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Interactive meetings technology

Advances in keypad technology add an interactive element for a tech-savvy generation.


Advances in keypad technology add an interactive element for a tech-savvy generation. By David Pye, May/June 2007

While Baby Boomers gradually sail off into the sunset with their hard-earned pensions, a new generation of tech savvy employees is permeating the workforce with a whole new set of demands. Fast-paced technologies are the driving force of today’s corporate world, and meeting planners are facing the realization that holding the attention span of the gadget generation can be a formidable task. Armed with iPods, Palm Pilots and endless instant messaging capabilities, the younger tech-savvy generation want more than just a talking head at the latest company conference.

“Much of what happens in the meeting rooms is driven by what consumers are dealing with, from plasma and high definition televisions to wireless communications devices,” says Janet Jakobsen, CMP, director of business development for AVW-TELAV Audio Visual Solutions. “The result is that people now demand that those technologies be integrated into the meeting environment because they are no longer happy with a talking head scribbling notes on a flip chart.”

AVW-TELAV is a leader in presentation technology, primarily serving the meetings and conventions market in North America. The company has been dabbling in keypad technology since the DOS era, but technological advances in recent years have brought new and innovative applications to the forefront of the corporate meetings market. “As technology has evolved, so have the demands of participants in the meetings industry, so our technology has migrated to support those demands,” says Jakobsen. “Platform flexibility and the use of various forms of technology to deliver content is key to meeting the needs of today’s diverse audience, and keypad technology is one of those tools.”

While a number of keypads have emerged over the years, the Audience Response Plus+ system offered by AVW-TELAV is considered to be the top-of-the-line model. The wireless device – similar to a cellular telephone – is licensed from a U.K. manufacturer and incorporates interactive question software, graphics capabilities and Flash animation into an environment customized to each client’s needs.

“The technology has been around for a long time, but there are some exciting new applications that can be used by a broader base of clients now,” says Jakobsen. “In a world where time is money, the possibilities for processing information in milliseconds make this a very attractive solution.”

HOW IT WORKS
The Audience Response Plus+ device collects answers to a series of questions displayed in a meeting room. Delegates respond by simply pushing a button while a central computer instantaneously tabulates and displays their collective responses as bar graphs, pie charts or histograms. The system is capable of gathering responses from as many as 7,500 devices onto a single PC with zero lag time, or it can be programmed to store offline answers to pre-loaded questions that can be downloaded at a later date. All data received from the keypads are stored in a single database and can be subsequently manipulated to generate a number of statistical reports on Excel spreadsheets. Responses can be anonymous, or individual scores can be monitored by way of smart card identifiers that attribute each answer to a specific individual.

“Using smart cards allows you to pre-load demographics, dividing the responses into subsets that can compare what American delegates responded versus their Canadian counterparts,” explains Jeff Cryderman, CTS, product manager, integrated solutions for AVW-TELAV Audio Visual Solutions. “It also allows you to measure the comprehension of your audience with periodic testing to see if the concepts you are presenting are being clearly received.”

Keypad devices also encourage higher levels of attendee participation and include text messaging capabilities and built-in microphones that allow users to pose questions through an audio system without leaving their seats. The devices are also attention grabbers, and the LCD displays can be programmed to display corporate logos. Meeting planners can benefit from the technology by using it to grade their events. Direct feedback on everything from the host hotel to guest speakers and content is just a touch away.

“Measuring the ROI of the meetings investment is critical, and this tool can provide you with that information in seconds,” says Jakobsen. “The data output can then be used to modify
a programme to meet the needs of your audience.”

For Rebecca Yates-Campbell, the decision to bring in AVW-TELAV for an E&J Gallo sales meeting in Las Vegas, Nev., was all about retention. Las Vegas offers plenty of distractions, so Yates-Campbell wanted to design an event that would capture the attention of her attendees.

“We were looking for something to keep our people focused,” says Yates-Campbell, associate marketing manager, public relations for E&J Gallo Winery Canada, based in Mississauga, Ont. “We used the keypads for periodic quizzes and awarded casino chips to the highest achievers.” With a week’s advance notice and on-site support from an AVW-TELAV technician, a series of quiz questions were loaded into the keypads and a scoring system was designed to tabulate the quickest correct answers. Results were posted instantaneously on an overhead scoreboard. “It generated excitement in the room, and people paid attention and competed hard to win,” says Yates-Campbell. “The retention ROI is well worth the cost of the whole exercise.”

TECH PARTNERS
The state-of-the-art is being advanced through the merger of technologies and through partnerships like the one AVW-TELAV has forged with a company called Eagle’s Flight. The Guelph, Ont.-based company provides experiential training programmes that incorporate team-building and decision-making activities into a variety of business simulations. Eagle’s Flight has teamed up with AVW-TELAV to incorporate the Audience Response Plus+ keypad into a new program called Redline Racing – a virtual road race that pits teams against each other. Teams are each assigned a keypad and a route map, and every move is automatically tabulated as they weave their way through simulated hazards and challenges in a two-hour competition.

“The keypads add a fast-paced technical component that makes Redline Racing extremely engaging,” says Lara Hall, marketing specialist with Eagle’s Flight.

Another person sold on the benefits of AVW-TELAV’s keypad device is Rick Naylor, president of Accucom Corporate Communications Inc., based in Toronto. Accucom produces shows for large corporate events, and Naylor has a knack for mixing technology and theatre.

“The bottom line is that if people get involved, they will perform better and retain more from the experience,” he says. “The core purpose of these devices is to hook people in and to keep them in their seats.”

Naylor first took interest in wired keypad technology, but found the available systems to be inadequate for his needs. In 1990, his attention was drawn to a wireless gaming system developed by a U.S. company called NTN that offered trivia and sports interaction games in sports bars across North America. He began adapting the technology to the needs of his corporate clients.

 “NTN was a pioneer in the space, and the touchpad brought an entertainment angle to the corporate market,” he says. “The technology had a very sophisticated measuring system and was a refreshing alternative to the basic audience polling devices of th
e
day.”

NTN sold its corporate events division this year to Global Interactive Events, a Mississauga, Ont.-based company staffed by former NTN employees with, collectively, more than 20 years of experience. This division has completed hundreds of events since then for clients that include TD Trust Bank, Rogers Communications, Canon Canada, Sirius Satellite Radio, United Airlines and Air Canada.

 “The concept was derived from NTN (the hospitality industry’s leader in interactive game shows), and we use that technology to customize the content and graphics for our clients’ interactive presentations,” says Dave Redgers, president of Global Interactive Events.

GETTING THE MESSAGE
Global Interactive’s touchpads can be utilized with a variety of quiz formats and can be used for meetings, trade shows, product launches and presentations – to poll audiences and to test delegate retention.

“Companies spend millions of dollars on meetings all over the world, but are they sure that they’re getting their message across?” asks Redgers. “Using the touchpad technology and proprietary software to inform with entertaining quizzes provides you with instant feedback on the content being delivered.”

Typically, the company suggests two to three weeks lead time to create and load the customized content and graphics and to create corporate overlays for the touchpads. They script the game and ship the gear, along with a technician, to the client’s site. Technology-savvy groups can save on costs by running the system themselves.
Astra-Zeneca Canada, based in Mississauga, Ont.,  chose Global Interactive Events to enhance a cross-Canada training event in March, 2006. They chose the company’s touchpad for its gaming component and as a fun way to test its sales force’s retention of data.

“Questions were asked in a trivia format, and we judged teams on the speed and accuracy of their responses,” says Mark Thompson, Nexium marketing manager for Astra-Zeneca Canada. “The feedback from those training days was the best we have ever received, and 89 per cent felt that they had retained more than at previous events.”

With a trail of positive feedback and the prospect of new technologies further down the road, interactive keypads are laying the foundation for tomorrow’s meetings. As lower broadband costs bring video conferencing and webcasting into the mix, companies like AVW-TELAV and Global Interactive Events are looking at ways to deliver real-time interaction between multiple locations.

“This is a huge market, and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet,” says Redgers. “It’s all about giving people an interactive team-building tool while providing them with a truly memorable experience.”  

— David Pye is a Montreal-based freelance writer.



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