These are exciting times. The rate of technology change is accelerating with thousands of ideas, apps and innovations bubbling up to help meeting planners, exhibitors, venues and other meeting participants to do their jobs better. 
 
This annual review covers many of the major events technology trends to watch for this coming year.
 
1. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will see major growth at exhibitions and events.

Virtual reality (immersive multimedia) and augmented reality (a layering of computer-generated sensory input onto real-world views) have seen major investments and advances in the past year:
    • Facebook purchased Oculus Rift (high-resolution immersive VR goggles) for US$2.1 Billion.
    • Samsung, Sony and Google have all made major investments in VR in this past year.
    • GoPro has made a made a turn-key 360° camera array that will work with Google Jump VR software. These VR videos will be distributed on YouTube
    • Google is selling Cardboard, a US$20 VR viewer that will convert large format smartphones, such as the LG G4 and Nexus 6, into immersive VR goggles at about 1/50 to 1/100 the cost of standard VR viewers.
 
  • Microsoft’s Hololens is an advanced augmented reality system with gesture controls which will be available in the next few months. This technology will be a fully untethered, see-through holographic computer enabling high-definition holograms to come to life in your world, integrating with your physical places, spaces, and things. Holograms mixed with your real world will unlock all-new ways to create, communicate, work, and play. This has huge potential for group collaboration, booth engagement, virtual training, interactive design and other activities at events and exhibitions.
 
The VR and AR tools above are the closest approximation of the Star Trek Holodeck that technology has provided so far!   With so many major technology companies making deep investments in this space, VR and AR will continue to improve in quality, will get less expensive and much more prevalent in the next few years.
 
These new, creative immersive visualization tools are beginning to work their way into events in a number of ways:
  • VR headsets will be used to demonstrate products at tradeshow in a more realistic, interactive and engaging manner while minimizing the need to ship physical products to a show.
  • VR will be used to engage attendees at booths with games and other immersive experiences.
  • VR will be used to provide a much more engaging and realistic hotel/venue site inspection experience – compared to browsing hotel websites.
  • 3D models of exhibit booths, stage sets and other event setups, will be replaced by 3D virtual walkthroughs. These walkthroughs can be saved and compared to future designs.
  • VR will redefine virtual meetings. Instead of watching a webcast, VR could make it seem to the remote attendee as if he/she were actually in the meeting room (or any other location in the world). One example, Samsung and partnered with the NBA to record and distribute basketball games in VR – to potentially huge audiences in China and elsewhere.
  • Augmented reality tools such as Hololens will provide complete new, immersive ways to collaborate and interact with each other from different locations.
  • Mobile, social telepresence robots (such as DORA – Dexterous Observational Roving Automaton) may eventually become virtual attendees at tradeshows and events. These remote robotic VR sensing units (virtual attendees), on a very basic level, are already here
The dawn of truly accessible, high-quality VR and AR is here! We will see lots of activity, improvements and usage at exhibitions and events in the near future.
 
2. Mobile event apps will mature into full-featured event intelligence and data analytic platforms.
 
Mobile event apps are now widely used at events (a prediction I made 15 years ago). The next big step is that they are moving beyond paper replacement and logistics management. A recent spate of funding and acquisitions in the mobile event app space (DoubleDutch US$45 million funding, Guidebook US$10 million funding, etouches purchase of TapCrowd to name a few in the past two months), points to broad business adoption and recognition of the value of this technology.
 
Modern smart phones have an array of sensors. When combined with mobile events apps, every touch in the app (and soon every movement) can be trackable. They can provide a goldmine if information about participants’ likes, dislike, interests, movements and more that can be used to improve future events and to provide customized marketing content based on the participants individual needs.
 
DoubleDutch, Genie Connect and others are working for a broader scope to use these analytic data for event intelligence to be used for marketing automation, customer relations management and event improvement.
 
3. Second-screen technology and other mobile participant engagements tools will flourish.
 
Second-screen technology refers to the use of a mobile device to provide an enhanced viewing experience for other content usually with interactive features. This is seen most often on television, but increasingly so at events. Presenter content, such as slides, polling, video, notes, social media links, can be pushed to any device in real-time during a presentation.  
 
This technology uses participants’ mobile devices to help them to focus on the presentations rather than distracting them away for other things. Some of the companies providing these services are Lintelus, Freeman’s FXP | TouchEvenium ConnexMe, and to some degree, MeetingPulse, and Microsoft’s Bing Pulse. More information, including video links can be found here.
 
Other mobile engagement tools such as the Makelight app serve simply to drive attendee excitement:
 
4. Images and videos will dominate social channels at events. 
 
Events provide a great source of images and videos. The tools listed below will be used to increase attendee engagement and significantly broaden the social footprint of events.
 
Savvy users of Twitter know that a tweet with an image is nearly twice as likely to be retweeted. Similar statistics apply to other social channels.  A picture or video can be worth a thousand words. Consequently, a variety of emerging social apps using photos, videos and video streaming are working their way into events.
 
Instagram has doubled in use in the past three years with over 300 million users. As this social channel is inherently mobile, it is a natural to use at events. Twitter walls commonly include Instagram feeds as well as Twitter images.
 
Snapchat has built a brand out of disappearing photos and videos (4 billion daily video views alone). It now offers ‘Live Stories’ a curated stream of user submitted Snaps and videos from various locations and events. Users who have their location services on at the same event location will be given the option to contribute Snaps to the Live Story. The end result is a story told from a community perspective with lots of different points view. The feature doesn't identify who created which snaps, only showing that they were all captured at the same event.
 
Check out an example: EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival):
 
 
 
Tradeshow/event photo booths are great for increasing attendee engagement, for capturing contact information and to broaden the impact of social media for events. They commonly post images (including the event hashtag) to Twitter, Instagram and/or Facebook. ChirpE, as an example, posts to Facebook and Twitter.
 
Videos are also seeing increasing usage at meetings. Facebook introduced auto-playing video in December 2013 and saw the number of video posts jump 75% the next year. This ubiquitous and highly mobile channel is a natural for use at events.
 
The Vine app allow users to post six-second videos and then share them to Twitter which is also seeing use at meetings.
 
Streaming video apps, allowing real-time video postings, are coming to events. Meerkat made its debut at the annual technology/music SXSW conference (known for significant debuts such as Twitter). Periscope, purchased by Twitter, provides similar services and will likely prevail due to a better interface and its support from Twitter. With 10 million people registered (in just 4 months), watching more than 40 years of video each day, Periscope will be a force to be reckoned with for events. Meeting planners should prepare for even greater Wi-Fi and cellular bandwidth usage as well as increasing copyright challenges. 

As images and video get more views and events provide a great source for them, we will see event marketers and participants increasingly use the social photo/video tools.

5. The Internet of Things (IOT) will connect people and objects in unprecedented ways for events.
 
The Internet of Things is the connection of objects and people to transfer data over a network without the need for human interaction. Sensor chips in a myriad of “things” (appliances, thermostats, door locks, TVs, watches/bracelets, cars, buildings, roads, power grids, dams, livestock, toothbrushes and more) will provide unprecedented efficiency and convenience. A broader term, the Internet of Everything (IOE), is perhaps a more descriptive term for this revolution that will be affecting us all in the near future.
 
Results of IOT are coming soon in a wide range of attendee experiences. The hotel room will become “smart” with mobile guestroom door locks and sensors to determine human presence for AC adjustment/lighting. Smart TVs are already in many rooms. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensors including iBeacons can track attendee movements throughout a meeting facility and local area to provide a wide range of assistance such as location-aware information and directions. The San Diego Convention Center and the downtown Gaslamp District is a great example of how this will develop (see next trend).  

6. BLE and beacon technology will continue to evolve and be deployed at events.
In my September 2013 trends article, I predicted that location-aware geofencing technologies would be making their way into events (3 weeks before Apple introduced iBeacon technology). Although still in its infancy, we are seeing strong examples of continued development of beacons (also known as iBeacons, BLE, and Bluetooth Low Energy):
  • This year’s SXSW music/technology conference in Austin (noted for significant technology rollouts such as Twitter) deployed more than 1,000 beacons across some 265 venues in the city. Attendees used these beacons through the mobile app (provided by EventBase) for hyper-local networking, push notifications, event messaging based on location, and much more.
  • DoubleDutch is using beacons with their app for a range services including welcome notification/directions, precise in-room polling (with a pop-up link directed only to the attendees in the specific meeting room), networking and other options.
  • The Cisco Global Sale Experience used beacon technology to measure crowd flow in food lines and in transportation queues between the MGM Grand Garden Arena and the Mandalay Bay Convention center for it 18,000 attendees.
  • The San Diego Convention Center and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center have deployed beacons throughout their facilities to assist in navigation and area information.
  • Beacons have been used the last two years at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for scavenger hunt gamification.

 

7. Wearables (including smart watches, smart bracelets, smart name badges, and wearable beacons) will see increasing use at exhibitions and events.
 
In the way that smartphones are already transforming the attendee experience at tradeshows and events, other wearable smart devices tapping into IOT will bring a new level of convenience avoiding the “fumble factor” of digging out phones from our pockets and purses.
 
Fueled by fitness bands and the release of the Apple Watch, wearables are becoming mainstream. Several other companies will be releasing their versions of smart watches before Christmas.

One product, Cicret, although very much in a development prototype stage, gives a glimpse of future possibilities for wearables: 
 
Smart watches and other wearables will likely help event participants to:
  • receive GPS directions
  • receive directional indoor way-finding through a convention facility/exhibition hall
  • open guestroom doors
  • make e-wallet transactions that are faster and more secure than credit cards
  • receive conference alerts
  • exchange contact/lead retrieval information
  • use as admission tickets
  • make audience polling responses
  • enable automated check-in for registration/meeting rooms
  • record and track continuing education unit (CEU) credits and much more.
QuickMobile recently released the first mobile event app with Apple Watch integration this summer.  More versions are likely to come.
 
In related travel areas: airlines such as American, EasyJet, British Airways, Avios, and Emirates have Apple Watch apps tor departure/arrival/gate change notifications and mobile boarding passes. Some provide seat selection, destination weather and mileage balances.
 
Hotels such as Starwood, Accor, InterContinental have apps for mobile check-in, arrival and departure information.  Some feature loyalty points. Starwood allows guests to use the Apple Watch as a key to enter rooms at W Hotels, Aloft and Element properties.
 
Additionally, standalone wearables will become more widely used for events as well. Smart bracelets such as the Xyloband and the Lightwave provide for more engaging and exciting event experiences.
 
Companies such as LoopdAllianceTechITNLimefyPokenTurnoutNowXFocus are developing wearable beacons (often attached to or as part of a name badge) with many benefits: to assist in networking, contact exchange, wayfinding, notifications, for detailed crowd flow analytics, attendance tracking and more.
 
Although wearable beacons are a more expensive option compared to simply using beacon technology in a mobile event app (up to US$10-15 or more per person), the benefits are that it includes all attendees without a need for each to have a modern charged smart phone with the conference app installed.
 
Smart name badges and bracelets using RFID (radio frequency identification), NFC (near field communication), or beacons (or a combination of the above) are increasingly used at events in a number of ways:
  • To help attendees track different exhibit booths visited
  • To post automatically (user initiated) to twitter and other social channels of activities, photos, quotes, etc.
  • For automated voting
  • As a entrance ticket
  • For cashless payments
  • To share virtual business cards
  • For semi-automatic social postings
  • For surveys
8. Event Intelligence will be the next BIG thing!

The onsite meeting used to be known as the “black hole” of event data management. Planners used computers to gain insights before and after events, but during an event they were “flying blind.” For example, paper surveys were handed out, but tallying wasn’t completed until after the event – not in time to make mid-course corrections.
 
Now, it is possible for every touch on a mobile event app to be tracked, scored and rated. Social media channels can be monitored and incorporated into the mix. Onsite “likes” and mobile polling and survey tools can be scored in real time. Meeting planners and event marketers can know immediately answers to the following questions:
  • What are trending hot topics?
  • Who are the top speakers?
  • What exhibit booths have the most attendance?
  • What speakers/exhibitors are “liked” the most?
  • Who are the key connectors/influencers?
  • What are the attendees’ ratings on specific survey and/or polling questions?
With coming advances in geo-positioning and beacon technology, it will be possible for every attendee movement to be monitored precisely (usually with permission from the attendee) to yield even more data. This includes:
  • What is the crowd flow through an exhibit hall? Where are the hot spots and where are they not?
  • What are the “dwell times” of specific attendees in front of specific exhibitor booths? (For example: an attendee would be likely more interested in an exhibit if the stood at a booth for 15 minutes compared to just walking by. This is very valuable information for exhibitors to know who specifically are interested in their product or service. It could also be useful for attendees to be able to generate a list of the exhibit booths visited and the amount of time spent with each of them.)
  • Where are queues forming for registration, food and/or transportation in order to send reinforcements?  
  • Who is in the meeting room? (This could be useful for many purposes including automated CEU tracking or to send pop-up messages targeted only to attendees in the room to open up a room-specific mobile poll.)
This real-time collection of onsite data can be a goldmine of information to gain insights for event improvement, to make midcourse corrections, to engage participants and to provide more targeted marketing.
 
With better onsite data collection tools than ever before; the next challenge will be finding useful, real-time analytic tools to interpret these data. Many mobile event app companies are beginning to provide easy-to-understand real-time analytic tools. For example mobile app DoubleDutch’s Event Performance tool can provide real-time sentiment analysis with specific tools to measure engagement and “happiness.”
 
GenieConnect (recently purchased by Lanyon) provides an event portal and event app system that provides a range of analytic and marketing tools as well.
 
Attendee management companies such as Certain Software, Cvent and Lanyon are developing event intelligence tracking through their systems
 
Beyond this, there new, very capable analytic tools. IBM’s Watson Analytics (makers of the supercomputer that won the TV Jeopardy contest), now offers a freemium data analytics tool. Up to 50 columns by 100,000 rows of data per upload can be analyzed for free! Natural language queries and  simplified graphing/analysis tools make this product easy to use, to easily see trends and tell the story to others. 
 
Additionally, specialized event data analytic tools are emerging, such as insightXM, promising very specialized event intelligence capabilities.
 
The focus will be on “knowing your audience.”  What do they want? What are the needs, interests, budgets, buying clout?  This event intelligence will help to engage existing audiences and attract new ones. 
 
9. A repeat from previous years’ predictions: Despite the increased use of virtual meetings technology, face-to-face meetings and tradeshows will remain viable.
 
Webinars and other virtual meetings are great for short information exchange. However, in today’s multi- tasking and often distracting work environment, attention spans are short. Thirty to forty-five minutes is usually the maximum you can expect someone to pay attention to a webinar while sitting in front of a monitor.
 
Meetings, on the other hand, take people to a more focused environment with fewer distractions. As long as attendees are informed, entertained and fed, event hosts can keep them engaged for days. At the minimum, we share a social contract to at least look like we are paying attention at an event. The opportunities for networking, brainstorming, and relationship building are usually far greater at face-to-face events than online. For an exhibitor, it is often the best way to meet so many qualified buyers in such a short time. For buyers, it is a great chance to meet vendors of interest – all together in one location, categorized and mapped for your choosing.
 
Meetings provide a vastly richer, more targeted, and more focused learning experience than nearly any virtual meeting. To put it succinctly, there is no such thing as a “virtual beer!” 
 
These are just a few of whirlwind of changes coming.  Do you agree with them? Do you have others? Please leave comments and let me know your thoughts. 
 
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