The technology experience

From immersive videos to Virtual Reality product experiences, there’s plenty today’s technology can do to enhance the delegate experience at business events. Yet, adoption is not as extensive as events specialists would like. Karen Yue finds out why

While in conversation with four event industry specialists on the application of technology in engaging the audience, one constant refrain to emerge was that these are now exciting times to be in for event players.

Evie Loo, senior vice president and managing director, China for Jack Morton Worldwide, told TTGmice: “Almost every event experience that we create and work with clients on these days includes some form of technology.”

Offering an example, Loo said Jack Morton Worldwide helped to develop and create a Virtual Reality Google Tilt Brush experience at the recent China Porsche Dealer Conference. Event participants got to don Virtual Reality goggles and create their own 3D image in a virtual world surrounding the new Porsche Panamera Turbo. The 3D image is also available for download to the participant’s mobile phone as a GIF.

She said: “Different auto brands have used a lot of Artificial Intelligence to enhance their events experiences – with robots deployed to sign guests in at the reception, and to brew and pour coffee in the lounge.

“We have worked with 3D printed models on-site to (produce personalised parting gifts) for guests.”

Oni Chukwu, president & CEO at etouches, a global company specialising cloud event management software and sourcing solutions, said: “Immersive technology is advancing well and its applications in business events are many. Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, immersive videos (also known as 360-degree videos) and (transmitter devices like) iBeacon are all common these days.

“In fact, technology is woven deeper into meeting and events, to a point now that attendees and organisers both realise that without using fairly immersive technology, meetings are not as successful. In my opinion, this is an exciting time to be in the meetings and events industry.”

According to Qixin Liow, account manager with Pacific World Singapore, some of the bigger business events handled by the company had utilised a 270-degree projection as an immersive experience for delegates, Virtual Reality masks as entertainment during themed dinners, and QR codes in delegate registration and attendance tracking.
“We are now exploring possibilities of using Xylobands – wristbands with LED bulbs that light up according to action or music,” added Liow.

Differing rate of adoption
However, the extent of technology being used to engage event attendees is varied.
Pacific World Singapore’s Liow said: “We are only skimming the surface of the possibilities for technology at events because a lot of companies are still wary and hesitant to try out new (ideas).”

The scene is different over in China, according to Jack Morton Worldwide’s Loo.
“Events here are adopting technology much quicker than the rest of the world. Everything here can be scanned and is interactive. Every event is looking to out-do the one before with different technology,” she said.

“However, you do find that people here use technology (just to check off a box). Virtual Reality is used in most events, but unless the content is on point and relevant – and this takes a lot of time and budget to perfect, it doesn’t convey the correct corporate message,” she added.

Clients’ hesitancy around technology usage in audience engagement stems from several reasons – costs, lack of knowledge and insufficient time to clearly define objectives.

Liow said new event technology “comes with a much heftier price tag compared to your usual manual and old school ways”.

While Chukwu agrees that cost is prohibitive for most, he is seeing changes. He explained: “It is true that there has not been much application of Augmented Reality at meetings and events because that is fairly expensive to work. But think about driverless cars. A year or two ago, people said it wasn’t possible to implement and was too costly. Yet it is happening now. Today, the cost of Augmented Reality usage is starting to come down.

“For now, immersive videos are much more within reach because they are affordable, and are being used at events today. It can cost a few thousands of dollars to produce (marketing materials in the form of immersive videos), depending on how elaborate the content is, how you want to engage your delegates, and how many delegates you want to engage.”

Loo opined that the problem is “mainly a knowledge issue”.

She said: “Many people are unaware of what’s available and what’s new. Clients get cold feet if it is technology they haven’t used before, but in order to engage new technology you have to take a leap of faith.

“We often get the brief to do something that is super creative and never done before, but in the end the client would want an example of it from a previous event! Partly this is down to not having trusted partners – many new ideas come from small start-ups; big corporations are sometimes scared of investing in technology from a start-up agency they haven’t worked with before. It’s a risk for them, which holds them back.”
Pacific World Singapore’s senior account manager, Andrea Teo, also suggested that time was another obstacle.

She elaborated: “There needs to be sufficient time invested into a project to have clear objectives, which is often the most challenging, and to decide on the right technology solutions/products to deliver that experience. Time is also needed for User Acceptance Tests to ensure that the (user interface and experience) do not end up marring the event.”

Teo believes that the business events industry could see better and more sophisticated adoption of technology in audience engagement. “It’s time to move beyond online registration (which is now a given) and look into enhanced interactivity and more experience-personalisation, through the harvest of data and analytics to create tailored event experiences for that top-of-mind recall,” she urged.

Examples of available technology that can help “create a better attendee experience”, according to Liow, include an emotion tracker that allows organisers to read how attendees are feeling – perhaps too cold or bored with the content on stage – and to implement solutions immediately.

Age, IoT as catalysts
Industry players agree that both an increasingly younger workforce and a wider application of Internet of Things in daily routine will drive corporations to utilise more technology in their event delivery.

Chukwu said: “People don’t use use one level of technology at home and a different one at work; they expect the same level of technology and convenience in both environments. Look at the way the Internet of Things has crept into our homes – we can control the functions of our refrigerators or TVs remotely. So, this is familiar to people and they expect the same level of technology when they are at work and at events.”

Teo sees millennials as the driving force. She said: “Gen Y-ers were at the forefront of the technology boom and they have grown accustomed to having technology as an integral part of life. Now that they are stepping into the workforce, automation and technology is all the more (essential).”

And brands hoping to connect with the tech-savvy consumer of today must take heed, opined Loo.

“(This is especially true) in China as everyone is stuck to their mobile phone screen 24 hours a day, so creating interactions via the phone is vital,” she said.
“However, it’s interesting to note that luxury brands that are using technology for engagement through WeChat are moving away from that at events. Instead, personalised items that are crafted, that participants can touch, feel and see are definitely in vogue for luxury brands. That personal human touch, craftsmen and professional age-old experience is a growing trend in luxury events here, and it seems to be a backlash against the over-reliance on technology.”

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