ITB 2022 Special Reporting
12+ Meetings Technology Trends to Watch for 2012.
By Corbin Ball
Tuesday, 27th September 2011
The rate of technology change is increasing; meetings and tradeshow technology continues to advance with technology products becoming better, cheaper and easier to use and innovation is bubbling with new options.

Here are some of the major meetings and tradeshow technology trends to watch for this coming year.

1. More free or low cost apps for events and trade shows.

"Information technologies of all types are doubling in capability every year" – Ray Kurzweil, Technology Pioneer and Futurist

Another way of looking Kurzweil's observation is the cost for the equivalent technology is being cut in half every year. Web software development is much faster and easier than ever before. What used to take $100,000+ and a team of programmers weeks or months to do, can now almost be accomplished by a gifted teenager in his/her bedroom over the weekend.  Web services and application programming interfaces (programming standards allowing easy data sharing among websites) allow greatly simplified sharing of data between web sites. For example, an online registration program can work with Saleforce.com or other contact database simply and quickly without expensive and time consuming custom integration programming.

Consequently, many free or very low-cost web tools have emerged to help meeting professionals do their job better.  There are free online databases of meeting facilities (Cvent' Supplier Network: cvent.com/en/solutions/event-planning-software.shtml); free exhibition floor plan/sales tools (Floorplangenie.com); a wide range of social media tools for promoting events (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Wordpress, Flickr, Slideshare, etc); free HD video conference tools (Skype and Google Hangout); free collaboration tools (docs.google.com and join.me); thousands of free or very low cost mobile travel and other apps to help meeting professionals and attendees, and much more. These are just a few examples. There are many more to come.

2. Mobile technology crosses the chasm from the early adopter to the early majority for events.

Recent data from MPI"s FutureWatch 2011 Survey and others indicate that more than 80% of meeting professionals use smartphones and other mobile devices in their jobs. Yet, relatively few planners (9%) have used mobile applications yet for their own meetings. This is about to change. There will be a very significant adoption of mobile apps for events in 2012 and 2013. If a meeting does not have a mobile app, the attendees will soon wonder why the meeting organizers are behind the times.

There are hundreds of mobile companies and mobile apps targeting meeting professionals (I have more than 200 linked at my regularly updated online web links file: www.corbinball.com/bookmarks/#MobileApps ). Although there will likely be a shakeout similar to the dot.com deflation in the late 1990s, the companies that survive will change how we do business.

There is a very strong business case for adopting mobile apps for your events including better real-time distribution of conference information, better location-aware/way-finding capabilities, event greening through paper reduction, better onsite networking, lower cost survey/polling options, enhanced branding, better attendee analytics, better CRM, advertising revenue generation and enhanced attendee experiences.

Another driver increasing the use of mobile apps at events is be the growth of applications targeted at the meeting venues rather than the meeting planner. Meeting facilities managers will either resell (at low cost) or give the app customized to the event to meeting planners and attendees. Examples of this model areSwiftMobile.com and eMarketing360.com.

3. Do it yourself (DIY) mobile event apps will proliferate.

One of the hottest areas of mobile development is in the low-cost DIY arena. It is possible to create a fully featured, cross-platform business app (iPhone, android, iPad and mobile web) with customized logos, colors and content using BiznessApps.com for as low as $39.95/month. This DIY site is very easy to use with video tutorials throughout.

Although BiznessApps has an "events" option among the dozens of business templates offered, there are several companies that are targeting events specifically with DIY products including: Grupio.com, GenieMobile.com; EventKaddy.com and even the high-end QuickMobile.com.  Often times, these will be at a fraction of the cost of a standard application built by mobile app programmers.

4. HTML5 will become the standard for many event mobile applications.

Although I like the customized look and feel of native mobile apps built specifically for iPhones, iPads, Android, Blackberry, and Windows 7 phones, there are problems:
  • Building customized native apps for each phone is substantially more expensive and requires much more programming expertise than the building a single web app that can be viewed by all smart phones.
  • Sometimes the apps don't work – especially for the Android operating system which has hundreds of phone models with different screen sizes and processor speeds. The low-end "free" android phones simply do not have the power to run some apps.
  • It takes time and money to get the native apps approved through the various apps stores. For example, the iPhone/iPad store usually takes up to a month for approval and costs a least $99. Substantial last-minute changes simply can't be done.
HTML5 (HTML Version 5) is the latest version of the Hypertext Markup Language, the standard programming language for describing the contents and appearances of web pages. It provides many benefits for mobile app development over native apps or previous versions of HTML:
  • It is much less expensive than native app development. The language itself is simpler and programmers don't have to worry about building and customizing the app for all the specific mobile operating systems.
  • Unlike previous versions of mobile web, users can download the web pages to the phone. -- it does not require continuous access to the internet for it to work. It will give a much closer "native app" experience the previous mobile web versions.
  • HTML5 supports geo-location so that users can access mobile websites that access their position (a benefit that formerly was restricted only to native apps).\
  • It will work across all modern smart phones by simply launching the web browser.
  • It does not require approval through the app stores, saving money, but, more importantly, saving time. Changes to the app can be done on the fly substantially reducing development time and allowing much greater flexibility.
There are limitations with HTML5, however. Scrolling through large amounts of data (such as hundreds of names on an attendee list) will require either a native app or internet access using HTML5. Large, complex meetings will usually require native apps. They HTML5 pages also tend to look more basic in appearance and navigation.

Despite these limitations, the move to HTML5 will drive down the cost and development time while increasing the flexibility for mobile app development for events. It will also make the do-it-yourself model easier to provide as well.

5. Conference recording and distribution is becoming cheaper, faster and much more capable.

Conference recording has been around for decades starting in the days that audio-cassettes of the presentations were mass-produced onsite and sold in the foyer. Recent technology advances have made it possible to quickly and relatively inexpensively distribute speaker video, audio and visuals over the web in real-time and on demand afterwards.

This technology to do this was simply not there just a few years ago. The price of high-definition video cameras has plummeted (we are even carrying them around as mobile phone feature). Accessibility to reliable broadband is as available for most meeting facilities and the price is dropping. Video streaming encoders are turn-key. Presentation management software has proliferated. 

For example, the "video recording and webcasting studio in a box" pictured below is the Roland Systems Group (rolandsystemsgroup.com) VR-5 incorporating a 5-channel video switcher, audio mixer, video playback, recorder, preview monitors and output for web streaming. What previously would have required crates of equipment and $100,000+ has been shrunk into a 9 pound (4.3kg).box for under US$5,000 greatly simplifying the production, recording and streaming of live events.

Using these smaller, cheaper, and faster tools, it is now possible for conference recording companies to record video/audio and slides for dozens of simultaneous presentations and have them available for sale or distribution on the web that evening.

Streaming technology for real-time distribution is also easier and simpler than in the past. Some of the companies providing these services are: Content Management Corporation cmcgc.com,  Freeman freemanco.com, OmniPress omnipress.com, PSAV Presentation Services psav.com, Sonic Foundry sonicfoundry.com and Soma Media soma-media.com.

More information and details on the benefits for conference recording can be found at the following article: http://ow.ly/6i8Mh

6. Hybrid meetings will extend the reach and broaden the impact of face-to-face events.

A hybrid meeting is an event that combines both face-to-face and virtual experience for local and remote attendees. It will become commonplace for many events in the next few years. Meeting professionals are recognizing that it has become much easier to extend the impact of an event beyond the four walls of the meeting room. A hybrid event can multiply the event's impact and can recruit new attendees for future events.

Live steaming sites such as LiveStream.com provide easy methods to stream conference video to remote attendees with a range of pricing plans from free to enterprise level. Increasingly, interactive tools such as polling and remote Q&A will engage the remote participants. Twitter.com using event hashtags is currently being used to allow remote attendees to comment and ask questions during a presentation as well.

Skype.com can connect HD video signal from four locations for free. The HD option allows events to bring in remote speakers or groups in high enough quality to project on a large screen in a meeting room.

Google Hangouts (plus.google.com/hangouts) is a great free, new option for events allowing video from up to ten locations to be seen on each screen in a reliable and relatively low-bandwidth format.  Event Camp Europe (eventcamp.eu) has recently used Hangouts to have a "Hybrid Wine Tasting" connecting face-to-face groups from four cities in Europe. The wine was shipped to the four cities, poured and distributed, the wine was introduced and described, attendees held the wines, smelled the bouquets, and tasted them. All five senses were engaged simultaneously in multiple locations!

7. Near Field Communication (NFC) will provide streamlined connectivity and services for events.

NFC is a short-range wireless connectivity standard to enable communication between devices when they're touched together. It is expected to become a widely used system for making payments by smartphone in the U.S.

The applications for events are significant allowing for very fast, secure and simplified means of:
  • Electronic ticketing
  • Electronic business card exchange
  • Credit card payment
  • Easy pick up of conference literature, exhibit brochures, course notes, and other digital documents
NFC has been widely used in Japan and parts of Europe for the past few years (I have personally seen people paying for packing meters and tram rides in Estonia simply by tapping their phone to the transaction device).  ITN International (itn-international.com) has successfully used NFC at events in Europe for some time including contact exchange, e-ticketing, and micropayments.

Companies such as Poken.com use NFC to provide many of these features with a small, inexpensive (US$18), NFC-enabled "pokenTAG" that is worn around the neck and glows green when information is exchanged.

The game changer, however, will be when NFC becomes commonly available in mobile phones. Blackberry's three new Curve models are NFC-enabled as are dozens of Android phones as well as many Nokia  and Sony phones.

The tipping point, however, may be if the soon-to-be-released iPhone5 will offer NFC.  Whether it is this year, or next, NFC will provide much better and faster data exchange, ticketing and micropayment options for events.

8. YouTube and other social publishing tools will be used increasingly to promote and manage meetings and to engage attendees.

Much has been written about the power of Facebook.com and the other social networking sites to engage potential attendees before an event to increase attendance and networking onsite. I believe the wide range of free social publishing tools will also be used increasingly for similar purposes:

  • Twitter.com (technically a micro-blog and, therefore, a social publishing tool) is widely used at events with event hashtags to engage attendees before, during and after an event. Planners should advertise the event hashtag in advance of their events to increase utilization.
  • Free blogging tools (such as WordPress.com) can be used to create event blogs to increase attendance. Ask your speakers to participate to add comments about their sessions. Invite influential bloggers to your event, and give them internet connections to spread the word.
  • Encourage attendees to upload their event photos under a designated event name (using the Twitter hashtag) to Flickr.com so everyone can share their experience. This page can then be used to help promote future events.
  • Speakers can share their slides using SlideShare.com.
  • YouTube.com (the world's second largest search site after its owner Google) is potentially one of the most promising event promotion tools around. The old saying goes that "A picture is worth a thousand words."  A video can be worth a thousand pictures and be far more compelling than web pages or brochures full of text! Video is the most compelling language of the internet.
A few YouTube tips:

a.)   Encourage your speakers to make short video describing what they will speak on and upload this to YouTube.
b.)   Link or embed these videos at your event site.
c.)   Keep the videos short (no more than 3 minutes).
d.)   Record in HD.
e.)   Choose a compelling thumbnail image using the posting tools YouTube provides.
f.)    Enable the comments and sharing options.
g.)   Rename the videos using meaningful names (MPI-WEC-speakers.mov is much better than 38404949.mov)
h.)   Use a keyword-laden, meaningful description of the video.

9. Social gaming tools will be used to engage face-to-face and virtual attendees at events.

People spend more than 3 billion hours a week globally playing online games! Jane McGonigal in her noted TEDTalk speaks of how gaming can make a better world by deeply engaging people and by encouraging collaboration and cooperation. She proposes to harness gamer power to solve real-world problems.

Online gaming engages people. It can immerse in a different reality. It can be very fun!  …And it will find its way increasingly into events.

On a basic level, location-aware programs such  as Gowalla.com,  FourSquare.com  and  Facebook.com/places encourage people to check in at locations. People will win badges and prizes and receive tips from others. This, however, is much more than building loyalty at a favorite restaurant. All of these free online tools have developed options for checking in at events. These location-aware gaming options can help networking at events.

Scvngr.com  is another online social gaming tool (free for non-profit groups and associations) that engages attendees with treks and challenges. This tool has been used recently at the Consumer Electronic Show and SIGGRAPH shows to guide people through the exhibit hall and to win prizes by performing a challenge such as signing up at an exhibitor web site.

Social gaming is also being used to engage virtual and hybrid meetings attendees. Contests and challenges have been proven to engage people attending virtually. The Cisco GSX hybrid conference had 19,000 virtual attendees with one million views, 13,000 active players of the "Threshold" an interactive espionage immersive reality thriller, 8,000 participants in group chats and 9,5000 playing GSX mini games.

10. iPads and tablets will provide a new medium for accessing data at events.

The iPad is the most recent of the long-running, game-changing innovations from Apple. This and other tablet devices represent new ways to access information. Light weight, highly mobile, highly intuitive. The larger screen allow for bigger fonts, easier readability and more real estate to display material in a page-like format. The navigation is intuitive (with your fingers instead of a keyboard and mouse).

Tablets are a natural for events as our industry is a mobile one:
  • We do business away from our offices and from our "large screen" computers on a regular basis. 
  • Most of us don't carry around notebook computers at events for a number of reasons: weight, security, the inability to access easily while standing, etc
  • We constantly need to manage a wide range of data at events. For lack of a better way until now, much of these data have been in the form of paper.
  • Tablets will increasingly be used at events for interactive conference programs, course notes distributions, surveys, interactive exhibit floor plans, product displays, information kiosks, lead exchange, speaker Q&A, onsite blogging/social networking and more.
See more on the impact and benefits of iPads and tablets at: http://ow.ly/6jdGw

11. Free, easy to access Wi-Fi is increasing expected by meeting planners.

Free basic Wi-Fi broadband internet access is expected by planner in the meeting room, guest rooms and the lobby. Although some luxury properties are clinging to internet fees as a profit center, internet access is viewed by attendees as a utility similar to lights and water. Planners are saying "do not nickel-and-dime us with add-on charges for basic internet access." If "Motel 6" can provide free Wi-Fi, so should meeting hotels and venues.

However, this does not mean unlimited access. Internet bandwidth can be expensive and most venues cannot handle unexpected, very large demands.  If 500 event attendees pulled out their iPads to access HD video simultaneously, there are few venues in the country that could handle this without making special arrangements. If a group needs dedicated bandwidth, a dedicated IP address or other internet services, it is reasonable to charge for these. But basic, throttled access (with a minimum of 500kb/second download -- fast enough to access email and limited video streaming) should be free.

Additionally, venues need to make logging onto the Wi-Fi network easier. Opening the browser and clicking "OK" is all that should be required.  As mobile devices are being used for internet access with greater frequency, make the logon screen readable in smaller formats as well. Better yet, use autosensing technology and provide a mobile web log-in page optimized for a smaller screen.

See more on the advances of hotel guest room technology at: http://ow.ly/6kJqx

12. "Indoor Positioning Systems" will greatly assist in event and trade show way-finding and navigation.

 Standard GPS does not work indoors. Standard Wi-Fi triangulation only gets to about a 100 foot (30 meter) accuracy -- not good enough for precise tracking though an exhibit hall, venue or for person-to-person finding at an event.

New technology from at least two companies (Wifarer.com and Sherpa-Solutions.com) promise to overcome these challenges to provide very precise positioning (as fine as 1 meter) by tracking Wi-Fi enabled smart phones, carried by an increasingly larger percentage of the population.

These tools will be able to provide:
  • precise positioning
  • personal navigation through a venue/exhibit hall with optimized routing
  • friend/contact finding and networking (with permission)
  • location-based content delivery (exhibit discounts or video as examples)
  • optimized exhibit hall viewing by product category
  • exhibit hall "hot spot" and traffic flow analytics
  • several other features will likely develop from this exciting technology.
In addition to venues and convention centers, this technology holds great promise for shopping centers, airports, hospitals and museums. A short video demonstrating the application in a museum can be seen below: 


©2011 Corbin Ball Associates - Reprinted with Permission

Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP is a professional speaker and 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 on Twitter: www.twitter.com/corbinball
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