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The event technology space is more complicated than ever, with dozens of technology providers offering competing products across a wide range of services.
A little experimentation can be a good thing, according to Richard Maranville, executive vice president and chief digital officer at event and brand experience company Freeman, even if the options available are daunting.
More powerful tools for both attendees and planners provide ways to ease pain points and provide a more memorable experience.
Skift spoke to Maranville about the explosion in event technology options, the new products or services that may prove most innovative in the future, and the challenge of spanning the digital/analog divide when planning an event.
This conversation has been edited for length and accuracy.
Skift: The event technology space seems to be evolving at a fast pace. Why is this happening now?
Richard Maranville: A lot of areas are changing. The meetings industry, in general, has been a little slower to adopt technology than many other industries. There does seem to be a change in perception now and maybe a bit of an inflection point of the recognition that technology can play a bigger part. Then maybe some of it is driven a little bit by the fear that somehow technology might replace the meeting itself as opposed to augmenting the meeting. It’s making it easier to have meetings, and it’s making it more productive and making them last longer. There’s an after effect.
Skift: As you look beyond 2018, what emerging technologies could affect meeting planners the most?
Maranville: I’ll pick a couple. One is facial recognition and the application of it. Just having that technology that can be applied. It’s getting to the point where you can figure out a better registration process. Applying facial recognition to some of those problems is exciting because it finally seems like it’s actually reaching the point where it can be done.
Another thing I think that we’re kind of struggling with is that we have these technologies and now that they’re creating this information. It’s now being used with artificial intelligence and machine learning and all that good stuff.
Every year that seems to get better. I do think that this is no longer an execution problem. It’s a data-scientist tech problem that I truly believe that we’ll be able to get after this year.
Skift: As younger people enter the workforce, they do so with different ideas about how digital tools can enhance their experience. Virtual and augmented reality, for instance, have emerged in recent years. How do you balance this dynamic with the core face-to-face elements of a meeting or event?
Maranville: I’ve watched teenagers use technology. They’ll do their homework over FaceTime or Skype, just like their friend’s in the room with them, and they’ll both sit there quietly for the most part. They use it to collaborate, which is another way for them to be face-to-face without actually physically being there. They also use it to schedule, you know, Hey we’re all going to go to the mall in an hour. Who’s in? Then, an hour later, you’ve got six people at the mall. Things you could have never done 25 years ago as a kid, these guys can do with basically no effort at all. Those are the ones now starting into the workforce.
Social’s not an afterthought, it needs to be part of the event. Adopting technology and using it to communicate needs to be part of the event. That’s how they communicate. They don’t go to websites. They do everything on their device. Telepresence is a good example of video conferencing. Even before that, it really ended up being just another tool of the arsenal.
I think we’ve gone through a little hype cycle with those [devices]. Even 18 months ago [talk was about augmented and virtual reality replacing meetings] and people are finding out that’s not the case. But it can be used very effectively to make a better experience when you’re trying to demo or show something off.
Skift: With so much technology out there, how can meeting planners who may be hesitant get started exploring event tech options?
Maranville: You don’t know where to start. Everyone has an opinion. I think, right now, if you look at where the industry is at, there’s an abundance of providers that are providing and making these great technologies. You have too many providers given the size of the audience. Some of that is going to have to work it’s way out in terms of who the winners are going to be. What’s going to happen is the consolidation of some of the tech providers.
For a meeting planner, though, as far as being able to navigate that, one of the best ways is to look at what other events use. That’s always been a great way to kind of get your feet wet because there’s some fear involved in choosing some of these things.
If you try something and it doesn’t work, in a lot of industries you can fix it or rework it. If you have an event, and it’s a one time a year thing, and you try it and it doesn’t work, people remember that. Willingness to take risks and pick something that is proven isn’t quite as high as it might be in some other areas. Because of that, looking at what everybody else is doing is at least a good way to first get into it and understand mobile apps.
Skift: How do all of these new tools actually play into designing the event experience? The more complexity there is, the more chance for things to go wrong or under-deliver.
Maranville: That’s a good question. Some teams are figuring that out, but it’s sort of a change in how you’re creating and designing experiences. Now that you can incorporate things, whether it be motion- or gesture-based technologies, or augmented reality technologies, should those things be center stage towards how the experience is actually crafted?
It’s going to take awhile for everybody to kind of get on board with. It’s a new way of doing things. It’s a new set of skills. As a designer or a producer, you’ve been doing things the same sort of way for a long time. You want to be able to see the benefits of this stuff. It’s a journey of course. The best experiences are the ones where you get sort of that blend of talent. A digital perspective, an analog perspective, and the media is still figuring it out.
I do think there’s certain types of events that are just more willing to actually do that. When we have our own events, we try a lot of things that we don’t normally, that we might do for the first time. I even have to warn the people, my counterparts here, that this stuff might not work. Please don’t freak out. So that happens. This whole industry is wired towards perfection. No mistakes. Almost zero-tolerance for that kind of stuff.
Meeting planners are, by their nature, very detailed and methodical people. To be one you have to have that kind of wiring. [The awareness of technology in the event space] does seem to be changing. One reason is in part the consumerization of tech, right? So, people are used to maybe networks not working all the time. They’re used to sometimes pages being a little slower at certain times of the day. They at least have a better knowledge of this stuff than even five years ago, when this stuff would happen. When you used to say the network was down, people didn’t really even know what the heck that meant.