Increasing the Life Span of Conferences
It used to be quite hard to be heard at conferences. At best, you put up your hand for a roving microphone, which didn’t always arrive. At worst, you attended, listened and left. Today, you grab your phone, enter a few characters and fire off your thoughts and questions. In seconds you become part of the conference with as loud a voice as any speaker.
“We have moved away from the school-room lecture,” says Adriaan Liebetrau, CEO of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry. “Today, conferences are about the delegate experience, learning and fun.”
The transformation from classroom to interactive hub has been made possible by the advent of digital tools and social media. Images are shared online, phones, tablets and laptops have replaced paper hand-outs, apps and USB sticks are the home of conference packs and contact details.
The sheer number of tools and applications available can be overwhelming, and they’re useful before, during and after an event. “Digital has a much longer life span,” says Felicity Kantor, digital and live-event strategist and consultant at Digital ESP.
With an app, a hashtag and a blog, you can extend the life of the conference by months.
At the conference
But can digital solve the annoying problem of registration queues? If education is involved and delegates need accreditation, they will need to sign in and get a name tag, often barcoded, so that they can be tracked. Karmen Vladar, marketing manager at Lumi Technologies, says touch screens can be used to sign in people and this may lessen queues.
Kantor believes a solution similar to online flight check-ins could be used, where delegates register online and receive a code they need to scan when they arrive at the conference.
Dom Smith of Tinderbox says near-field tags can be used at registration. Near field communication (NFC) is a form of close-proximity wireless communication – device to device, for example. NFC tags have a microchip that allows user information to be tracked – Do they have a delegate bag? Which sessions have they attended?
After the conference
Building online communities after conferences is an area where significant value can be added. Consider a situation where you have attended a conference and learned a new technique. You attempt this new technique in your workplace, only to come unstuck. An online community with access to experts and fellow delegates could offer valuable guidance.
Vladar says she usually suggests to clients that they start a blog post or intranet post to keep people updated on topics raised at the conference.
Going really hi-tech with numerous large touch screens and purpose-built apps can be expensive, but using tools such as YouTube and social media comes at a lower cost. Vladar says their apps start at R13 000, and can go up to six digits, depending on budgets and client needs.
Despite the growing trend to use digital tools at conferences, Vladar says there is lots of room for improvement, and although the sector is innovative, when it comes to technology, we are a year or two behind a country like the UK. There are some limitations, like infrastructure – Wi-Fi, for example, has to be stable and fast enough.
Liebetrau says conference formats should move away from the copy and paste model, where what happens at the conference in year one is what happens at the next conference, and the next. “The conference just stays the same,” he says. “There is a lot of innovation. Do one thing differently each year.”