Skift Take

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, your face may be your ticket to your next event. Thanks to improvements in facial recognition technology, meeting and event planners have access to a whole slew of tools to make their conferences and events more interactive, engaging and secure.

High-tech software companies and event production firms are rolling out new technologies, including facial recognition and emotional measurement software, to improve event security, streamline the check-in process, and measure the attendee experience.

The goal is to do all these things while putting attendees’ minds at ease when it comes to privacy concerns.

Taking the Friction Out of Event Check-In

For event planners, checking in attendees is one of the more labor- and time-intensive processes related to meetings. In an etouches survey of 239 event and meeting planners from around the globe, 42 percent said that managing the on-site registration and check-in process is the biggest pain point during an event.

Houston-based startup Zenus is one tech company that wants to alleviate that pain point. President and CEO Panos Moutafis said his facial recognition software, which launched earlier this year, speeds up the check-in process, prevents registration fraud, and adds an extra level of security to an event or conference by ensuring that the person who registered for the event is actually the person attending. It can also be helpful when managing or restricting access in areas that event planners want to keep private.

With Zenus, attendees register through the event organizer’s website and have the option of uploading a photo or using an image from one of their social media platforms (usually LinkedIn). To safeguard the data, Zenus does not receive any of the personally identifiable information such as names and emails. It only uses anonymized and fully encrypted images, which are deleted immediately after extracting the facial geometry. For further security, all metadata is also deleted right after the event.

Once the attendee is at the event, organizers don’t need to fiddle with RFID, QR codes, or dig through emails for registration confirmations. Event staffers use tablets or mobile devices to read facial features, check in attendees, and print a badge on a nearby scanner. Or, event staffers can just place a tablet facing the line and the attendees will be automatically checked in as they walk past.

Event registration platform Ya-Ya Regie used Zenus’ facial recognition software in a trial run at the International Corporate Events awards in London in July. Of the more than 250 guests that attended, most of whom were in-house corporate event planners, 126 used the facial recognition check-in, resulting in a process that was five times quicker than the barcode or QR system used at the previous year’s events.

“What event planners have told us is that they budget one minute per check-in. One device [with our software] is one hundredth of a minute,” or 0.6 seconds per person, Moutafis said.

Ya-Ya Regie was so impressed with the trial run at ICE, it has become a paying customer and intends to use Zenus software for upcoming conferences for Hyatt Hotels and commercial real estate firm CBRE, Moutafis said.

The Zenus system is more than 99 percent accurate in reading and finding attendees for events with up to 1,000 registered guests, Moutafis said. By year’s end, Moutafis plans to increase the event size accuracy to 5,000 attendees.

“In the testing we’ve done, we’ve had very few false positives,” said Al Wynant, CEO of EventInterface, another event registration platform that has recently begun offering its corporate clients a facial recognition check-in option for meetings and events. “Maybe 10 came back of out 1,000 check-ins, and it gives you three closest options of who it could be and then as the planner you can verify.”

It’s also an “insanely cost-effective” option, Wynant said. Depending on the number of attendees, devices being used, and time of operation, facial recognition can drive down the costs of check-in to less than a dollar per attendee.

“Planners, when they think about facial recognition, they assume it’s expensive because its cutting edge. You don’t need the fancy machine that the airport uses. You can use a basic Android phone or an iPhone or tablet to work with the process, so you don’t have to invest a lot of money to make that work for you,” Wynant said.

Smile Swag

Facial recognition software can also pick up on attendee emotions and reward them for it. At its biennial Ultimate GM Huddle conference in Orlando last year, Hampton Hotels partnered with agencyEA to create a vending machine that used facial recognition technology to dole out “smile swag.”

Built by Canadian-manufacturer wonderMkr and powered by and Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services open-code application programming interface (API), the smile swag vending machine was a hit. More than 700 attendees lined up over the course of the three-day event to display their “Hamptonality.”

Those with the right smile and happy attitude were rewarded with Hampton-branded bubbles, keychains, and other tchotchkes, as well as Amazon gift cards and Bluetooth speakers. “I think half of the allure was the prizes in the machine and the other half was the way it worked — the technology that was in it,” said Cari Wafford, a digital producer at agencyEA.

The facial recognition software which could detect a range of emotions was fairly accurate, according to Wafford, and the machine was configured in a way to encourage people to smile more. “The great thing about facial recognition is that you don’t have to start from scratch with it anymore now that it’s a little bit more commercialized,” she said. “The people that worked with us made it very efficient and very accurate. Very rarely did the second prompt have to come in to get people to smile.”

In terms of the prevalence of facial recognition technology at future events, Wafford said the trend is poised to grow, as long as it has relevance and a purpose, rather than just being the next big thing.

“I think brands are starting to see it as having a really good opportunity to broaden what some of their goals are and engage audiences in new ways,” Wafford said. “With the right strategy and the right purpose, facial recognition has a perfect opportunity in the experiential marketing space.”


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Tags: facial recognition, meetings, meetingsiq

Photo credit: At its biennial Ultimate GM Huddle conference in Orlando last year, Hampton Hotels partnered with agencyEA to create a vending machine that used facial recognition technology to dole out "smile swag." agencyEA

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