Real-world events are the ultimate in social networking, and nothing beats face-to-face communication. But it can be challenging to connect with everyone you want to meet at a large event and even more difficult to follow up with the attendees afterwards. And what about those in your community who can’t travel to your meeting or conference, for financial or other practical reasons? How can you bring those people into the fold of your event, too?
That’s where social media and other new communications technologies come in, say Matt Batt and Tamara Kennedy in Meetings 2.0: Five High-Tech Tools for High-Touch Communications, published in the March 2010 edition of FORUM, Association Forum of Chicagoland’s digital magazine:
Social media is everywhere. Our cell phones, for instance, now come optimized for Facebook and Twitter so that we can have real-time conversations from anywhere. We can now take instant HD videos of our kids on a Flip video camcorder; out pops the USB plug and, boom, it’s up on YouTube. More than 20 million global users are even having real-time videophone conversations with Skype – completely free of charge.
There’s no reason that your association can’t use these and many other technologies at your next meeting, trade show or conference. That’s because technology doesn’t always have to be expensive in order to be effective.
Batt and Kennedy suggest five tech tools to enhance offline communications at your next meeting – actually, five categories of tools, with a breadth of options within each category that means you’ll certainly be able to find a budget-friendly tool to meet your organization’s needs:
You’ve probably seen social networks in action around real-world events: Flickr for sharing photographs, Facebook for getting the word out, LinkedIn groups for continuing the conversation after the event, and – most effectively, perhaps – Twitter for real-time conversations and “customer service” support, where Twitter hashtags (#10NTC for this month’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in Atlanta, for example) are used to tag “tweets” about an event, making it easy for attendees to track conversations, comment on presenters, and connect with each other in a crowded venue.
Social networking platforms like CrowdVine, Pathable, and SpaceShare are designed specifically for meetings and events. Typically, an event network integrates the most popular social networks in one place along with meeting-specific features such as interactive calendars, real-time surveys, ride-share programs, and the like.
Audience Interaction Systems
An emerging technology for meeting planners to “keep on their radar,” audience interaction systems like Spotme ("experience the future of events") use special handheld devices to help attendees to connect with others who are onsite:
For example, say you have identified someone with whom you want to network based on the event’s pre-registration list. Spotme will alert you when that person is within a certain distance of you; it will give you their photo and information about them so that you can “spot” them and introduce yourself. … [It] enables attendees to electronically exchange business cards, check conference schedules and provide useful feedback to speakers during and after their educational sessions.
Yes, it does seem a bit like Big Brother (or, at least, vintage Star Trek), but I can certainly see the utility of this tech tool, especially if the alternative is to miss out on connecting with the people you’ve been longing to meet. It’s surprisingly difficult to recognize someone from their social media avatar, when you’re in the midst of a conference center mob!
Realistically, no matter what meeting organizers and presenters try to do to stop attendees from using their cell phones in session, it’s going to happen. So why not embrace the inevitable? Batt and Kennedy suggest actively encouraging attendee feedback with real-time polling tools like Poll Everywhere, a text-messaging platform that represents a huge cost-saving over the expensive audience response hardware systems it largely replaces.
I took a real-world course recently where the instructor used a similar "classroom performance system" to give the occasional quick multiple-choice quiz, and can attest to its effectiveness in keeping the students alert (awake!) between lecture-style sections. No wonder, as Batt and Kennedy note, many speakers are already using some type of polling technology to break up long
presentations, gain real-time feedback, and better engage their
Think of going to a party where you’re already acquainted with many of the guests, know their areas of interest, have exchanged ideas online, perhaps already started to build a friendship – versus wandering into a room full of strangers, to start up a conversation from zero!
Giving your attendees a way to connect and communicate with each other before the event
can build energy and anticipation, leading to a more successful
experience for them during the event itself. Afterwards, too, an online community can help to keep the conversation going and those vital professional networks alive, as well as making it easier for an association's staff to handle the “sometimes onerous tasks of follow-up and reporting.”
The key to getting a benefit from the new high-tech marketing and communications tools is to embrace them and actively find ways to integrate them into your meetings. Sure, we’ve seen a few “growing pains” at some events in the past year or so, as everyone tries to figure out, collectively, a whole new set of "netiquette" rules and "best practices" for events... but the well-planned integration of technology tools can add greater value to the event experience for attendees, and enhance your association’s rep as a great conference host!
You can check out Matt Batt and Tamara Kennedy’s article on tools for “Meetings 2.0” at http://www.associationforum-digital.com/associationforum/201003#pg36, and, as always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section, below –
What’s your experience with online communications around an offline event?