Trends for Convention Professionals
By Jeff Rasco, CMP ©2001
This article could just as easily be titled “Jump On the
Bus If You Don’t Want It To Run You Over!”
Technology has us surrounded, and it’s closing in fast.
This is great news if you’re ready for it, and deadly if you aren’t.
Having an idea of what is coming down the tech pipeline will certainly
make you more professional in what you do, but hopefully you can have some fun
with it, too.
What are some of the driving forces to this tech boom?
Certainly the Internet has to be tops on the list.
If you were to look at a graph of Internet users or the number of web
sites out there, either would look like a hockey stick lying on its side.
Through the first five years of the last decade as things were getting
started, the growth was steady, but manageable.
In the late ‘90’s, it exploded, and keeps doubling or more every
year. Over 350 million people use
the Net now, according to the Computer Industry Almanac, and those numbers
continue to grow geometrically.
With Internet users come Internet applications.
We’ve never had a better or easier way to share information, and great
minds are finding thousands of ways to capitalize on it.
The killer application for meetings and events has been online
registration, in our opinion, and its overwhelming acceptance has driven some
great work in other areas.
Users are quite accustomed now to being able to thoroughly
check out an upcoming convention -- viewing the program, checking out the
exhibitors, registering for the event, booking a room, renting a car, and even
making restaurant reservations all on the website. It is becoming routine for
exhibitors to choose and pay for their space through interactive floor plans on
the web, then download all required materials and submit all their needs via
email or other online systems.
These are the kinds of applications that make the best use of
the Net, achieving tremendous efficiencies in areas that were previously very
tedious and error-prone. However,
they have become so common these days that they can hardly be called trends
anymore. So what else do we have to
look forward to?
One of the most amazing trends to track for our industry is
wireless technologies. Between
Web-enabled cell phones and personal digital assistants like the Palm™,
we’ve already seen some great applications.
For instance, Applied Theory (www.teamtech.com)
specializes in high-end technology systems for events, and our signature
solution is CyberCentral, sort of an Internet café on steroids.
By far, the favorite feature has been integration with PDA’s.
Either prior to the show via the event website, or on the floor,
attendees make up their personal schedules and download that data, along with
announcements, news reports, surveys and the like directly to their handheld
In Europe and some of the Asian countries, the cell phone is
the device of choice. It is
basically the convergence of the PDA and phone (which we are already seeing
stateside). By plugging in an
Internet address (not much different than dialing a telephone number), an
attendee could do anything on their phone from registering for an event, to
gathering leads at the show, or buying a soda from the vending machine. As convention centers become better wired (or wireless as
with the Dallas Convention Center and a few others), more and more devices will
be “addressable,” meaning that they can be accessed via the Net, and
anything that can reach the Net – think security systems, electronic signage,
Internet kiosks, lead retrieval devices, registration services, etc. – can
also control the device.
In the very near future, you will be hearing about Bluetooth
(if you haven’t already). Bluetooth
is a standard for wireless communication that is being developed with the
backing of many of the major players in technology, including Microsoft, Nokia
and Motorola, to name a few. Bluetooth
will enable devices of almost any type to communicate. You won’t need cables between your computer and monitor,
printer, or network. You will be
able to simply beam your contact information, or any file, to a vendor or
prospect from a chip in your namebadge. Convention
managers will never be out of touch, even on the floor of a busy show, because
all the information they need, and the people supporting the event, and always
part on the network and accessible.
We wrote briefly above about exhibitors beginning to manage
their processes on the web, but another trend takes it a step further.
With virtual shows, the physical event becomes the highlight of a much
larger entity. Online tradeshows
are becoming quite sophisticated, with 3-D modeling, live or streaming video,
links to other pertinent information, appointment scheduling, electronic
commerce, and fulfillment. Virtual events won’t replace traditional ones –
schmoozing isn’t very effective online – but they are a tremendous
enhancement and facilitator of buyer-to-seller communication.
Another area that we’re excited about in the virtual world
is advancing in the site selection process.
Virtual facility tours are not really new to the Net, but savvy
organizers are beginning to use them more, and facilities are becoming much more
sophisticated in using panoramic photography, 3-D modeling, multimedia, and even
online chat and webconferencing to make the selection process easier for event
Service and Marketing
We can’t touch on everything that’s new and exciting in
one brief article, but we do want to end on a favorite subject – better
service and communications through the Internet.
By comparison, the telephone, television and every other communication
technology of the past pales in comparison to the Internet. We’ve never been in a better position to stay in close
communication with our customers, vendors, sponsors, and all the stakeholders in
our events. There has never been a
more effective and efficient way to provide information on facilities or the
programs run in them than is available through a well-designed and comprehensive
On the marketing side, if you haven’t done so already, run out and pick up Seth Godin’s “Permission Marketing.” It’s one of the best we’ve seen on using the Internet to effectively share information, whether it is from a show organizer to attendees and exhibitors or a facility trying to reach their markets. This is a great read from one of the experts in Net marketing trends, tying the concepts of one-to-one relationship marketing with practical applications.
This has been a quick, high-level look at a few key areas
impacting our industry, and is by no means exhaustive.
Experiment with some of the new technologies, and visualize how they can
be put to work for you. Keep your
own eyes and ears open wider than ever, and avoid getting hit by that bus!
Jeffrey W. Rasco, CMP is senior vice president of meeting, event, and trade show strategists and managers JRDaggett & Associates and heads their Austin, Texas office. A 20-year veteran meeting professional and self-proclaimed geek wannabe, he is a frequent writer and speaker on meetings and events technology. Jeff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 512.842.1613.
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