When you ask most meeting planners what kind of technology they typically utilize at their events, they’ll reply with things like “using a big screen for main stage events” or “PowerPoint projectors for every breakout session.” Those things are important, but they are just the tip of the iceberg for meeting planner technology.
Unfortunately, many meeting planners (aside from those who specialize in the tech industry) shy away from technology. They may be familiar with some of the new technologies available, but they don’t utilize them consistently and end up missing out on important opportunities. If you don’t embrace and use technology in every event you plan, your attendees will notice and will find ways to use the technology without you. Therefore, the sooner you embrace your technological options, the better all your events will be.
Listed below are a few of the technologies to consider using as you plan your next event. Some are best when used before the event to help you prepare so everything comes together smoothly, and others are designed to be used during the event.
3 PRE-Event Technologies to Consider
- Interact with your speakers in a Google Hangout. Communication with the speaker(s) about the event’s goals is critical. Good speakers will tailor their message to meet your needs. But rather than just communicate with your speakers via phone and email, interact with them before the event (and even have them interact with each other) to ensure everyone understands the meeting’s goals. With a tool like Google Hangout, you can have up to ten people on a video conference. Use this to build rapport between the speakers and the entire event team so your conference projects a truly unified and cohesive image to the attendees.
- Use social media to promote the event. Tweet about the upcoming meeting on Twitter and add status updates about it to Facebook and Linked In. Additionally, ask your speakers to provide a pre-event video where they talk to the attendees about the upcoming event and what to expect from their session or keynote. Post these videos all over your social media to generate publicity and encourage more people to register.
- Make your event materials mobile friendly. Stop handing out printed event materials! Instead, make your program and handouts available online as a PDF download. This enables attendees to have all the materials available on their tablet or smart phone, and they don’t have to worry about losing pieces of paper. Also, create a mobile app for your event that includes access to all the meeting’s handouts. It’s easier and less expensive than you think!
5 DURING-Event Technologies
- Internet access is a must! Many hotels offer free internet access in the lobby or in the guest rooms, but they don’t offer it for free in the conference areas. As a result, many meeting planners decide not to offer internet access, believing it’s not necessary. Big mistake! If your attendees can’t access the internet, post a tweet, or even check their email, they’ll leave the conference area to do so…and they may not return. If the hotel is going to charge you for internet access in the conference area, then find a sponsor to pay for it. Remember, a great event starts with attendees being able to have access to their lives via email, web, and social media.
- Video Conferencing/Webcasting can expand your reach. Sometimes people want to attend your event but they can’t for various reasons. Rather than lose their registration, why not have them attend the meeting virtually? They’d still pay a registration fee, but they’d attend via a service like Telenect (www.telenect.com) or Webex (www.webex.com). You could also use these technologies to forgo the physical meeting and conduct the entire event virtually.
- Garner audience participation by implementing an audience response system (ARS). Keeping the audience awake during presentations is one thing, but getting the audience to participate is a whole different ball game. Encourage your speakers to go beyond using the old “raise your hand” or “talk to the person sitting next to you” participation techniques. Instead, have them create a conversation with attendees by using some sort of audience response system (ARS). The best known ARS is the voting keypad, such as what’s available with Turning Technologies. There are also some emerging new apps like Join Speaker that don’t require a special device. Rather, the attendees use their smart phone or tablet to interact. Turning passive audience members into active participants is key since it creates value for the attendees and for the conference. Simply put: it increases the ROI.
- Encourage attendees to use Twitter during the meetings. Create several Twitter hashtags—one general one that applies to the industry or organization, as well as individual ones that are specific to each presentation, breakout session, or keynote. A hashtag is simply the hash (#) symbol followed by a word or acronym used to group related tweets. Make these hashtags known and encourage attendees to use Twitter for their note taking (utilizing the hashtags as they tweet). Since Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet, people will need to concisely summarize the content, which is actually a benefit. According to researchers, summarization helps boost retention. Even people who don’t use Twitter can post tweets and follow the conversation using a tool like Twubs (twubs.com). This tool also enables you to moderate the posts and do live event streaming.
- Keep smart phones on to promote texting. Rather than ask attendees to power off their smart phone, encourage them to leave it on and text the presenter as he or she is speaking. This will dramatically increase audience participation. For example, leadership expert Cheryl Cran asks her audiences to text her messages while she delivers her content. Audience members then text her questions and she answers them throughout her keynote and training events. This approach takes away the fear attendees may have of publicly asking a question.
Power Up Your Meetings: To create a successful event—one that encourages conversations and interactions between event organizers, speakers, and attendees—you must use technology. Whatever technology you choose to implement, take the time to prepare by knowing your audience and your expected event outcomes. Then, choose the technology that will help you reach your objectives.
Remember, the ultimate goal of each meeting is to influence your participants. Therefore, don’t use technology simply because it’s exciting or cool. Use it wisely, based on your objectives, and make sure it’s part of your long-term strategy. When used correctly, technology will enhance your event, making both you and your organization successful.
Joe Heaps and Dave Reed own eSpeakers.com, a 14-year-old technology and marketing company providing the speaking industry with the tools to do business online. Their newest product, eSpeakers Marketplace, launches summer 2013 and will be the largest directory of professional presenters available online. With real-time availability, verified reviews, online contracts and digital payment, putting the right speaker in front of your audience will be easy and safe. eSpeakers believes in helping meeting planners find the right speaker, with the right message… every time. For more information on eSpeakers Marketplace, contact Joe Heaps at firstname.lastname@example.org, 888-377-3214, or visit www.espeakers.com.