” Haas said. “Events are fashionably late to the party here. We’re starting to see more of them make finding online answers a more efficient process. Chatbots hare a relatively small investment, and they offer the ability to track down information without having to search all over a website.”
Those bots wear the important shoes of an always-available customer service representative — a must-have in an age where everyone demands immediate answers. “Events have to offer some level of 24x7x365 assistance,” Haas said. “In an always connected world, people don’t have patience to wait or hunt anymore.”
We’ll Say Hello to a New Kind of Help Desk
Part of that lack of patience can be attributed to the exploding popularity of smart speakers made by Amazon, Apple, and Google. When attendees are at home, they can easily get the forecast for the week, search for their favorite songs, and determine what to make for dinner. Those speakers aren’t just talking back at home, though. Events like Marketing Nation Summit are turning up the volume on their voices.
“There is a real potential to reimagine the stodgy help desk,” Haas — who wrote an informative piece on lessons learned from testing intelligent assistants at events — said. “Instead of hiring temporary staff who aren’t familiar with the show to look up information for lost attendees, artificial intelligence can give an audience all those answers more quickly.
“There are the basics such as bathroom locations and recommendations for dinner in the evening, but where this can really move the needle is by giving attendees a chance to ask bigger questions,” Haas said. “For example, we worked on an event where attendees could walk up and say, ‘I’m a CIO; where are all the other CIOs right now?’”
For those C-level information officers, the responses offered insights into what their peers were finding useful at any given moment. Were certain sessions especially appealing to that audience? Or were a lot of CIOs visiting certain areas in the exhibit hall? Haas said that the right-here, right-now ability of artificial intelligence (AI) can make a bigger difference than a pre-populated directory. “It’s not a static app with recommendations made before the event,” Haas said. “It’s a real-time look at what people are actually doing during the event.”
Facial Recognition Will Fuel Bigger Results
I’ve written about the basic benefit of facial recognition for attendees — shortening long check-in lines — but Haas pointed out that the technology can make a big difference for sponsors, too. “There are countless screens on-site at events,” Haas said. “What if an organizer has the ability to tailor a sponsor’s message to certain groups of attendees instead of a one-size-fits-all approach? There’s no reason why a smart sign couldn’t detect who you are with a simple face scan. Maybe you would see a different set of sponsorships than I do.”
Those smart signs will be able to capture even more valuable information, too. “The ability to provide analytics increases,” Haas said. “You might be able to tell a sponsor that the average person stood in front of a message for 15 seconds and whether or not they were smiling or nodding in agreement. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
This futuristic approach to personalized promotional messaging clearly comes with a set of questions about privacy and data management. However, Haas highlighted that the potential benefits far outweigh those concerns.
Second-Screen Experience Will Get More Sophisticated
Attendees may give more of their attention to a venue’s smart signs next year, but they’ll still spend plenty of time in the glow of their own smartphones and tablets. At PCMA Convening Leaders 2019 in Pittsburgh Jan. 6-9, participants will be able to explore Sync, Freeman’s proprietary second-screen technology. In addition to harnessing the power of the screens in their hands, the platform aims to give attendees the ability to tap into knowledge from everyone in the room.
“The person that’s speaking at the front isn’t the only expert,” Haas said. “Where we’re moving with second screen is a place that helps crowdsource comments and ideas from the entire audience.”
All the possibilities of these predictions are exciting, but Haas highlighted that, in order for them to make a real impact, the attendee should be at the center of every decision about digital technology. “It’s all about attendee ROI,” Haas said. “If we can provide them with a better experience that actually gives them more meaningful connections, the industry is moving in the right direction.”