by Alex Palmer | October 04, 2016

For a look at how technology is shaping the meetings industry, one need look no further than IMEX America, taking place this month at the Sands Expo and Convention Center at The Venetian and The Palazzo, in Las Vegas. In its effort to make networking more effective, IMEX Group, which organizes the show, has partnered with technology company Zenvoy, using its intelligent one-on-one business introduction service. The offering draws on profile data supplied by the show's hosted buyers and exhibitors to facilitate face-to-face meetings (during coffee breaks and before and after formal appointment times already scheduled between buyers and exhibitors) most likely to deliver business opportunities for both.

"Last year at IMEX America we heard from buyers that they wanted even more opportunities to connect with their like-minded peers -- a must-have to stay ahead of the curve and relevant in today's constantly evolving business environment," says Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group. "We saw technology as one way to help us turn up the heat on this," she says. After test-driving Zenvoy at IMEX Frankfurt this spring, IMEX Group "found it to be a really effective and easy way to take the guesswork out of meeting the right, new people based on shared interests."

Networking is not the only area of meetings and events where technology is "turning up the heat." In a wide range of functions, from A/V to attendee engagement to event management, technology is not so much reinventing how meetings are run, as it is supercharging what's already working -- and adding value for planners, attendees, sponsors, and others.

Attendee Insights
Gathering insights about attendees, such as what they most responded to and what they would like to see more of, has moved beyond post-event surveys. Almost every participant is now carrying a smartphone or tablet, posting on social media, or using his or her browser to learn more about a topic or individual he or she encountered at the event. So event technology firms are finding ways to capture this data and use it to enhance the live meeting.

"We're instrumenting thousands upon thousands of real, live human attendees at events," says Lawrence Coburn, CEO of event app developer DoubleDutch. "By analyzing the patterns with which they navigate shows, the content they like, and the connections they make, we're better able to write algorithms that can make recommendations to attendees about which breakout sessions they should attend and which fellow attendees they should meet."

DoubleDutch has been a pioneer in the area of live engagement marketing, which applies digital marketing techniques to in-person meetings. Attendees who download and use event apps can be more personally connected to the event and its offerings, while planners can better understand their behaviors. (Related: Read "What is 'Live Engagement Marketing'?" for more on how planners are doing this).


John Santaferraro urges planners
to leverage data

"To prepare for the coming onslaught of data and analytics in the meeting and event industry, meeting planners and stakeholders should look inside their organizations and out," says John Santaferraro, chief analytics officer at Educational Measures, a company that measures audience engagement at events in real time. "The goal is to see if there is a way to tie your meeting and event analytics into other programs that can enhance existing data through the perspective of new analytics."

Santaferraro, who has more than two decades of experience in working with data, joined up with Educational Measures in July, and has been charged with enhancing its analytical offerings. The company's EM Array app and platform measures attendee sentiments about events or specific sessions, even rating individual slides, and is able to measure the learning of attendees before and after meetings, while allowing them to save images and notes.

But Santaferraro sees a wealth of new opportunities for using data to better understand attendees, and is focusing on translating the fire hose of data into actionable reports and interactive dashboards.

"Think about using historical data to profile the ideal customer for your event and find more of those customers," he says. "Consider the possible connection between engagement levels in a meeting and propensity to buy your product. Imagine being able to identify and target influencers in your community. The real potential for analytics goes far beyond human eyes scanning reports."

Audience Engagement
"Upping audience engagement and two-way knowledge sharing is certainly something planners want to do more and more of at their meetings and conferences," says Bauer.

With this in mind, IMEX Group has also incorporated audience interaction tool into several of its education sessions, including classes in the Inspiration Hub, as well as at the Future Leader Forum and Senior Planner Open Forum (a new session held off the show floor). Participants will be able to post comments and submit questions to panelists and presenters in real time.

"Based on the likes and frequency of similar topics being posted, the audience becomes part of and extends the content creation and exchange process," says Bauer. "This is much more dynamic than a one-to-many format and is a pretty cool way to plug people in to each other, the speaker, and the content more directly."

Beacons are another effective way to track and interact with attendees. Julius Solaris, editor of Event Management Blog, calls beacons "one of my favorites when it gets to offline analytics and on-site metrics to better analyze what happens at our event. This is especially valuable to present sponsors and exhibitors with modern KPIs [key performance indicators] that make sense in a digitally enabled environment." He adds that the same principle can be applied to NFC and RFID technology -- with different cost and proximity requirements.

A technology that Solaris believes will be of growing interest is audio beacons, which send out inaudible sounds that can trigger a message or experience on an attendee's smartphone or computer, if they've installed the app or software. "The amount of attention and funding companies powering audio beacons are receiving make it very sexy and relevant," he says. "[Planners can] send audio tunes to attendees to activate content on apps, all wirelessly."

In the A/V space, technology is always evolving. New products like Shure's MV88 digital stereo condenser microphone offer high-quality digital recording for capturing audio as well as video interviews, performances, or lectures -- and it is iOS-compatible, allowing the recording to be shared with those unable to attend. Rather than simple video screens, planners can now use all-in-one collaborative tools, such as the Microsoft Surface Hub or the just-unveiled 70-inch Mondopad Ultra from InFocus (which provides 4K resolution and capacitive-touch technology -- allowing more sensitive touch, without a stylus).


The Mondopad Ultra from InFocus gives
users an all-in-one presentation tool

Planners looking to add a little more excitement to the traditional Q&A session can consider using a "throwable mic." As the name implies, this wireless microphone (built into a lightweight padded foam case) can be tossed by the presenter to an audience member. The Catchbox Pro throwable mic comes equipped with a magnetic locking mechanism that ensures the inner microphone capsule does not pop out when thrown -- and works with professional radio transmitters from top A/V equipment manufacturers such as Shure, Sennheiser, and AKG.

Such an unconventional microphone works well "to engage audience and revive boring Q&A sessions," according to Solaris. "They are incredible ice breakers and give power to the audience. These mics empower attendees and create a fun and interactive environment. Frontal lectures belong to the 1900s. Interactivity means involvement."

Another A/V gadget that has planners and attendees excited: Virtual reality, using tools like Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, or HTC Vive to help attendees enhance their experience or even attend an event without actually being in the building.

"It's one of the most incredible experiences to come to events in 20 years," says Michael Cerbelli, CEO and president of Cerbelli Creative, who publishes an annual "Hot List" of what he views as the most exciting tech and entertainment products for event planners. "To get even crazier for real simulation, we can use a skydiving apparatus where we lift you, the participant, off the ground."