It is an exciting time in our industry, because events have truly gone interactive. Integrating high-tech and high-touch is key to driving engagement and elevating the audience experience. As consumers become more tech-savvy, we need to ensure our attendees are given the opportunity to touch, interact, as well as give and receive feedback in real-time. The challenge lies in finding the right tools and the right balance between high-tech and high-touch.
WORD CLOUD WALL
Networking with peers is one of the top reasons people attend events, so the opening cocktail and networking coffee break could be the most valued “content” for your attendees. Enter the word cloud wall. Similar to a Twitter wall (where live tweets are fed in near real-time up onto a screen), a word cloud wall is a software-driven audio system that picks up key words repeated by a group. The words that come up most in conversation are projected onto a screen and organized into “clouds,” which are groups of similar words or ideas.
For example, if this article had been a dialogue at a networking event, the words “interactive,” “high-tech” and “events” might get picked up and displayed as a word cloud. Word cloud walls show attendees what is top-of-mind, and allow event organizers to offer content during breaks and ROI for those break sponsors (who are lucky if their logo on a sign gets noticed).
Event-specific apps are going to be essential because they help replace cumbersome, paper-based registration packages and connect people in real-time. It is increasingly likely that your attendees own smart phones, so why not leverage the smart technology they carry with them to elevate their experience? On arrival, attendees present their invitation or ticket on their smart phones, which is scanned to gain entry into the event. Once inside, the mobile app turns the smart phone into an interactive agenda, providing a personal schedule listing the attendee’s sessions, speaker bios, relevant articles and live links—all in the palm of their hands.
One word of caution: ensure the venue is not just WiFi-enabled throughout, but has the bandwidth to accommodate multiple users on their devices at the same time. Also, don’t dump your audience-response systems for an app equivalent just yet. Apps are not yet consistent for real-time feedback and can be hindered by varying platforms and carrier contract limitations.
Interaction is key to attendee engagement—entertainment, content retention, data capture and the ability to track and measure, so you can deliver ROI. Not only does it provide a better experience for attendees, it also addresses the challenges, faced by event organizers, of finding effective ways to track attendees, ensure accurate data capture and deliver a customized experience.
Interactive registration pods can replace old-school on-site registration desks. Attendees enter their information on a touch screen, participate in a quick quiz for a prize, and two minutes later, pick up a scanable name badge printed right from the pod. Since people usually don’t enter their own information incorrectly, accurate, up-to-date data is virtually guaranteed (and no one walks around wishing their assistant hadn’t registered them as “Brown E, Bob”). Not only are attendees entertained and tracked throughout the event, they also leave with a personalized printout driving them to a relevant URL or retail outlet, providing post-event engagement. We just used this technology to train over 10,000 North American sales reps on the BlackBerry PlayBook, with great success.
Keep in mind that with all this technology, human interaction is still essential. Always pair interactive technology with a human being, to engage people and answer questions. The combination of a touch screen and a friendly face can quadruple the total number of interactions. After all, there’s no substitute for face-to-face.
— Grail Noble is president and founder of Yellow House Events, a Toronto-based event marketing and planning agency. Follow her on Twitter @grailnoble. Grail can be reached at email@example.com.