5 Tech Tools for More Engaging Events

Lori Halley 07 April 2010 6 comments

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:

Social Networks

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.

Event Networks

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!

Polling Software

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 audiences.

Online Communities

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?

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 07 April 2010 at 4:37 PM

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Comments

  • Matt Batt said:

    Wednesday, 07 April 2010 at 10:02 AM

    Thanks so much for sharing this article with your readers! I think it is so important that associations and non-profits realize how incredibly easy and affordable it is to experience these technologies. I hope this was useful to everyone and I look forward to continuing the conversation with each of you here! - Matt

  • Anna Rosenblum Palmer said:

    Monday, 19 April 2010 at 3:35 AM

    Nice post. Technology is certainly changing the way we plan and execute events. It's exciting, but can be a little overwhelming too - we started our biz to take some of the headache out of that process (for nonprofits in particular). Shameless plug: we can help you with registration, auctions, ticketing, surveys, emails, and more. Check out http://winwinapps.com for more...

    Thanks,

    A

  • Mitch Feigenberg said:

    Thursday, 29 April 2010 at 3:59 PM

    Thanks for the great ideas...and let me add another one.  

    MaestroConference is the first truly interactive teleconference I have ever seen (or heard!).  You can lead a meeting or gathering with hundreds of people, move them into small groups for discussions, call on people by name, and give any person the "microphone" so they can address the entire group.

    What does this mean?  It's now easy for groups to work together and communicate their enthusiasm and ideas without being in the same location.  

    Plus, this is a huge tool for community groups and associations who want to connect more often but do not want to pay for expensive meeting rooms.

  • ian said:

    Sunday, 17 October 2010 at 8:49 PM

    Thank you for a very useful site... I have you bookmarked, and will keep my fingers crossed that I may generate traffic to my site!

    Nice list. I will use it in future. Thanks for the efforts to make this list!Nice list. I will use it in future. Thanks for the efforts to make this list!

  • ian said:

    Wednesday, 20 October 2010 at 11:04 PM

    Thanks for the informative post and for actually replying to your readers’ comments. That’s something I don’t see very many blog owners doing and that makes me frustrated. Keep up the good work and I’ll continue coming back here to learn more....

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 21 October 2010 at 7:09 AM

    Thank you, Ian - we try! :)

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