ITB 2023 Special Reporting
How to Use Technology to Plan a Successful Event.
By Anna Johnson
Tuesday, 31st December 2013
Exclusive Feature: These days, event planners have a lot more on their plates than before, gone are the days when the most important issues an event planner had to worry about were the colour of the invitations and whether there was enough food for the guests.

In the information age, technologically advanced input is playing an increasingly crucial role in events, and is an absolutely necessary part of any event planner's toolkit.

Today, events that make use of only big screens and PowerPoint presentations appear woefully unsophisticated in a world where mobile apps and social media marketing have become de rigueur.

Event planners need to familiarise themselves with the various technological tools at their disposal in order to organise events more efficiently and to gain greater control over the attendee experience.

Event preparation

These days it is essential for an event to have its own website in the big lead up. A simple WordPress template can be used and updated by anyone who can use a word processor and allows event planners to build fairly sophisticated websites.

When skilfully deployed, online content can not only provide information on an upcoming event but can also serve as a promotional tool. Pre-event videos can be posted to provide an introduction to an upcoming event and to give attendees a taste of what to expect from a session or keynote.

For instance, the South by South West festival employs video recordings, keynote snippets and interactive elements on its website to generate interest in prospective attendees. Timelines, schedules and line-ups should be broadcast ahead of time so prospective attendees are given the advance notice they need to make time to attend the event.

The power of the web can be harnessed in a whole host of other ways to promote an event. Proficiency in social media marketing is an absolute must for event planners. Online promotional content can take on many forms depending on the needs of the event in question.

For instance, downloadable PDF files can be useful for attendees who need to access material on their smartphones or tablets. Video conferencing applications such as Google Hangouts or Skype can be used to broadcast information and updates on an event in real-time.

An event planner may want to provide a solution for potential guests who are unable to attend but who still want to be part of the action in some way. Using technology to enable those not present to witness or participate in the event in some way can make an event much more inclusive.

For instance, for a fee, guests who are unable to attend a conference may be permitted to watch in real-time through videoconferencing or live webcasting. Those who are unable to ask speakers questions in person can be encouraged to direct their questions to them via email or other electronic avenues.

Setting up the event venue

Advanced technology plays a huge role in the setting up of venues these days, and not making use of the appropriate technology or having up-to-date facilities might leave a sour taste in the mouths of attendees. Free wifi and fast internet access are no longer merely nice to have but absolutely mandatory.

The prevalence of smartphone and tablet ownership means that attendees will want to check their email or surf the internet during an event. Free internet access will also enable attendees to make internet posts and tweet about the goings on, which can then generate free publicity. If internet access is not available, the event may be disrupted by a stream of guests seeking refuge outside the event area in a bid to connect to the internet.

A good venue should not only be able to support all the technological requirements but should also be flexible and versatile enough that it can be adapted to the needs of the event at each stage.

For instance, an event may need congregated seating in the morning for a preliminary presentation followed by smaller and more segregated clusters in the afternoon to enable small group discussions or workshops and finally a mass dining area in the evening that can accommodate food and drink. A balcony, garden or lounge can be excellent for networking and informal socialising during breaks or before and after the event.

One example of an event venue that demonstrates such flexibility is The Event Centre at the Star in Sydney, which has undergone an $870 million redevelopment project. The Event Centre is a highly versatile venue with 720 retractable theatre seats, movable roof lights and revolving facades that allow its 1,077 square foot event space to be transformed to suit a wide variety of events, whether a ballroom environment, 80 booths for trade shows or 3,000 seats are needed. In addition, the venue is technologically advanced and can support a wide range of technological equipment.

Encouraging participation during the event

An event planner's key concern is the enjoyment and participation of attendees. Lacklustre attendee participation can severely impact the atmosphere and negatively affect attendees' perception of an event. Fortunately, there are several technological tools that can enhance attendee participation.

For instance, an Audience Response System (ARS) such as a voting keypad can be used to obtain live audience feedback in an efficient manner. Organising a quick quiz with the use of voting keypads at the start of an event is a great way to break the ice and get attendees to loosen up. Apps such as Join Speaker can perform the function of an ARS without the need for special equipment if attendees are equipped with smartphones or tablets.

The prevalence of Twitter gives planners great opportunities for free publicity, and specific Twitter hashtags should be created prior to an event. A general hashtag can be created for an event together with some others dedicated to specific topics covered or presentations made during.

Online tools like Twubs can be utilised to help event planners monitor what others are saying on the web, moderate posts and stream events live. As new online tools and applications are constantly being introduced to the world, it is important that an event planner be savvy enough to stay up-to-date in this area.

A spirit of participation should be cultivated, and attendees should be warmly encouraged to ask questions and provide feedback. One way attendees can be give their input without the stress of putting their hand up in front of a large audience is through the sending of text messages.

This method of obtaining feedback is already widely used on television debates and other programmes, particularly those involving voting. Allowing such virtual forms of interaction also enables shy attendees, who may not feel comfortable drawing attention to themselves in a crowd, to actively participate in an event.

After the event

Just because an event is over doesn't mean it should be allowed to immediately fade from the minds of attendees or the public eye. You can make use of various forms of media after an event to facilitate networking and continue generating publicity.

Event websites should continue to be updated up to at least six months after the actual event has taken place. Regular updates will ensure that visitors continue to access the website even though the event is over.

Beware of going for long periods without updating, as the number of visitors to a website tends to plummet dramatically following an extended period of dormancy.

Videos taken at the event can be posted to enable attendees to relive the best and most memorable moments. Online forms can enable attendees to leave feedback, and those who did not manage to attend can make enquiries about future events. Networking between attendees can be encouraged through the use of mailing lists or online forums. News on future events can be broadcast on past event websites.

The more successful an event, the more potential there is for its website to act as a conduit for publicity long after it is over.

Technology can add so much to an event when used wisely and proficiently. Technology can enable the transmission of information to the public long before an event begins and can play a huge role in promoting it. At the event itself, the attendee experience can be enhanced considerably with the judicious use of technology and technological facilities. Technology can also allow attendees to generate user-created content that can serve as free publicity.

Finally, after an event is over, technology can continue to enhance attendees' experience by offering quality content and networking opportunities while at the same time paving the way for future events.

The use of technology for your next conference should be embraced and celebrated as a powerful force to be harnessed in order to maximise the potential of an event.

This is strictly an exclusive feature, reprints of this article in any shape or form without prior written approval from 4Hoteliers.com is not permitted.

Guest post by Anna Johnson, PR Works
Anna Johnson works in PR and marketing and specialises in working with clients in the hospitality and event industries such as The National Convention Centre and The Star Events Centre. Anna takes a great interest in everything marketing, social media and internet related and enjoys sharing her knowledge on these subjects.  You can follow Anna on Twitter @AnnaO_T

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