Skift Take

Tech companies need to get out of the lab and test their products in the real world, meeting planners say.

Remember when VCRs continuously blinked 12:00? There was this fantastic piece of new technology, but most people couldn’t figure out how to complete its most basic function: setting the clock. That’s how a lot of meeting planners feel about the technological tools they use every day: What good is it if can’t deliver what it promised? And that concern is just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s a virtual cornucopia of forward-thinking technology available to turn a ho-hum meeting into a truly spectacular interactive event, but when Skift asked meeting planners for their biggest complaints or pet peeves about technology, too much choice and not enough good information about the array of tools available were at the top of the list.

“It’s like drinking out of a fire hose,” said Corbin Ball, a meetings technology expert and owner of Corbin Ball & Co. “There’s a lot thrown at planners and some decisions about tech are mission critical. If you make the wrong registration choice and it blows up, or you have an app that doesn’t work, and you’re relying on it as a key component, then that can mean people’s jobs on the line. One challenge for meeting planners is how to sort through the blizzard of information they have coming at them so they can make the right choices.”

Ball recommended getting educated by reading blogs, going to industry shows, and relying on word-of-mouth recommendations.

“Planners, I’ve found, are really frank with each other about what they like and what they don’t like, and you can use references to narrow things down,” said Ball.

Mic Check, Please

“The biggest problem I usually have are microphones, said Annette Naif, CEO of Naif Productions in New York City. “I don’t understand why this is, because that’s a big piece of an event and it’s really frustrating. It’s basic technology and we have a huge amount of feedback and echo. I’ve used so many different companies, so I don’t feel like it’s one specific company.…It could be in-house problems, but it happens in many different venues, with different people and different equipment.”

Registration Woes

Jeff Rasco, founder and CEO of Attendee Management, an event services company focused on tech, said his biggest technology-related frustration is the unfulfilled promise of new technologies — something he’s encountered throughout the course of his 35-year career in the business.

“So much of it is smoke and mirrors,” Rasco told Skift. “The crazy thing is that with these registration companies, it’s like they’ve never been to a meeting. So, you can register people, put them in their hotel rooms, but when you get on site at the meeting itself, there is a huge disconnect. The ability to check people in and print a name badge is a new idea to [tech companies] in the last couple of years. I’ve experienced this with various companies; it’s definitely not just one company.”

He continued: “An offshoot of this is transitioning from pre-registration to being able to support attendees on site. The mobile app is supposed to communicate with the registration software so attendees can update their schedule, but getting on to the main database is problematic. Two-way integration is promised but not delivered. With all the improvements that have been made, it still seems like the companies have never been to a meeting. They need to spend more time knowing the industry they serve.”

Scheduling Issues

Amy-Marie Lemanski, owner and senior meeting manager of AML Events, is tired of having  to search for basic information on tech product websites and finding inoperability among different systems.

“I was looking for a Web- or app-based platform that I could use to schedule multiple meetings in a variety of different hospitality suites over a period of three to four days,” said Lemanski. “Those meetings could range from one-on-one meetings to a small group of eight to 10 people. I asked a group of colleagues for some recommendations and looked up their suggestions. The websites offered little or no content, no online demo videos (unless I wanted to speak with a salesperson), and no price ranges. I don’t have the time to talk to four or five different sales people. My client has used Google Calendar in the past, but they were bought and are in the process of transitioning to Microsoft Office, so Google was not an option. A custom-built app or platform is not a viable option for many reasons, including cost, onboarding the users, and merging with their calendars. It’s so frustrating!”

Resetting Expectations

J. Damany Daniel, chief imaginator at The Event Nerd, had a different take. He said that the core frustration of planners – that technology doesn’t work – stems from often-inaccurate expectations about the technology itself, and what the audience will engage with.

“Because [the tech] didn’t do for them what it did for someone else’s event, they assume that it was ineffective. In reality, many producers initially have a bit of a one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to incorporating event tech,” said Daniel. “What they don’t often do is understand what their audience is already using and how they can best engage with them using tools they’re familiar or comfortable with.

“Technology is the tool used to tell the tale, not the tale itself, but so many planners try to focus on the tool first,” said Daniel. “It would be like telling the architect of your house to start designing the living room with the hammer or nail gun as the focus, and not how your family will live/work/eat/play in the space.”

Said Daniel: “The best technologies at events are those that create a bridge between brand and consumer, or attendee and attendee. They are the technologies that you don’t explicitly notice but somehow worked to make you feel closer to everything you’re around. Great event technology should be invisible and engaging.”

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Tags: event technology, meetings, meetingsiq

Photo credit: Registration woes having to do with challenging technology issues are a common pet peeve among event and meeting planners. League of Women Voters / Flickr

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