Virtual events showed their value during lockdown as businesses were forced to accelerate digitisation and adapt the way that events had conventionally been hosted and attended. Today, the words “virtual” and “hybrid” are staples in the events industry vocabulary, and a forecast for 2022 shows that 73% of event marketers say they expect hybrid events to be more popular than ever.
To meet this demand, technology within the event industry has seen rapid recent development, with many companies pivoting to adapt to the new normal. Organisers have long used digital tools to facilitate interactivity at events, but new software like facial recognition is now being used to enhance engagement even further. Elsewhere, other technologies like Bluetooth tracking are also being adapted into the sector, providing data insights that can improve sustainability efforts and kickstart a long-term cycle of event optimisation.
It is clear that virtual and hybrid events are primed for further growth – indeed, a recent report suggests that the virtual events market could grow by $269.2bn between 2021 and 2025. Digital tools in the industry continue to develop apace through the use of VR and AR, and hybrid events are in a prime position to capitalise upon this innovation to provide flexible content to their dual audiences.
Businesses that adopt this methodology are well-placed to enhance engagement with their brand whilst staying abreast of developments in the digital age.
A whistle-stop tour of technological development in events
Some of the earliest technology that emerged in the event industry came in the form of hand-held voting devices, similar to the “ask the audience” tool on quiz show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. This idea of audience participation is crucial to providing insights that can optimise engagement.
From here, the commitment to building and investing in technology grew into tools that could enable real-time streaming, interaction, and engagement. New platforms were developed that could be tailored to client-specific requests to take participation to the next level, enabling online discussions and rich media content.
These systems can host major events on one streamlined platform. For example, one of our recent events connected 1,300 employees in 17 countries. Some 92% of those who attended said they would prefer to attend another virtual event experience.
Rise of facial recognition
Facial recognition technology has been available since the 1960s for a variety of uses. Over the years, this technology has been adopted by many industries, from airport security to mobile phones and banks. According to Verified Market Research, the global facial recognition market is now worth a staggering $3.78bn, and this is set to grow by 15% by 2028.
Facial recognition is now being adapted for the event industry thanks to partnerships with third-party technology companies. This innovative new application of the software has a myriad of uses.
On-site at an event, facial recognition can streamline the processes of registration and check-in. Facial recognition cameras can recognise QR codes on badges from metres away, meaning they can be placed at entranceways and corridors to scan in delegates without having to hire extra staff and manual scanning devices. The additional data points provided by the deployment of facial recognition allows event managers to remotely track the attendance of sessions or exhibits.
Secondly, facial recognition can be used to measure delegate engagement. The detection technology recognises expressions of boredom, animation, and laughter – all indicators of positive or negative engagement. This helps us identify what content is resonating with audiences the most, in real time, and adjust accordingly.
The utility of facial recognition isn’t confined to in-person attendees either. In fact, the virtual environment also lends itself to in-depth behaviour tracking and analysis to help understand which elements of an event are driving meaningful engagement and which areas could be further optimised.
It is often thought that facial detection technology uses invasive cameras, but this is not always the case. Rather, this software identifies the digital print of a face structure without storing any image, cultivating an anonymous identification, and preserving privacy. As such, this technology has security benefits for both confidential and high-profile events.
Across virtual and in-person activations, facial recognition can measure the number of viewers at a certain exhibition, or in an online gallery, and can assess whether each individual person is having a positive, negative, or neutral experience. This data can then be fed into engagement analytics tools to inform and improve the company’s offering.
Bluetooth beacon tracking
Bluetooth radio technology emerged over two decades ago the primary function to develop wireless headsets. In the early 2000s, this functionality expanded into a way to communicate between two mobile phones and for vehicle audio systems. Today, this technology is making waves in the events industry.
For hybrid events, Bluetooth beacons help in-person attendees navigate a venue. Users register their location via an app, which also conveniently provides them with the agenda. This tracking utilises Bluetooth beacons to inform the host and delegates of attendee locations in real time. By having access to this information, delegates can easily identify exactly where they want to go and determine how busy a particular area is at any given moment.
This tracking also generates more data on the movements of delegates and how they choose to spend their time across the agenda, building an additional data source for physical events which can be analysed by event organisers.
Further, the Bluetooth beacon tracking doubles as an effective networking tool, facilitating easier identification and location of like-minded attendees. These individuals can message and meet each other at the venue to begin building valuable long-term connections. By integrating these capabilities with the event’s virtual platform, these new contacts can continue their conversations even after the in-person event has come to a close.
Moreover, for businesses and operators, the heat maps these systems produce of footfall and areas of high engagement are invaluable assets in aiding the placement of premium sponsor space, driving revenue, and informing how event floorplans are laid out in the future to maximise these effects. In this way, the benefits of this technology are twofold, fortifying the event experience for delegates, with the investment more than recouped through its financial benefits.
Tech such as this has received a positive reception following the pandemic. A recent YouGov poll revealed that 43% of people feel uncomfortable about visiting in-person events with just 38% saying they are completely comfortable. For those wanting to maintain social distancing and avoid busy spots, this technology provides a safe way for them to participate.
A greener event
The fact that hybrid and virtual events are more sustainable is self-evident. It is estimated that the average 5,000-person event creates over 7,500 pounds of rubbish ending up in landfills. Virtual events eliminate potential environmental impacts, from long car journeys or even a flight, to reduced littering and air pollution.
Hybrid and virtual events offer an environmentally conscious approach to engagement while remaining accessible to a global audience. Moreover, eco-tools and calculators can be used to measure the impact of every event, aiding carbon offsetting and demonstrating to clients the effects their proposition may have.
It’s all about the data
Technologies that are adapted to the events industry provide data like never before. This data-driven approach is integral in a world where information continues to be such an invaluable asset.
This is reflected in the events industry. Indeed, a recent study revealed that 70% of event planners are looking to improve their data collection strategies over the next year, and 30% want to invest more time and resources into data analysis.
Data is fundamental for any event organiser or host seeking rich post-event analysis. This can be key to the strategy involved in in-depth planning, creativity, and delivery. Through analysing data collected from previous events, organisers can forecast the types of content that will resonate with audiences best, allowing them to build features proven to entice delegates. This fuels a cycle of constant improvement, leading to more effective events for organisers and more enjoyable events for audiences.
Keeping track of this data is crucial to enabling a cycle of improvement. Platform agnostic software can provide a central hub for a series of events, meaning that data sources from other suppliers and companies bought on by the client can be integrated into a single centralised location. This can streamline analytics to ensure they are as effective as possible.
But why wait until after the event to benefit from the insights this data provides? Data tracking during an event can fuel on-the-fly analysis of delegate behaviour to tweak the agenda to their needs, all in real time.
Data tracking is also making it easier than ever to assess ROI and to interrogate the success of an event’s objectives. This helps to attract sponsors for future events and gives existing partners confidence in their investment.
What’s next for event technology?
With over 65% of event planners calling for a drive to learn how to design better digital events, it is clear the evolution of event technology is only just beginning. At Live Group, we’ve seen a 200% increase in clients wanting a strategic partner in the virtual and hybrid space. Evidently, these emerging event formats are more than pandemic compromises.
Rapid tech advancement in the events industry is taking place globally and includes increasing experimentation with virtual and augmented reality. Whilst the data gathered from these developments is yet to prove its value in the arena of B2B events, their ‘wow factor’ certainly shows the potential of cutting-edge innovation in the sector. Tech-enabled hybrid and virtual events are the secret to an efficient, sustainable and exciting future of more effective engagement.
Toby Lewis is the CEO of Live Group, an in-person, virtual and hybrid events company.