Today, we are a far cry away from our humble paper survey beginnings. Meeting technology has taken center stage in SMM, meeting departments, and event planning institutions. As new options emerge, new opportunities for measurement, improvement, and understanding arise.

For many of us, technology has ushered in both tremendous opportunity as well as adversity. As we look to the ever-growing number of technologies that promise to make our lives “easier,” “faster,” and “better,” it’s easy to forget what problems these tools were meant to solve in the first place.

So, we thought it would be good to remind ourselves of where we came from to determine where we need to go.

Audience Response Systems (ARS)

Established meeting planners are familiar with paper evaluations, printed presentations, and didactic speakers. While this traditional method for learning was duplicated in meetings from the typical classroom setting, it was clear that this approach wasn’t making the impact that planners were hoping for.

Thus, we see the introduction of the Audience Response System (ARS). ARS eliminated the painful silence that accompanied presenter questions and enabled meeting professionals to tap into the knowledge-base of the audience. Meeting professionals were able to integrate multiple-choice questions within meetings to not only increasing engagement, but also to bring back data to their organization.

Event Apps

Though ARS encouraged participation and created valuable data, its value only reached so far. A several-day meeting certainly gained something by having ARS rather than paper evaluations, but ARS only proved useful during the presentations. There were still many elements of an event that required more man-hours than they were worth, including registration, agenda creation, and floor-plans. The need for a solution that could fill these voids alongside the emergence of smart mobile resulted in event apps.

Event apps are still widely used by meeting and event organizations today and have become far more common-place than they were even five years ago. These days, there really is an app for everything, with event app uses ranging from meeting-wide social platforms to attendee GPS tracking. Apps have digitized many of the repetitive, time-consuming tasks that plague meeting professionals everywhere, allowing these organizations and departments to dedicate their time to more strategic elements of the meeting.

The introduction of these apps has given planners access to a new means for measuring success in a meeting. App traffic and networking data have provided meeting organizations attendee insight that was not available before to the age of the app. Planners have been able to uncover details about attendees’ interaction with event apps to create a more seamless meeting experience. These capabilities have given meeting and event professionals a window into the individual attendee far beyond the multiple-choice reporting that ARS provided.

Meeting Engagement Technology

With the onset of new attendee insight, planners naturally want to learn more. The sheer number of apps available is overwhelming to any meeting professional. Many meetings now must adopt multiple apps to cover the diverse needs of the audience. And, though accessing these event apps is usually quite straight-forward, only 54% of attendees download event apps.

Event apps are certainly still relevant, but they are limited in their ability to engage audiences and capture valuable information. There has been a shift in the meeting and event industries away from the typical metrics for success (number of attendees, revenue from exhibitors, and verbal satisfaction ratings) to the audience-centric metric of engagement.

Second screen engagement technology enabled meeting planners to turn their passive attendees into active participants. With a wide variety of engagement tools, second screen technology is not only able to capture and keep the audience’s attention, it is also able to collect data about how the users are interacting with presentation content. The effectiveness of this can be seen by audiences averaging a 95% usage rate (as seen in EM Array™ users).

Instead of relying on printed presentations that rarely made it back to the office, participants can save slides, take notes, and draw stylus diagrams within the technology and have it sent to them post-meeting. Rather than simply reviewing traffic statistics, planners can review the performance of everything from the speaker to a specific slide. This information, in turn, can fuel a cycle of constant improvement for subsequent meetings.

The Next Big Thing

There are a number of predictions that have been made about meeting technology for this year and beyond. One thing is clear: the need for deeper understanding of our audiences in the meeting space is on the rise and, accordingly, the demand for meeting analytics. Because of this, technology will be pushed to adopt capabilities beyond basic reporting and planners will feel the pressure of these adaptations.

We can see the need for engagement expressed in AR and VR. Though these are often seen as channels for entertainment and engagement, they are also new means of achieving an even greater understanding of human behavior. These technologies are on the path to measuring everything from eye movement to beverage preferences.

Next-generation live meetings will seek ways to not only improve the audience experience, but to better capture data for analytics. The new age of SMM and meeting planning will be driven by the desire to utilize analytics to better understand and change behavior of attendees.

Regardless of where you are in your planning career and whether you’ve interacted with any or all of these different stages of the meeting technology evolution, it is vital that you have a strategy in place for adopting next-generation technologies. The survival or failure of a meeting department will be based on their ability to adopt and integrate systems that further your business goals and continually improve your audiences’ meeting experience.

Marc Crawford is the CEO of Educational Measures LLC. With over 20 years of experience within the live meeting technology industry, Marc’s primary focus is to oversee the strategic direction of Educational Measures and provide oversight of the company’s research and development initiatives. Prior to Educational Measures, Marc spent three years at Keane Consulting Group as a Senior Consultant managing projects and conducting operational analysis for clients. He developed strategies for Fortune 500 clients to streamline company operations and meet financial objectives. Before his position at Keane, Marc worked for Medical Educational Collaborative as a Program Development Manager. His main responsibility included recruitment of pharmaceutical and medical device companies to financially support educational programs.

Marc was recognized in 2012 as a Top 5 Most Influential Young Professional by ColoradoBiz magazine and is Six Sigma certified.