The role of technology in events

Having been an organiser of product launches and conferences, I’ve always known that it was a stressful occupation. At the same time it was hugely satisfying and I always thought that I was incredibly lucky to have such a great job. These days, though, I have enormous sympathy with organisers. Apart from all the stresses involved with planning and organising a conference, they now have to cope with numerous people flogging various technological gizmos and each one claiming that it’s a game changer.

Yet the experience almost never lives up to the sales pitch.

The problem for a meeting planner today is that of finding a way to work out which of the technologies will suit a specific event. They have to evaluate the online management systems, apps, RFID, augmented reality, wifi, social media, mobile devices and all the rest. In doing this they face several problems. In some cases, the terminology is, to say the least, imprecise. Take online management systems for example. For some people, this means nothing more than being able to manage registrants online while others see it as a tool to manage every aspect of the meeting from registration, housing and travel to speaker management and all the other jobs that have to be done. The second problem is that some of the people promoting these technologies show by the text they post on forums and so forth, that they don’t understand whatever they’re promoting. The third is that we seem to have reached the point where technology, instead of helping planners and providing real benefits for them and their attendees, is working against them. It soaks up time to evaluate its value to the event. It soaks up even more time if they decide to implement many of these technologies.

But at the same time it’s a difficult situation because a planner could end up dismissing a technology that’s ideally suited to their event.  So how should a planner deal with all of these voices trying to persuade them to implement some new wonder gadget?

Step one: who is promoting the technology and who do they work for? This is particularly important when looking at contributions on LinkedIn discussion forums. It’s fairly normal to see people promoting technologies there. You can find out who they work for by putting your computer cursor over their photograph. A box will appear showing you their outline details. The chances are that they will work for a company that sells the technology or sells a service based on it. If that’s the case, it’s worth waiting until you see a comment from a planner who has used it and is prepared to explain how they used it and how they measured its success.

Step two: if a technology looks interesting to you, post a specific question on one of the meetings forums on LinkedIn. You’ll almost certainly get replies from people selling whatever you’ve asked about but it’s easy to ignore them and you’ll probably get useful advice that can be replied upon from planners who have relevant experience.

Step three: when you get a sales person telling you that you really have to have whatever it is they’re selling, ask them a few questions: what does it do? How does it do it? (and keep asking this one until you understand). Who has used it already? What benefit did they get from it? With this question, you may have to tell the sales person that wittering on about how their gizmo will ‘help you to engage with your participants’ or will ‘enrich the experience for your participants’ does not constitute proof of any benefit.

The problem with all of this is that I am always reminded of a cartoon I saw many years ago. There was a battle in full swing with soldiers wielding swords and pikes and other old-style weapons. The attackers had the upper hand and the defending general was watching in dismay. A little man carrying a machine gun was trying to attract his attention but the general was saying ‘Can’t you see I’m busy? I haven’t got time to see any salesmen.’ The trouble for the meeting planner generals today is that some of the salesmen tend to be wielding the equivalent of a feather duster but claiming that it will change the world. Against that background it’s reasonable to say, ‘Show me the proof of its value. If you can’t, let me get on with some important work’.

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