Participation and Engagement – Key Event Technology Trends

The use of event technology has fundamentally changed the desires and the make up of our audiences: our audiences are more engaged and participative. And with those two fundamental differences in mind I’ve come up with three key trends for our events. But before we get there I want to look at the two ways that underpin the three trends I’ve identified. 

Event Technology Trends some background

Participation

The first way that our audience has changed is that it is no longer passive. It doesn’t sit through a performance, clap politely at the end and then head off home. It participates and event technology – and especially Mobile Apps – have led the way in this participation. Our audiences seek more involvement in our business events and this participative approach is only going one way, and that is up. The speed of this increases year on year as more new “smart” attendees, powered by their mobile phone, attend conferences and exhibitions.

The traditional model of non-participation is diminishing with the percentage of traditional conference attendees who leave the workplace. Our audiences are changing and we have to prepare; we need to know where they are going and we have to arrive there just in front of them – watching out for the important trends is a great way to do that.

Great audience interaction

Engagement

The second aspect that has fundamentally changed over the last few years is that our audience is no longer the one who just attends our event but it is a much wider one: one that includes everyone who is talking about our event and those listening to the messages surrounding our events. We can no longer influence this discussion in the way we used to: the information about our event is no longer only disseminated by us. We can’t sit back (like our audiences did in the past) and be passive we have to engage our whole audience. We have to engage with that massive audience. And that is a challenge. So with a glimpse of the future by looking at changes in our audiences participation and engagement we can start to plan a journey. Trends are signposts along the way: 

Event Technology Trend No. 1: The role of the attendee in generating content for you

Nothing is more powerful than someone – of their own volition – creating content for your event. When monitoring Event Technology I’ve noticed a growth in the technology to support attendees to create content around an event. And we are VERY excited by it.

Now the idea that attendees want to get involved in creating some form of content related to an event is not a new one of course (we can trace this back to placards held high by demonstrators)

It has without a doubt been boosted by technology. Perhaps the first big technological step in creating this active attendee engagement was the creation of YouTube. And it is still a fantastic vehicle for supporting attendee generated content.

Who has seen the film Downfall? In a quite fantastic film there is a fantastic scene in which Hitler learns that for months his Generals have been too scared to tell him the truth that the allies are only miles from Berlin. YouTube has allowed a vehicle for much creativity and this particular scene has been tampered with thousands of times. Here’s a link to how you can use it for your event. In the example I saw last month we had Hitler banging his fists on the table (with the subtitles changed to) “OK, if any of you got the early bird price without telling me you better leave now” This wasn’t done by a PR agency or the organiser but by an attendee: this type of content is VERY, VERY important. It can drastically increase attendance as well, as of course, making evil Dictators look rather silly.

If we can motivate our attendees to help us create content it is a fantastic way to increase your audience. And in such competitive markets we need all the edge we can get.

Event Technology Trend No. 2: The smart attendee!

Event technology has allowed our audience to take a more active, immediate and important role in our events. Event technology has not only made your attendees smart it has turned them into super hero attendees and Event Planners must fully embrace this shift. We must start to design our events – from top to bottom – for the smart attendee.

From their super hero utility belt our smart attendees bring out one bit of kit (their phone or tablet) that can allow them to do so much more at an event. And we have to encourage the use of this super tool at every opportunity.

We have smart attendees and we have to be smart and embrace that

This year more than 75% of conference attendees in the UK will come to a conference or an exhibition with a smart phone and more than 50% of our attendees own a tablet. With this smart technology our attendees engagement in the content during our business events is changing. With there smart event technology they can make their points clearly and loudly, and also crucially anonymously. This one little point is a major shift in audience engagement.

Continuing on the super hero metaphor the “Sidekick” is alive and kicking. She is the The Social Sidekick. The smart attendee has an accomplice and their role is to use technology to feed speaker or chairman, to bring in the wider audience, be that on line or somewhere in the room or somewhere else in the venue. You audience is so smart that it has a voice standing next to the speaker. Now that’s smart! Say hello to the Social Sidekick at your event as the voice for the smart attendee.

The interaction of the audience via their phone is one of the major changes in attendee interaction in the last five years. We planners have to look at our events a fresh and decide how to best keep up to date. We have to reinvent our events and we have to make them smart. If we don’t those super hero delegates will be flying off to other events.

Event Technology Trend No. 3: Social proofing in events

A very significant bit of research carried out a couple of years ago said that the majority of under 25s trust the recommendation of someone they don’t know over the recommendation of someone they do! This is the power of social proofing in action and explains the success of Tripadvisor to Gangnam style. Hundreds, thousands, hundred of thousands will listen to the opinion of other people they don’t know before they listen to a friend. Even if that friend is another super hero attendee!

So how does this trend manifest itself in your event? Well if someone books on to your event you should let them highlight that booking to their network. A new attendee should be able to easily share this fact on their chosen social media. Planners should be collecting twitter handles and then thanking those people for attending via twitter: if you don’t do any of the above are stymying the spread of good news and missing all the power of social proofing.

We are a simple species. 100,000s of years of evolution has told us that following the crowd seldom sees us wrong. Social Proofing is this instinct as a buzz phrase and building that into your audience engagement is a practical way to enhance it. I believe that social proofing is of incredible importance and offers a wonderful opportunity, especially for smaller events and event companies, in engaging a wider audience.

Further evidence in the power of social proofing is the explosion of sites that “recommend” events for you to attend on your past preferences. We have to realise that our potential attendees will follow the pack. Our audiences demonstrate social proofing in action: it is all powerful and event planners must understand it and use it.

So those are my three trends. I’d love to hear what is the one that you think is most important?

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