Meetings technology trends to watch for 2012

rate of technology change is increasing. Meetings and tradeshow
technology continues to advance with technology products becoming
better, cheaper and easier to use. Innovation is bubbling with new
options. Here are some of the major meetings and tradeshow technology
trends to watch for this coming year.

1. More free or low cost apps for events and trade shows

“Information technologies of all types are doubling in capability every year”

– Ray Kurzweil, Technology Pioneer and Futurist

way of looking Kurzweil’s observation is the cost for the equivalent
technology is being cut in half every year. Web software development is
much faster and easier than ever before. What used to take US$100,000+
and a team of programmers weeks or months to do, can now almost be
accomplished by a gifted teenager in his/her bedroom over the weekend. 
Web services and application programming interfaces (programming
standards allowing easy data sharing among websites) allow greatly
simplified sharing of data between web sites. For example, an online
registration program can work with or other contact
database simply and quickly without expensive and time consuming custom
integration programming.

Consequently, many free or very low-cost
web tools have emerged to help meeting professionals do their job
better.  There are free online databases of meeting facilities (Cvent’
Supplier Network:;
free exhibition floor plan/sales tools (; a wide
range of social media tools for promoting events (Facebook, Twitter,
LinkedIn, YouTube, WordPress, Flickr, Slideshare, etc); free HD video
conference tools (Skype and Google Hangout); free collaboration tools
( and; thousands of free or very low cost mobile
travel and other apps to help meeting professionals and attendees, and
much more. These are just a few examples. There are many more to come.

2. Mobile technology crosses the chasm from the early adopter to the early majority for events

Recent data from MPI”s FutureWatch 2011 Survey
and others indicate that more than 80 per cent of meeting professionals
use smartphones and other mobile devices in their jobs. Yet, relatively
few planners (9%) have used mobile applications yet for their own
meetings. This is about to change. There will be a very significant
adoption of mobile apps for events in 2012 and 2013. If a meeting does
not have a mobile app, the attendees will soon wonder why the meeting
organizers are behind the times.

There are hundreds of mobile
companies and mobile apps targeting meeting professionals (I have more
than 200 linked at my regularly updated online web links file: Although there will likely be a
shakeout similar to the deflation in the late 1990s, the
companies that survive will change how we do business.

There is a
very strong business case for adopting mobile apps for your events
including better real-time distribution of conference information,
better location-aware/way-finding capabilities, event greening through
paper reduction, better onsite networking, lower cost survey/polling
options, enhanced branding, better attendee analytics, better CRM,
advertising revenue generation and enhanced attendee experiences. More
details on building the business case for mobile apps can be found at:

Another driver increasing the use of mobile
apps at events is be the growth of applications targeted at the meeting
venues rather than the meeting planner. Meeting facilities managers will
either resell (at low cost) or give the app customized to the event to
meeting planners and attendees. Examples of this model are and

3. Do it yourself (DIY) mobile event apps will proliferate

of the hottest areas of mobile development is in the low-cost DIY
arena. It is possible to create a fully featured, cross-platform
business app (iPhone, android, iPad and mobile web) with customized
logos, colors and content using for as low as
$39.95/month. This DIY site is very easy to use with video tutorials

Although BiznessApps has an “events” option among the
dozens of business templates offered, there are several companies that
are targeting events specifically with DIY products including:,; and even the high-end  Often times, these will be at a fraction of the cost
of a standard application built by mobile app programmers.

4. HTML5 will become the standard for many event mobile applications

I like the customized look and feel of native mobile apps built
specifically for iPhones, iPads, Android, Blackberry, and Windows 7
phones, there are problems:

·         Building customized native
apps for each phone is substantially more expensive and requires much
more programming expertise than the building a single web app that can
be viewed by all smart phones.

·         Sometimes the apps don’t
work – especially for the Android operating system which has hundreds
of phone models with different screen sizes and processor speeds. The
low-end “free” android phones simply do not have the power to run some

·         It takes time and money to get the native apps
approved through the various apps stores. For example, the iPhone/iPad
store usually takes up to a month for approval and costs a least $99.
Substantial last-minute changes simply can’t be done.

Version 5) is the latest version of the Hypertext Markup Language, the
standard programming language for describing the contents and
appearances of web pages. It provides many benefits for mobile app
development over native apps or previous versions of HTML:

It is much less expensive than native app development. The language
itself is simpler and programmers don’t have to worry about building and
customizing the app for all the specific mobile operating systems.

Unlike previous versions of mobile web, users can download the web
pages to the phone. — it does not require continuous access to the
internet for it to work. It will give a much closer “native app”
experience the previous mobile web versions.

·         HTML5
supports geo-location so that users can access mobile websites that
access their position (a benefit that formerly was restricted only to
native apps).

·         It will work across all modern smart phones by simply launching the web browser.

It does not require approval through the app stores, saving money, but,
more importantly, saving time. Changes to the app can be done on the
fly substantially reducing development time and allowing much greater

There are limitations with HTML5, however. Scrolling
through large amounts of data (such as hundreds of names on an attendee
list) will require either a native app or internet access using HTML5.
Large, complex meetings will usually require native apps. They HTML5
pages also tend to look more basic in appearance and navigation.

these limitations, the move to HTML5 will drive down the cost and
development time while increasing the flexibility for mobile app
development for events. It will also make the do-it-yourself model
easier to provide as well.

5. Conference recording and distribution is becoming cheaper, faster and much more capable

recording has been around for decades starting in the days that
audio-cassettes of the presentations were mass-produced onsite and sold
in the foyer. Recent technology advances have made it possible to
quickly and relatively inexpensively distribute speaker video, audio and
visuals over the web in real-time and on demand afterwards.

technology to do this was simply not there just a few years ago. The
price of high-definition video cameras has plummeted (we are even
carrying them around as mobile phone feature). Accessibility to reliable
broadband is as available for most meeting facilities and the price is
dropping. Video streaming encoders are turn-key. Presentation management
software has proliferated. 

For example, the “video recording
and webcasting studio in a box” is the Roland Systems Group
( VR-5 incorporating a 5-channel video switcher,
audio mixer, video playback, recorder, preview monitors and output for
web streaming. What previously would have required crates of equipment
and $100,000+ has been shrunk into a 9 pound (4.3kg).box for under
US$5,000 greatly simplifying the production, recording and streaming of
live events.

Using these smaller, cheaper, and faster tools, it
is now possible for conference recording companies to record video/audio
and slides for dozens of simultaneous presentations and have them
available for sale or distribution on the web that evening. Streaming
technology for real-time distribution is also easier and simpler than in
the past. Some of the companies providing these services are: Content
Management Corporation,  Freeman, OmniPress, PSAV Presentation Services, Sonic Foundry, Digitell and Soma Media

More information and details on the benefits for conference recording can be found at the following article:

6. Hybrid meetings will extend the reach and broaden the impact of face-to-face events

hybrid meeting is an event that combines both face-to-face and virtual
experience for local and remote attendees. It will become commonplace
for many events in the next few years. Meeting professionals are
recognizing that it has become much easier to extend the impact of an
event beyond the four walls of the meeting room. A hybrid event can
multiply the event’s impact and can recruit new attendees for future

Live steaming sites such as provide easy
methods to stream conference video to remote attendees with a range of
pricing plans from free to enterprise level. Increasingly, interactive
tools such as polling and remote Q&A will engage the remote
participants. using event hashtags is currently being used
to allow remote attendees to comment and ask questions during a
presentation as well. can connect HD video signal from
four locations for free. The HD option allows events to bring in remote
speakers or groups in high enough quality to project on a large screen
in a meeting room.

Google Hangouts ( is a
great free, new option for events allowing video from up to ten
locations to be seen on each screen in a reliable and relatively
low-bandwidth format.  Event Camp Europe ( has recently
used Hangouts to have a “Hybrid Wine Tasting” connecting face-to-face
groups from four cities in Europe. The wine was shipped to the four
cities, poured and distributed, the wine was introduced and described,
attendees held the wines, smelled the bouquets, and tasted them. All
five senses were engaged simultaneously in multiple locations!

7. Near Field Communication (NFC) will provide streamlined connectivity and services for events

is a short-range wireless connectivity standard to enable communication
between devices when they’re touched together. It is expected to become
a widely used system for making payments by smartphone in the U.S.
The applications for events are significant allowing for very fast, secure and simplified means of:

·         Electronic ticketing

·         Electronic business card exchange

·         Credit card payment

·         Easy pick up of conference literature, exhibit brochures, course notes, and other digital documents

has been widely used in Japan and parts of Europe for the past few
years (I have personally seen people paying for packing meters and tram
rides in Estonia simply by tapping their phone to the transaction
device).  ITN International ( has successfully
used NFC at events in Europe for some time including contact exchange,
e-ticketing, and micropayments.

Companies such as use
NFC to provide many of these features with a small, inexpensive (US$18),
NFC-enabled “pokenTAG” that is worn around the neck and glows green
when information is exchanged.

The game changer, however, will
be when NFC becomes commonly available in mobile phones. Blackberry’s
three new Curve models are NFC-enabled as are dozens of Android phones
as well as many Nokia  and Sony phones. The tipping point, however, may
be if the soon-to-be-released iPhone5 will offer NFC.  Whether it is
this year, or next, NFC will provide much better and faster data
exchange, ticketing and micropayment options for events.

8. YouTube and other social publishing tools will be used increasingly to promote and manage meetings and to engage attendees

has been written about the power of and the other social
networking sites to engage potential attendees before an event to
increase attendance and networking onsite. I believe the wide range of
free social publishing tools will also be used increasingly for similar

· (technically a micro-blog and,
therefore, a social publishing tool) is widely used at events with event
hashtags to engage attendees before, during and after an event.
Planners should advertise the event hashtag in advance of their events
to increase utilization.

·         Free blogging tools (such as can be used to create event blogs to increase attendance.
Ask your speakers to participate to add comments about their sessions.
Invite influential bloggers to your event, and give them internet
connections to spread the word.

·         Encourage attendees to
upload their event photos under a designated event name (using the
Twitter hashtag) to so everyone can share their experience.
This page can then be used to help promote future events.

·         Speakers can share their slides using

· (the world’s second largest search site after its owner
Google) is potentially one of the most promising event promotion tools
around. The old saying goes that “A picture is worth a thousand words.” 
A video can be worth a thousand pictures and be far more compelling
than web pages or brochures full of text! Video is the most compelling
language of the internet.

      A few YouTube tips:

a.)   Encourage your speakers to make short video describing what they will speak on and upload this to YouTube.
b.)   Link or embed these videos at your event site.

c.)   Keep the videos short (no more than 3 minutes).

d.)   Record in HD.

e.)   Choose a compelling thumbnail image using the posting tools YouTube provides.

f.)    Enable the comments and sharing options.

g.)   Rename the videos using meaningful names ( is much better than

h.)   Use a keyword-laden, meaningful description of the video.

9. Social gaming tools will be used to engage face-to-face and virtual attendees at events.

spend more than three billion hours a week globally playing online
games! Jane McGonigal in her noted TEDTalk speaks of how gaming can make
a better world by deeply engaging people and by encouraging
collaboration and cooperation. She proposes to harness gamer power to
solve real-world problems.

Online gaming engages people. It can
immerse in a different reality. It can be very fun!  ?And it will find
its way increasingly into events.

On a basic level,
location-aware programs such as, and encourage people to check in at locations. People
will win badges and prizes and receive tips from others. This, however,
is much more than building loyalty at a favorite restaurant. All of
these free online tools have developed options for checking in at
events. These location-aware gaming options can help networking at
events. is another online social gaming tool (free for
non-profit groups and associations) that engages attendees with treks
and challenges. This tool has been used recently at the Consumer
Electronic Show and SIGGRAPH shows to guide people through the exhibit
hall and to win prizes by performing a challenge such as signing up at
an exhibitor web site.

Social gaming is also being used to engage
virtual and hybrid meetings attendees. Contests and challenges have
been proven to engage people attending virtually. The Cisco GSX hybrid
conference had 19,000 virtual attendees with one million views, 13,000
active players of the “Threshold” an interactive espionage immersive
reality thriller, 8,000 participants in group chats and 9,5000 playing
GSX mini games.

10. iPads and tablets will provide a new medium for accessing data at events

iPad is the most recent of the long-running, game-changing innovations
from Apple. This and other tablet devices represent new ways to access
information. Light weight, highly mobile, highly intuitive. The larger
screen allow for bigger fonts, easier readability and more real estate
to display material in a page-like format. The navigation is intuitive
(with your fingers instead of a keyboard and mouse).

Tablets are a natural for events as our industry is a mobile one:

We do business away from our offices and from our “large screen” computers on a regular basis.
of us don’t carry around notebook computers at events for a number of
reasons: weight, security, the inability to access easily while
standing, etc.

constantly need to manage a wide range of data at events. For lack of a
better way until now, much of these data have been in the form of

will increasingly be used at events for interactive conference
programs, course notes distributions, surveys, interactive exhibit floor
plans, product displays, information kiosks, lead exchange, speaker
Q&A, onsite blogging/social networking and more.

See more on the impact and benefits of iPads and tablets at:

11. Free, easy to access Wi-Fi is increasing expected by meeting planners

basic Wi-Fi broadband internet access is expected by planner in the
meeting room, guest rooms and the lobby. Although some luxury properties
are clinging to internet fees as a profit center, internet access is
viewed by attendees as a utility similar to lights and water. Planners
are saying “do not nickel-and-dime us with add-on charges for basic
internet access.” If “Motel 6” can provide free Wi-Fi, so should meeting
hotels and venues.

However, this does not mean unlimited access.
Internet bandwidth can be expensive and most venues cannot handle
unexpected, very large demands.  If 500 event attendees pulled out their
iPads to access HD video simultaneously, there are few venues in the
country that could handle this without making special arrangements. If a
group needs dedicated bandwidth, a dedicated IP address or other
internet services, it is reasonable to charge for these. But basic,
throttled access (with a minimum of 500kb/second download — fast enough
to access email and limited video streaming) should be free.

venues need to make logging onto the Wi-Fi network easier. Opening the
browser and clicking “OK” is all that should be required.  As mobile
devices are being used for internet access with greater frequency, make
the logon screen readable in smaller formats as well. Better yet, use
autosensing technology and provide a mobile web log-in page optimized
for a smaller screen.

See more on the advances of hotel guest room technology at:

12. “Indoor Positioning Systems” will greatly assist in event and trade show way-finding and navigation

GPS does not work indoors. Standard Wi-Fi triangulation only gets to
about a 100 foot (30 meter) accuracy — not good enough for precise
tracking though an exhibit hall, venue or for person-to-person finding
at an event.

New technology from at least two companies
( and promise to overcome these
challenges to provide very precise positioning (as fine as 1 meter) by
tracking Wi-Fi enabled smart phones, carried by an increasingly larger
percentage of the population. These tools will be able to provide:

·         precise positioning

·         personal navigation through a venue/exhibit hall with optimized routing

·         friend/contact finding and networking (with permission)

·         location-based content delivery (exhibit discounts or video as examples)

·         optimized exhibit hall viewing by product category

·         exhibit hall “hot spot” and traffic flow analytics

·         several other features will likely develop from this exciting technology.

addition to venues and convention centers, this technology holds great
promise for shopping centers, airports, hospitals and museums. A short
video demonstrating the application in a museum can be seen: 

Bonus trend: Despite the
economic downturn and the increased use of virtual meetings technology,
face-to-face meetings and tradeshows remain viable (a repeat from last
year’s predictions).

Virtual meeting and web conferencing usage
is up and conference attendance has dropped for some markets in these
economically challenging times. However, meetings and tradeshows can
still provide very good value for your education, networking, and sales
budgets. Events offer unparalleled opportunities to bring buyers and
seller together, to build relationships, to brainstorm, to network. For
an exhibitor, it is often the best way to meet so many qualified buyers
in such a short time. For buyers, it is a great chance to meet vendors
of interest – all together in one location, categorised and mapped for
your choosing. The events, tradeshow and hospitality industries are
relationship-based and events and tradeshow are some of the best ways to
build these relationships.

Although webinars are good for short
information exchange, meetings offer a much richer learning experience.
What happens in the meeting room is important – people have made the
commitment to be there and are not as distracted as in the office.
However, the conversations in the hallways, receptions and exhibit hall
contribute greatly to the information exchange. Meetings provide a
vastly richer, more targeted, and more focused learning experience than
any virtual meeting. There is no such thing as a ’virtual beer!’

Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP is a consultant, writer and speaker focusing on
events and meetings technology. With 20 years of experience running
international citywide technology meetings, he now helps clients
worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity. He has
been named by MeetingNews Magazine for four years as one of the ’25 Most
Influential People in the Meetings Industry’. He has also chaired the
judging committee for EIBTM Technology Watch for meetings technology
innovation for the past eight years.

He can be contacted via and followed on

Any comments? Email

ConferenceNews Guest Author

Conference News hosts great guests on its pages. Our Blog section is the collection of the best opinions in the UK and international events industry.

ConferenceNews Guest Author


ConferenceNews Guest Author

Conference News hosts great guests on its pages. Our Blog section is the collection of the best opinions in the UK and international events industry.

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