Smart Tips to Incorporate Tech at Your Next Event
Thursday, March 14, 2019
By D. Channing Muller, DCM Communications
Just like how social media algorithms and new platforms seem to update daily, event professionals are feeling the pressure to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) into their events. However, I challenge this need to find a way to use it because it’s new. Ask this question instead: Do you really need to use AI at your event?
Because I began my career in journalism, I went back to my roots and did some research on the general thoughts out there about this topic and then asked a lot of questions of event professionals in my network and beyond.
After numerous conversations, there’s one principle that resonated with me the most, probably because it’s what all good marketing centers around. Event tech is not a one-size-fits-all approach; inevitably, you have to apply the solution that makes the most sense in terms of budget, audience and need.
Similar to how drones, kiosk check-ins in place of staff-manned registration, or beverage vending machines (even if they are filled with Champagne) aren’t right for every event, neither is AI. You have to — just like any successful public speaker would tell you — know your audience.
When AI Is Not a Fit
Let’s delve a little deeper into when AI is not the answer. To begin with, social events are not the fit for AI. When people are gathered to enjoy one another’s company and/or celebrate a milestone in someone's life, the goal should always be on celebrating. AI can distract from the true meaning and purpose of a social event.
If you’re planning a corporate, association or nonprofit event, first ask yourself: What is the basic demographic of your audience? If the concept of Instagram, hashtags, wearables (another form of newish event tech) and filters puts them out of their comfort zone, then you’re probably overshooting. In these cases, you should look to other ways to incorporate technology that will have your event clearly in the 21st century but without alienating or confusing your audience.
Robots are a great workaround for this. (I bet you thought I was going to say drones, but guess what? I’m over drones. I want something that’s going to make guests giggle. Leave the “look up” responsibility to ceiling decor.)
Robots can be branded (a huge win for events marketing) and accompanied by staff as they roam an event engaging with guests. After all, who doesn’t want to chat with a robot?
VIBE Agency founder Valerie Bihet used a robot for just such an event.
“Our client was changing their name due to a merger and making the announcement at a conference, so we decided to use a robot to really add that wow factor to the debut,” Bihet says. “We put a branded T-shirt on it and used controls on our phones to walk it around the show floor and the VIP suite.”
The result? First, the robot got the new company name shown beyond their exhibit booth and throughout the show floor. It can really increase your client (or company) footprint.
Secondly, the robot was able to interact with guests (again, via controls on a producer’s phone) so rather than needing to send multiple staffers out to mingle with guests and draw them back to the booth, the robots innate appeal for being so different did the job for them.
We always knew robots were going to take over the world at some point, right? After all, every Will Smith movie tells us this is the case. For now, let’s at least keep them working to expand our businesses while we can.
When You Decide to Use AI
The most consistent response I got for when asking if AI is the right choice for an event is at conferences and trade shows. As the complexity and responsiveness of AI continues to grow, the insight it can give you into your attendees and their reactions to your content can prove more valuable than other forms of data gathering.
“We know people aren’t that honest on surveys, or barely fill them out,” says an event professional who used AI to gather direct audience engagement of a speaker’s presentation during a conference. “We set up cameras on stage, facing the attendees where we tracked eye gaze, mainly focusing on how long it was on the presenter, which gave us great insight into their engagement with the content.”
Once such software that does this: Datakalab. Developed in France, it came to the United States late last year. Through the use of cameras placed where your attendees should be looking, it scans the crowd, capturing and measuring the micro changes of attendees’ facial movements that aren’t always visible to the naked eye.
You can take this to the next level with a wearable band given to attendees that’ll also measure their heart rate and body temperature, changes which can be indicative of their level of engagement and positive or negative response to the content.
When Budget Is a Concern
By this point, you may be saying, “That all sounds great, but also expensive.” This can be true. These high-end technologies can often be more of an investment simply because of their nature: They are new, complex systems that took a long time to develop.
In this case, I recommend the following:
- Kiosk check-in stations: I know it’s been around for a hot minute, but I’ll let you in on a secret: So many people still aren’t using it! Crazy but true. By using kiosks for your check-in experience, you can reduce staff (and reallocate that budget), provide an activity to engage guests and reduce lines at registration.
- Cellphone charging stations: These can be easily be branded by any company you rent from, and they are a wonderful little convenience for your guests. If you’ve taken the time to design an event where taking pictures is a focus, it’s in your best interest to be sure attendee’s phones are charged so they can continue sharing on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. All with your event hashtag, of course. The result: Your event footprint just got larger, and your attendees became your brand advocates for next year’s ticket purchasers. #Winning.
The Bottom Line
It all comes down to this: You have to know your audience and look for interesting ways to engage guests. That may be through the use of AI, robots or by simply addressing a need they have but didn’t know to ask about (e.g., charging a cellphone).
Whether or not you use AI at your next event, I can guarantee you that it won’t be going anywhere. Just like all other technology trends, it will get smarter, more accessible, and provide you greater insight into your attendees and content. Using it now or waiting a few years is up to you, but it will be here, and the conversation will continue.
NOTE: VIBE Agency is the licensed distributor for Datakalab in the United States
D. Channing Muller is the principal and founder of DCM Communications, a marketing consulting firm based out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. She works primarily with event professionals and business owners to grow and scale their businesses through one-on-one and group coaching. She has over 15 years of experience in the communications industry, serving in top roles within marketing, magazine and web editorial, advertising and business development for a variety of media, software and PR companies in the United States and internationally. Follow her on Instagram @ChanningMuller.
Tags: event planning , technical production , technology