14 Meetings Technology Trends to Watch for 2014.
By Corbin Ball
Monday, 10th February 2014
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 other meeting participants to do their jobs better.

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

1. Crowdsourcing and a crowd sharing will be more widely used for events.
Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining services, ideas, answers or content from a large group of people (typically an online community) rather than from traditional suppliers.  A range of crowdsourcing tools are emerging for sharing, funding, voting, and much more.

Benefits include: lower costs, greater choice, and better input – all of which can be used in a variety of ways for events. This will change the way meeting participants get sleeping rooms: airbnb.com and easynest.com; share travel: sunyride.com;airbaltic.satisfly.com;; co-create event content:  panelpicker.sxsw.com,  allourideas.org. ideascale.com; stereopill.com; review events: yelp.comhubb.itevent-rate.com;  and fund/promote events: peoplefund.it planana.com picatic.com tixelated.com to name a few. 

Additionally, mobile audience polling devices can be used during and event for insight capture, for market research, and real-time feedback to assist in making strategic decision making.

2. Wearable/ultra-portable computing will begin to work its way into events
Technology has developed in ten-year cycles: 1960s: mainframe computing, 1970s: mini-computing, 1980s: personal computing, 1990s: desktop internet computing, 2000s: mobile internet computing. This decade may turn out to be the decade of wearable/everywhere computing.

Computers are popping up in our cars, our home appliances, and soon on our bodies. Google Glass (google.com/glass/start/) and a range of smart watches (hen.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smartwatch), smart bracelets, NFC rings are in the works and more will assist us with navigation, networking, and augmented reality. Although part of a larger societal trend, this will impact events and tradeshows in the next few years as attendees literally embody these devices to assist them at events.

The opportunities are many as a mini-teleprompter for speakers, for note taking, polling, video-conferencing, virtual site inspections and much more. Face recognition could remind you of the name of a colleague. Way-finding through a facility or exhibition hall could be a possibility. Appointment reminders and more are all possibilities.

3. Conference event guide apps are becoming essential.
Two years ago I made the prediction that in two years' time your participants will be expecting a conference guide app for your event. Today there nearly 100 conference event guide app providers www.corbinball.com/bookmarks/#guide) with a very wide range of options from free to US$50,000; from a quick, simple do-it-yourself app to a highly branded experience; from HTML5 to native apps.

The above prediction has become a reality with these apps providing a much richer and better conference experience than a paper program guide could event do -- including polling, customizable agendas, gaming, video, contact exchange, social media integration, analytics and much more. If you don't have an app for your event, you are behind the times!

4. Multi-event app platforms will be used widely for larger corporations and associations.
In the early days of event app development (2 years ago), the only option was to have a unique, customized app built for each event. However there are many event hosts who run dozens, hundreds or even thousands of events each year. Building individual apps for dozens or more events each year is simply too costly, labor intensive and time consuming for most event hosts. Consequently, many app developers are starting to offer multi-event "enterprise" apps to meet this need.

Typically, these products are a platform. A master app template is built by the app developer with consistent branding. The event planner or host can then choose the desired app elements for the specific event and then easily upload the data allowing for very quick turn-around and instant easy updates. Not only is this option substantially less expensive than building individual apps, there is better and more consistent branding, better security/privacy, better budgeting, and more uniform analytics. Attendees have the benefit on only have to download and learn the app once to use it at multiple events from the same association or company.

The following are among the companies offering multi-event apps platforms: QuickMobile.com; CrowdCompass.com; DoubleDutch.me; EventMobi.com; TripBuilderMedia.com, Certain.com, Core-Apps.com, GenieConnect.com, Guidebook and Sherpa-solutions.com.      

5. Mobile social event networking will blossom.
One good contact made at an event can often pay for the whole trip! Yet, until recently, the way most events managed this very important component did not get much thought. For decades, the name badge was the principal networking tool. By chance, attendees would notice a name badge, strike up a conversation, and make a contact. Although this works, there is much to be desired in this haphazard approach.

A number of stand-alone social media networking tools have become available, many for free (PeopleHunt.com, Qrious, Shhmooze) demonstrating the desire and need that people have to better connect at events. However, it is likely that the "Swiss-army knife" conference event guide apps with more robust social integration will become the most common way that participants will access the social channels onsite at and event. More: www.corbinball.com/mobile/index.cfm?fuseaction=cor_av&artID=9123

6. Free open-source web content management systems will open the door for a wide range of inexpensive event software tools.

A big trend in web design is the emergence of open-source web content management systems. Free, community-develop products such as joomla.com and wordpress.org are used to build and manage some of the largest sites on the web such as ebay.com, nytimes.com, ge.com and thousands of others.   

The beauty of these open-source products is that they have thousands of plug-ins (web "building blocks") to accomplish nearly any web task. The process of constructing a site to perform specific tasks has become a much faster and simpler job of putting these blocks together rather than having to create customized code.

This is relevant for events as the web has become the standard method of meetings management software distribution from sourcing, to online registrations, to exhibition sales and most other aspect of event management.
These open-source products are opening the door to a wide range of meetings management plug-ins that offer web-based meetings management tasks at a fraction of the cost of traditional meeting web software.

Here is just a sampling of what is available: eventespresso.com,   wp-events-plugin.com, app.ohanah.com, eventsnova.com, redcomponent.com/redcomponent/redevent

7. The 4 screen revolution: responsive and adaptive web design will become mandatory for your web site.
We are entering into a post-PC world. There are 1 billion smart phones in use and this number will grow to two billion in two years (Ericsson Mobility Report, June 2013). Tablets will overtake PC sales by late 2013 (BetChemy Ventures, May 2013).  With this huge growth of alternate web view devices, your website will need to respond so that the content will be maximized regardless which of the four screens (TV, PC, tablet, phone) they will be using to view it.
This is where responsive web design (RWD) and adaptive web design (AWD) come in.

Both allow websites to be view in various screen sizes and orientations. An excellent article on the differences between RWD and AWD is www.techrepublic.com/blog/web-designer/what-is-the-difference-between-responsive-vs-adaptive-web-design/.

This is another reason to consider open-source web content tools such as joomla.com andwordpress.org which have free themes and plug-in using RWD and AWD. Open-source will help to future-proof your site for the next new thing that inevitably will come along.

8. Content curation tools will help efficiently manage meetings information and interaction.
Information is cheap; knowledge is dear. This is where content curation is becoming essential. Content curation is the act of finding, grouping, organizing, or sharing the best and most relevant content on a specific issue.

There are millions of meetings each year creating massive amounts of data. This data, when organized and distributed properly, can be of significant value for review or to broadcast to a larger audience. I can also be very effective in promoting future events. Fortunately there are tools to help with the information overload: 
Eventifier.co collates all the event related contents from various social media streams like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, Slideshare and many more. The event contents are archived and showcased in a dedicated, easy to use event page.

Conferize.com is a free social platform for discovering, following and attending conferences. It lets users follow conferences in real-time to find conversations, videos, presentations, photos, and more. Users can be part of any conference community simply by chiming in or commenting specifically on content.

Storify.com allows users to "tell a story" by collecting media from across the web then publishing and sharing it on Storify and embedded at other websites.

Bundlr.com allows users to create topic pages with photos, videos, tweets and documents and then share them with everyone.

9.  Video will be increasing integrated in the business process for events.
 Video is almost always more compelling than a page of web text. It is becoming the language of the internet for promotion, communication, and sharing event content to broader audiences. We will see richer and deeper involvement with video in our daily lives and in promoting, managing and distributing event content. Consider these advances:

Video is getting cheaper and easier to produce:

  • Most of us are carrying HD video cameras in our phones with multiple free apps to record, edit and share the videos recorded.
  • The price for higher-end video production equipment has dropped dramatically as well as becoming lighter and easier to use. Companies such as Virtuvent.com are offering cloud-based video production and online distribution for as low as US$1,000 per event, a fraction of standard video production studios.
  • Hybrid meetings and event content capture are seeing substantial growth at events.
Video is becoming cheaper (in many cases free) and easier to distribute:
  • YouTube.com, the second largest search site on the web, offers free video distribution to over 1 billion unique users each month. Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube—that's almost an hour for every person on Earth, and 50% more than last year. 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
  • Skype.com provides one-to-one HD video conferencing for free. Also, with Skype's acquisition by Microsoft, we will likely lead to more integration to Office products, and, therefore, more widely used during business.
  • Google Hangouts allows 9-way video conferencing for free and free video web streaming and recording to YouTube with Hangouts On Air.
  • The traditional online meeting platforms such as WebEx , GoToMeeting and others are getting easier, cheaper and more reliable as is broadband internet.
  • Personal, free short video distribution channels such as Instragram Video, Vine.co and Tout.com are seeing huge growth.
  • BOB.tv and Conferize are business video distribution channel designed specifically around events with broad meeting association support has just launched.
Video is more engaging than other media:
  • Video generates a 400%-700% increase in viewer engagement and response rates using online video compared to static content online such as text and graphics (Flimp).
  • Video email messages generate 2-3 times higher click-thru rates compared to static emails (MarketingVox).
Internet video is becoming more convenient to consume:
  • Internet video viewing on phones, PCs, TVs and especially tablet computers is exploding. 89 million people in the United States watch 1.2 billion online videos daily according to ComScore. Online video users in the U.S. are expected to double to 1.5 billion while global online video traffic will be 55% of all consumer internet traffic by 2016 according to Cisco.
  • Google's Chromecast allows video streaming to your TV from any device for US$35.
As video becomes ubiquitous, we will see strong growth and reliance on it for event promotion and event content distribution.

10. Geofencing will begin to be used by meeting venues and event organizers to improve the participant experience.
A geofence is a virtual perimeter around any geographic area, such as a hotel, a conference center, an exhibition or any another arbitrary boundary. When a mobile device using a geofence service enters or exits a geofence, the device receives a notification which often is in the form of an alert or a mobile coupon. A geofence notice may be sent to another mobile phone or email account as well. Although a relatively new concept, geofencing is beginning to be used for marketing, security, and anti-theft purposes.

The opportunities for events could be significant. Attendees could automatically check-in to an event zone using a geofence app. A proprietary event app could automatically be launched without the need for a password. Exhibitors could send out targeted messages to different categories of participants. CEU credits could be tracked automatically. 

The venues could provide information to visitors. Local area merchants could send discount coupons to convention attendees. AV companies or venues could be notified if unauthorized equipment with an RFID tag linked to a geofence is removed from the premise. The frequency and type of geofence notifications  sent will be controlled by setting user preferences, but there are lots of ways that this technology can be used to improve events.

Companies such as TapCrowd and Topi are beginning to use geo-fencing in the events arena.

11. Advanced display technology will create a greater "wow" factor at events and exhibitions
This year's Consumer Electronic Show was full of 3D imaging devices, many without glasses. Eventually, 3D technology will become so pervasive that 2D screens will seem as obsolete as black-and-white TV seems today.
Higher resolution glassless 3D imaging will become more widely used in the next few years in exhibitions.  3D attracts attention. We see in 3D. In the next few years, technology for imaging will finally catch up to what we experience essentially every moment of our stereoscopic waking lives.

Projection or video mapping is another very interesting development in display technology. This involves projecting images on any multi-dimensional shape or form. Any object can become a display, leading to stunning visual effects that make events memorable and showcase the group's creativity.  This can be on a building edifice, an aircraft carrier, or elaborate stage sets for events.

Some interesting event examples are:

  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6e_XW32y9U
  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGjS0EPcin4
  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4sVTUAdoLg
  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GcighIL9w0&list=PL037A7C2AE703395F
  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoDheQ-rtxE
  • http://io9.com/this-short-film-just-took-projection-mapping-to-the-nex-1383033085 (this takes it to a whole new dimension).
12. Deep event data management and customized content delivery is becoming a reality.
Marketing automation (MA) and customer relations management (CRM) have been mature technologies in other sectors for some time. Finally, MA and advanced CRM tools are working their way into events.

Before the event:

Attendee management companies are making much progress to customize the participant experience to drive more engagement and a richer experience. Companies such as Certain.com and Genie-Connect.com are linking MA and CRM technologies with registration data to capture and tie rich attendee profile to provide customized content and match-making for participants.

Attendees, based on their profile, will receive customized promotional materials; content based on their interests, and better suggested matches in a networking or appointment schedule. Cvent.com has built integration tools for Salesforce.com. Many attendee management software companies are linking social media channels as part of this process.

Onsite has been referred to as the "black hole" of event data management. We have had tools for several years to manage basic participant information and logistics before and after the event, but not during it.  Mobile event guide apps such as those provided by DoubleDutch.com and QuickMobile.com are changing this. It is possible for every touch on a mobile app to be tracked, scored and rated. Social media channels can be monitored and incorporated into the mix. Onsite "likes" and surveys can be scored in real time.

Meeting planners and event marketers can know immediately answers to the following questions: Who are the hot speakers, exhibitors, and influencers? What are the hot sessions, topics and content? What is the buzz and what do the participants like or dislike? This immediate feedback is a goldmine of information to make midcourse corrections onsite and to engage participants with gamification and other audience engagement and recognition technologies.

After the event:
These onsite mobile data collected are also extremely valuable for designing and marketing future events.

13. Audience engagement becomes a top priority for events.
We are living in increasingly noisy times. We are being barraged with a daily "fire hose" of information that can be very daunting and is often tuned or filtered out. One benefit of meetings is that they take us away from our normal office environment to one where most of us feel a social contract to engage and be engaging with others. Meetings, when reduced to their most essential element, are about bringing people together.

However, there is much competition for our attention in our multi-media, socially-connected world. Traditional event paradigms of the "talking head" speaking to a passive audience, or a "build it and they will come" model for exhibitions are no longer acceptable. The word "attendee" is being replaced with "participant." Participants expect to be engaged. They expect to have a say in what I going on. 

They expect to continue to use their social media tools as they do at home. They expect to be treated as individuals rather than an email address on a mailing list. They are increasingly expecting a richer, more targeted and more interactive time at events, and are making their event purchases choices accordingly.

Mobile social media and event apps are opening the door to a much more sensory and interactive experience and are fueling this transition. Gamification, the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context to engage users and solve problems, is seeing increased events and exhibition usage. Some consumer mobile apps such as Foursquare.com and SCVNGR.com have been used for this, but the trend is for more specialized event apps such as EventMobi.com, BoothTag.com,MeetingPlay.com, and larger mobile app developers such as  DoubleDutch.com, QuickMobile.com,CrowdCompas.com  among others are incorporating gaming into their larger event guide applications.

An engaged participant is a repeat participant and is one who will tell his or her colleagues as well. Many of the fourteen trends in this article are involved in some way with participant engagement, a trend that will see increasing emphasis this coming year.

14. Despite the increased use of virtual meetings technology, face-to-face meetings and tradeshows will remain viable (a repeat from previous years' predictions).
Virtual meeting, hybrid 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!"

These are just a few of whirlwind of changes coming.  Do you agree with them? Do you have others? Please leave comments and let me know your thoughts.

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: Corbin Ball Associates –  Meetings Technology Headquarters and followed on Twitter: www.twitter.com/corbinball
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