With more up-to-the-minute conferences, delegates are helping to change and dictate the content via new digital channels. CN’s own Generation Z, Joe Davis, explores how organisers can stay ahead of the game.
Mention the word ‘conference’ to a youngster and most of them will think of a grey haired CEO giving a static speech from a lectern, and in some cases they wouldn’t be far wrong.
Now, with more ‘Conferences 2.0’, delegates are creating and in some instances, dictating, the content via communication channels across a variety of digital platforms.
Organisers, who have been stuck in the traditional ways of putting on conferences are now starting to rethink their strategy and take advantage of the latest event technology, to appeal more to Generation Z.
The term Generation Z generally refers to the social demographic of teenagers and possibly people in their early twenties who have grown up in the digital age. Also known as the ‘millennials’ and ‘digital natives’, those who fit into the Generation Z category have been embedded within a culture of using digital technology to learn and communicate differently.
Conference organisers are now using this technology as a big part of their event offering.
“We need to think of delegates as ‘people’ and not some kind of drone only interested in keynote speakers and powered by coffee,” says Head Honcho and Conference Architect at Gallus Events, William Thomson. “We need to deliver interesting and dynamic content in a variety of formats. For most conferences the first step is for organisers to work with speakers to create content that will engage and entertain.”
With organisers now opting to provide dedicated event apps, faster Wi-Fi and tablets, for example, delegates are now participating more at conferences. “Generation Z don’t want to be the ‘audience’ they will demand to be participants,” says Thomson.
For tomorrow’s tech-savvy generation of event organisers and delegates, digital technology will play an even a larger part in their day-to-day activity, from surfing the Internet to having mobile video conversations with friends abroad. They will be in control.
Jane Hague, UK President of The International Special Events Society (ISES), says available digital technology at meetings and events is important in engaging Generation Z. “For the younger generations, technology is a must, they live in an instant, real-time world, they respect technology and use it happily and we should engage them in interesting and dramatic ways.
“In our experience they’ll walk out of a presentation if it’s not engaging or if they’ve taken what they need and there is something newer and shinier next door.”
Digital technology has meant that the lifespan of an event has been elongated. With delegates Tweeting and discussing a conference’s topic days before, and using event apps to pre-register, delegates are engaged from the beginning.
Hague says younger generations get bored quickly, and will want to keep active. “They like to move around an event, taking bite- sized chunks and then go in deeper later on.”
Smarter meetings and conferences are also more versatile. “Venues need to be up for the challenge when it comes to delivering on technology requirements for clients, whether this is in-house or delivered through partnerships with specialist suppliers,” says conference venue Central Hall Westminster’s MD, Paul Southern.
At the start of 2013 Central Hall Westminster invested in its Wi-Fi, allowing it to provide high-speed Internet connectivity. In June this year, the venue hosted the European technology conference, LeWeb, and streamed it live on YouTube to thousands of people across the world.
Southern champions the importance of a venue having advanced technology, and says that the pressure to meet organisers’ standards is increasing. “Our investment in new technology was in response to the demands we were seeing emerge from event organisers for reliable, quality Wi-Fi that works,” he says.
The concept of live streaming and hybrid events with virtual online components is something younger generations will be familiar with, and also taps into another type of delegate.
Charlotte Murray, Head of Events for business travel and event management agency, Carlson Wagonlit Travel Meetings and Events, UK and Ireland, says: “A variety of people may wish to view your content virtually. Delegates who attend the event physically may wish to re-cap, others may choose to view your content over the Internet while the event is happening or using on-demand services after the event has taken place.”
However, Ken Clayton, Director at event badging and registration company, RefTec, says organisers mustn’t let technology get in the way of a conference or meeting’s core issues. “The danger is that the technology is diverting attention away from the most important element: content,” he says. “If the content isn’t right, no amount of technology is going to make the conference a success.
“Look at PowerPoint. When it was introduced in 1990, it was hailed as a wonderful new technology. Twenty years on, many people hate it and talk about ‘death by PowerPoint’ because it isn’t used skillfully.”
While technology at an event will engage Generation Z, Clayton says that older delegates need more convincing that new technology is necessary. “It’s likely that the majority of older attendees are happy to use the technology so long as they’re convinced that it will make the meeting more effective for them.”
It’s clear that digital technology is playing a big role at conferences.
Whether you only provide Wi-Fi at an event, or stream a keynote speech across the globe, attempting to change even the most simple elements of an event could deliver a real return on investment.
This was first published in the November issue of CN. Any comments? Email email@example.com
9 Dec 13
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