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Thirteen Meetings Technology Predictions for 2013.
By Corbin Ball
Saturday, 17th November 2012
 

These are exciting times, the rate of technology change is accelerating with thousands of ideas, apps and innovations bubbling up to help meeting planners, exhibitors, venues and attendees to do their jobs better.

This annual review covers many of the major events tech trends to watch for this coming year.

1. Meetings technology will continue to get cheaper and easier to use.

This trend in software programming is driven by continued advances in web services  and open-source technology. This makes it easier, cheaper and faster to create, distribute and use technology to help in meeting planning. 

There are hundreds of free, freemium, low cost, and do-it-yourself (DIY) options providing lower costs and more flexibility for planners. Examples include ContantContact’s new Online Event Registration starting at $20/month, a small fraction of typical online registration costs. Guidebookoffers a free meeting DIY mobile guide app with up to 500 downloads per event. Google Hangouts On Air offers free multipoint video conferencing, steaming and recording. Joomla provides free web site building and content management tools with over 9,000 plugins. …just to name a few!

These forces are also driving mobile app development with hundreds of thousands for free or very low cost app available; many of them of great help to meeting professionals.

2. IPads and tablets will make paperless conference binder a reality.

The days of finding the event planner by looking for the person carrying the thick 3-ring binder full of paper are rapidly drawing to a close. Meeting planners are trading their heavy paper “conference bibles” for svelte iPads and other tablets. These light, portable, instant-on, GPS-capable devices with large, high-resolution screens and with a host of free and very low cost apps make accessing and editing conference-related documents possible.

See The Paperless Conference Binder – Using Tablet Computers and iPads at Events (right) for more detail including a listing of many of these apps.

3. Paper will not be needed for conference attendees.

Paper event programs and exhibition guides go out of date almost the minute they are printed. In addition, they are heavy, static, difficult to search, costly to print/ship, and require chopping down trees. These paper programs and guides usually end up in landfills.

Mobile event guide apps are light, searchable, updatable, and interactive providing a much richer event experience for attendees. There are a host of options to improve the attendee experience including fully searchable conference agendas, full exhibition information, interactive exhibition/venue floor plans/maps, networking, social media integration, group or sub-group alerts, polling, surveys, wayfidning, GPS and local area information. treasure hunts/gaming, CEU tracking, ticketing, event access control, appointment making, personalized agenda making, and business card exchange just to name a few. There are sponsorship advertising opportunities to offset the costs and most come with very valuable event analytics to see what, when, and where attendees are interested.

There are a number of models including free/freemium (Guidebook, Leebug), venue-provided (SwiftMobile), HTML5 web apps (EventMobi, Zonear), HTML5 web app integrated with regisrtration companies (eTouches,  Ungerboeck Mobile, Certain Mobile) and high-end branded native apps including AllianceTech, CoreApps, CrowdCompass  EventPilot, Grupio, QuickMoble and Sherpa Solutions. More than 70 of these companies are linked here. 

Another way to reduce paper at events has been the elimination of paper course notes at many events. Unfortunately, the benefit that course notes provide in increasing audience learning and retention has also been eliminated. 

Fortunately, there are apps and services filling this gap. EventPilot provides the ability in its app for attendees to view, take notes, and save presentation slides, posters, and other documents.NiceMeeting, MyThoughts and others set up local Wi-Fi servers to deliver the presentation slides to attendee iPads and other tablets. These presentation management tools also add polling and Q&A capabilities as well. They engage the audience, increase audience retention, while eliminating the need for paper as well.

4. Meeting planners with will use mobile apps to help with hotel site inspections.

On the broad view, destinations, hotels and convention centers are building apps to sell and engage meeting planners, attendees and visitors before they ever come. Three outstanding iPad examples are

Tourism Vancouver, the Heathman Hotel, and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. All three are nicely designed, interactive, GPS-enabled with rich mapping, and provide a much richer and intimate experience than a paper brochure or a web site. Expect to see applications similar to these become the norm for all meeting venues and destinations.

For event planners doing site inspections, there are numerous free and/or very low priced mobile apps to assist in the process.  DropBox provides free iPad, iPhone and Android apps to open view documents stored in the cloud and synched with your office computer.  Evernote is a free mobile note taking app to organize notes (including pictures, voice, and text notes) and sync with a group access file in your office – a perfect tool to use during a site inspection. Evernote integrates with Pentultimate, another very low cost mobile app that allows free-hand drawing (with your finger or more accurately with a stylus). DragonDiction is a free tool that converts you voice into text. SpeedTest is  a free app to measure Wi-Fi upload and download speeds.

More specifically, Jim Spellos and I, with the assistance of QuickMobile, have developed TechSpec, a free technology site inspection app designed to help meeting planners and hoteliers assess and compare hotel technology capabilities.

5. TIered free Wi-Fi will become available in many convention centers and hotels.

The explosive use of mobile devices for attendees, meetings planners and exhibitors is making access to Wi-Fi at events a necessity, not an option.  Wi-Fi has become the lifeblood of event communications! More than 60% of Twitter and Facebook postings are mobile. Onsite gaming, networking, messaging, polling, survey and lead exchange apps requiring internet access are becoming common place.

Fortunately, many facilities are beginning to recognize the basic internet for attendee is becoming as an expected utility as water or lights. SmartCity, the largest internet provider for convention centers has started to provide free basic internet access in their public spaces and at a reasonable daily rate for those than need more bandwidth.

A number of hotels with meeting space provide free access in the lobby and/or guest rooms including Omni, Kimpton, Fairmont, Peninsula, Hyatt Place, Acor, Interstate Hotels, Radisson, Shangri-La, and Aloft. Unfortunately, there are holdouts such as Marriott, Westin, and Hard Rock among others that usually charge for internet access throughout their facilities.

Faced with the growing demand for bandwidth mentioned previously, my opinion is that a basic, throttled level of Wi-Fi (512kb/sec) should be provided throughout a meeting facility. This is enough to tweet, answer emails, view basic web pages but not fast enough to easily stream video. If you need more, than pay a reasonable rate.

6.  Event Wi-Fi problems will get worse before getting better.

This demand for Wi-Fi at events is growing by high double-digit numbers each year. Tablet computers, on average, use 400% more bandwidth than other mobile devices and are becoming the fasted adopted technology hardware ever. Attendees have multiple mobile devices and expect the same broadband experience they receive at home and office – even though there may be thousands of people trying to access the Wi-Fi signal simultaneously.

The recent Dreamforce Conference 2012 in San Francisco had over 10,000 simultaneous Wi-Fi users. The London Olympics logged more than 1 million Wi-Fi accesses on the BT network during the games. 5,000 attendees at the London Frieze Art Fair consumed more than t terabyte (1 thousand billion bytes of data).

The good news is that the technology exists to provide very high density delivery of Wi-Fi. Xirrus provides Wi-Fi arrays that can handle up to 1,792 simultaneous users from a single access point.

The bad news is that the equipment and bandwidth is expensive and many meeting venues are lagging far behind in the ability supply the increasing tsunami of demand. Both meeting planners and venue sales people need to educate themselves and, at times, each other on this very important, but technologically complex, issue.

7.  New indoor positioning options will provide better event and exhibition indoor way finding and mapping.

Standard GPS does not work indoors. Standard Wi-Fi triangulation only gets to about a 90 foot (27 meters) accuracy -- not good enough for precise tracking though an exhibit hall, venue or for person-to-person finding at an event.

Google Maps released its indoor mapping API last November. As of last July 2012, more than 10,000 indoor maps are available including airports, museums, shopping centers, and hotels. Companies such as Wifarer are using similar Wi-Fi fingerprinting technology that works quite accurately in some situations. Two challenges are that this technology is currently only for Android devices, leaving iPhone, iPad and other mobile devices out. The other challenge is that it may not be very well suited in the constantly changing environment of an exhibit hall, where this Wi-Fi footprint can change substantially with each new setup and where the hall is packed or empty.

Still, precise mapping indoors way finding could be of significant benefit. Two new ways of doing this have emerged this year.

IndoorAtlas recently announced an indoor positioning system using the earth’s magnetic waves (similar to how birds find their way).  This video demonstrates very precise navigation through a large grocery store. However, this product is only is available for Android and could be likely be prone to the same issues with the constant changes to an exhibition hall.

Sherpa, the maker of ActivTouch, a robust convention and exhibit guide app, has recently launched WaveLocator, a novel indoor positioning system using ultrasound. Combined with ActivTouch, the microphone of the user's smartphone receives specific codes used to help attendees to quickly identify their current location in the venue and map routes to discover different events, products, or exhibitors. Users can also locate their friends and business acquaintances. A hall can be set up and mapped in just a few hours using Sherpa's tiny, battery-powered ultrasonic transmitters that can unobtrusively be attached to pipe/drape or signage.

Society in general has come to rely on GPS for finding our way in cars. There is a natural demand to bring this technology indoors to venues of all types including event facilities. These multiple paths mentioned point to this becoming a significant event trend to watch. 

8. Internet video will see unprecedented growth for event marketing, communication and audience engagement.

Internet video has great opportunities for used for events. Videos can engage viewers, can increase retention of content, are accessible via many devices, and can be easily shared via social media channels. Videos can improve search engine rankings and video email marketing has fully trackable and higher click-through rates compared to traditional marketing methods. The costs to produce and distribute video from point of inception to delivery have reduced dramatically.

As events are visual, the visual nature video is a natural alternative to help market and extend the reach of events. Videos can be used before, during and after the event to convey the message and to improve attendance at future events. See the following whitepaper Using Video to Promote and Extend the Life of Your Events detailing referenced statistics and dozens of ways and ideas on how this is happening.

The development of BOBtv from bXb Online, a global online event platform designed specifically for events and associations supports this trend. It is a standardized way of making event video content available to remote attendees either live or on-demand and is the winner of this year’s EIBTM Technology Watch for meetings technology innovation, the industry’s longest-running and most prestigious meetings technology award.

Endorsed by major meeting industry associations such as PCMA, ASAE and IAEE, this vendor-agnostic platform will curate event content and make it readily available to potentially a much larger global audience. In essence, BobTV, or similar technology, has the ability to become the moderated “YouTube” channel for event communication.

9.  Hybrid events will continue to grow spurred by an increasing variety of low cost distribution options.

HD video cameras are common in smart phones. Multipoint HD video communication is available free through Skype and Google+ Hangouts. Hangouts On Air provides free video streaming and recording services. YouTube provides free a free video storage and distribution channel.  AnyMeeting provides WebEx-like video, desktop and slide sharing with recording, survey tools, ticketing and other bells and whistles for free for up to 200 attendees in its ad-supported version. The paid versions are quite inexpensive as well.

It has never been cheaper or easier to distribute video and slides for hybrid events or video-on-demand to extend the life of the meeting after the event.

Still, event producers are still coming to grips with how to best use this wealth of new tools. Special handling is needed in order to engage a remote audience. Some best practices include providing an emcee for the remote audience, significant white space time blocks, onscreen timers of when the next presentation will start, game challenges for the remote audiences, and opportunities for remote questions and comments.

As these streaming video with slide sharing capabilities open up, it is likely that virtual event tools using Second Life-type avatars will continue to diminish in use.

10. Consolidation and acquisition of meetings technology vendors will continue.

Significant events technology acquisitions occurred this year:

Active Network acquired StarCite. Previously, Active Network acquired RegOnline and WingateWeb in 2008. StarCite previously acquired pioneering events tech companies: b-there, RegWeb and Onvantage (a merger of SeeUThere and PlanSoft in 2004). These acquisitions represent some of the biggest and pioneering names in meetings technology.

Cvent acquired CrowdCompass and Seed Labs (now CrowdTorch). This significant move by a major registration into the mobile space will likely continue. Cvent, having received $136 million in investment funding, more acquisitions are likely to continue.

These acquisitions point to a trend by larger event technology companies to expand their offerings to move to a beginning-to-end solution in an integrated platform. It is natural for a registration company, for example, to incorporate mobile apps, using the same attendee/speaker and session data. Buying rather building the technology is often the fastest was of accomplishing this task. An integrated platform makes it simpler for the meeting planner (buying from one technology provider instead of many) and for the attendees with integrated technology solutions before, during and after the event. Expect to see this more event technology acquisitions in 2013.

11. Event gamification will increase attendee engagement and drive behavior.

Gamification makes a game out of traditionally non-game activities such as an event. Games can be used to engage attendees in a variety of methods including:

  • achievement badges
  • achievement levels
  • leader boards
  • a progress bar or other visual meter to indicate how close people are to completing a task a company is trying to encourage, such as completing a social networking profile or earning a frequent shopper loyalty award
  • virtual currency systems for awarding, redeeming, trading, gifting, and otherwise exchanging points
    scavenger hunts
  • challenges between users
According to Bunchball, “People have fundamental needs and desires – for reward, status, achievement, self-expression, competition, and altruism among others. These needs are universal, and cross generations, demographics, cultures and genders.”

Mobile technology opens up a wide range to gamification options for events. Here are some examples:
  • PollEverywhere’s MIT $100K completion award
  • Cisco’s efforts to engage virtual attendees
  • SCVNGR challenges and scavenger hunts for events
  • EventMobi’s GamifyApp for events
  • BoothTag
  • GoGames Convention Games
  • Magency Digital
  • PeopleHunt.me
With the advent of multiple inexpensive mobile gaming tools, expect to see significant increases in usage for events

12. Social media will continue to integrate in the meeting planning process to engage attendees with new products continuing to emerge.

Social media has become widely used for many events. Twitter event hashtags are common and many companies and associations are using Facebook and LinkedIn Pages to promote events. Polling and Q&A can be managed via Twitter. Some registration companies such as Amiando and EventBrite can use Facebook to sell event tickets.

Relative new social media products have moved into to event space including Pinterest. The South by Southwest Conference, known for early meetings technology adoption, was replete with multiple Pinterest boards.  With the highest click-through rate of any social media and second only to Facebook in average time spent by users monthly, Pinterest seems a natural to promote events, venues, destinations, speakers and more. It is also fun. Check out my Pinterest Board to see how a variety of boards can be used to post video, slide shows, infographics, favorite app and travel pins.

Still, I believe we are just scratching the surface in using social media to its full potential for events. The ability to social feedback to help shape content and event design has been hardly touched. The ability to personalize the event experience has great possibilities.

The ability to use social media to enhance networking at an event holds very significant potential. Meetings were the original social media, and these social tools have the potential to work very well for events and exhibitions. Expect to see increasing use of mobile social media apps specialized for events including Bizzabo, Shhmooze, Qrious, and PeopleHunt. Finding the right contacts at an event can greatly improve the value – mobile social media tools can help in this process.

13. Despite the increased use of virtual meetings technology, face-to-face meetings and tradeshows will remain viable (a repeat from previous year’s predictions).

Virtual meeting and webinar usage is up. However, meetings and tradeshows continue to provide very good value for your education, networking, and sales budgets. Events offer unparalleled opportunities to bring buyers and seller together, to build relationships, to brainstorm, to network. For an exhibitor, it is often the best way to meet so many qualified buyers in such a short time. For buyers, it is a great chance to meet vendors of interest – all together in one location, categorized and mapped for your choosing. The events, tradeshow and hospitality industries are relationship-based and events and tradeshow are some of the best ways to build these relationships.

Although webinars are good for short information exchange, meetings offer a much richer learning experience. What happens in the meeting room is important – people have made the commitment to be there and are not as distracted as in the office. However, the conversations in the hallways, receptions and exhibit hall contribute greatly to the information exchange. Meetings provide a vastly richer, more targeted, and more focused learning experience than any virtual meeting. There is no such thing as a “virtual beer!”

©2012 Corbin Ball

Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP is a speaker and independent third-party consultant focusing on meetings technology. With 20 years of experience running international citywide technology meetings, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity He can be contacted at his extensive web site: www.corbinball.com and followed at www.twitter.com/corbinball

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