“The events industry has been really impacted over the last twelve months by COVID-19, but the great thing about events and the people who work in events is that they’re really innovative.
While the events industry has been very heavily impacted in terms of face-to-face events, I think it’s really opened up an opportunity for new ways of doing events, such as hybrid events and virtual events as well.”
– Kylie Clarke, Torrens University Australia (TUA) MBA student and events professional, in a recent interview for the TUA Virtual Careers Expo.
The role of technology in the events industry has undoubtedly expanded more in 2020 than at any other time in history.
This is clearly resulting from COVID-19, but it’s also tied in with existing trends. Millennials are fast becoming the biggest segment of the global workforce and mobile technologies are increasingly integrated into our lives.
According to one recent study, two in three Australians now say they attend six or more digital events a month, including webinars, company meetings, workshops, briefings, conferences and customer meetings.
While the pandemic will eventually end and venues once again open worldwide, these technologies will continue to revolutionise the way we work and hold events in the future.
Here are ten examples of how technology has changed the event industry in 2020.
Virtual Event Platforms
In stark contrast to many struggling events businesses, the virtual events industry has exploded during the pandemic as everything from birthday parties to trade shows moved online.
With businesses looking for a way to continue despite the pandemic, Zoom became a household name within a few short months. But they aren’t the only company benefiting from this sudden shift online.
Virtual event platforms, such as Hopin and ON24, struggled to meet sudden demand in 2020 and 6Connex reported an increase in uptake by over 1000% between March and May last year.
Intrado Digital Media, which provides services for webcasting and live streaming in China, reported that the number of participants joining their virtual events shot up by 978% in February 2020, compared to the same time the year before.
According to thousands of attendees and event organisers throughout the pandemic, digital events are here to stay. Whilst many still crave the return to face-to-face events, it is clear that digital and hybrid events have their place within the industry.
The majority of participants have now become accustomed to using these new technologies, and companies are also seeing the long-term, cost-cutting benefits of holding meetings and conferences online.
Another new technology helping venues and production companies keep event participants safe during COVID-19 is thermal scanning.
Thermal cameras and screening systems have now been adopted by venues to screen crowds for attendees displaying high temperatures.
Losberger De Boer – a company delivering bespoke, temporary structures for events – now integrates intelligent thermal scanning into its structures.
IFEMA, the largest venue in Spain, installed a system last year that triggers an alert when someone with a temperature over 37.5C enters the building. They also installed on-site medical and immunology services, as well as a whole raft of contactless, ticketless services and social distancing designs to ensure safety and restore attendee confidence.
Over the last year, livestreaming has exploded in popularity and is fast becoming the new big growth area of social media. According to predictions by Cisco, global video traffic will make up about 80% of all consumer internet traffic by 2021.
Last year, 28% of brands surveyed for the Mondo Creative and Digital Trends Report said they would be increasing time, money and resources into developing livestreaming content.
In Australia, we saw a big uptake of people attending digital events live as opposed to on-demand, with an increase of two-thirds when comparing 2020 to 2019.
Livestreaming is becoming an essential addition to an event brand’s social media output, because it encourages consumer trust. In a sense, it allows a potential attendee to try before they buy.
A recent survey showed that 67% of people who watch a livestreamed event are more likely to buy tickets to attend the event the next time around. In the same survey, 80% said they would rather watch a livestream from a brand than read a social post.
By livestreaming events on popular platforms or on a branded app – even if they are online events, in a virtual venue – event brands are potentially gaining future attendees. So, it’s no surprise that more event companies are doing it.
Social Distancing Wearable Technology
Wearable events technology has been mainly used over the last few years to enable cashless payments at festivals.
Now, tech developers have combined geofencing technology with wearables to assist event participants in maintaining a safe social distance at events. These ‘smartbands’ track body temperature and emit a warning signal when they come within an unsafe proximity of another band-wearer.
This technology was developed and rolled out last year in Australia under the name ‘Smart Badge’ by events production company, Harry the Hirer.
Harry the Hirer trialled these new social distancing e-badges at the National Convention Centre Canberra (NCCC) in late 2020, for the first time ever in Australia. On arrival, delegates were given a Smart Badge programmed to warn them when they were within 1.5 metres of another person, either with a gentle vibration, flashing light or subtle tone.
The trial received a positive review from NCCC general manager Stephen Wood, who told SpiceNews in October 2020, “It’s taking people a little bit of time, particularly in a meeting environment, to get used to what one and a half metres means.”
Facial Recognition Contact Tracing
With the Tokyo Olympics on schedule to go ahead this year despite coronavirus concerns, the Japanese government has announced it will be using cutting-edge facial recognition technology to support contact tracing at Olympic events.
This program will employ surveillance cameras that are equipped with facial recognition software, allowing public health officials to track the movements of someone who later tests positive for COVID-19. They will then be able to identify and alert anyone else who came into contact with that person.
Biometric contact tracing and vaccine passports are expected to become more widely adopted this year as global events resume, particularly in the context of international travel.
Although the use of this technology for contact tracing will only be relevant while the pandemic endures, biometric scanning is expected to play a growing role in security and policing in the future, among other applications.
Virtual Venue Start-Ups
As events have gone online, organisers of events have begun finding ways to offer exceptional experiences and better audio-visual content than they can find in Zoom.
In response to this demand, virtual venue startups have launched on the scene in a big way in 2020.
Virtual venues are fully equipped production and broadcast studios that facilitate webcasting and virtual event design. They come with a team of AV professionals and content producers who oversee every element of event delivery, and integrate live polling and interactive features.
Startups, such as Hopin, offer a new model of virtual venue that imitates a physical conference or expo, with different virtual rooms that attendees can move in and out of.
Considering the huge growth in virtual events since COVID-19, these startups are attracting a lot of interest. Since its creation last year, Hopin has secured $125 million in funding, increasing its current value to over US$2 billion.
Branded Event Apps
Events are becoming hybrid, blending technology with in-person experience, and branded event apps are the perfect way to marry the two.
On a basic level, the branded event app is a one-stop shop for all the information an attendee needs, such as schedules, maps, attendee information, exhibitor information and speaker bios.
However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. An app can add immense value to an event brand, incorporating: live chats, community message boards and networks, integration with other platforms, such as LinkedIn, gamification (see below), interactive features, video content and live polling.
During 2020, some additional safety benefits of branded apps emerged. Apps allow instant communication to attendees through push-notifications (in case of any risks), and can be used for data analysis and contact tracing.
Social Media Sentiment Analysis
The time spent by Australians on social media grew by estimates of 30% or more during the pandemic. If it was important for an event brand to analyse social media sentiment before the pandemic, now it’s absolutely crucial.
Social media sentiment is the ‘temperature’ of the conversation about your event brand that’s going on in social media platforms, and analysis is how you read that temperature – so you can act to correct it.
Monitoring multiple platforms is incredibly time consuming, but thankfully, technology again comes to the rescue.
Social listening tools, such as Sprout, allow you to pick priority networks, monitor for keywords and hashtags and analyse sentiment in real time.
The great thing about these tools for event organisers is that you can listen and engage with attendees of your events in real time, allowing you to respond to complaints or issues instantly.
This is just as true for digital as it is for in-person events – your live analysis could help you discover and correct issues with networks or connections that might be damaging your reputation.
3D Event Diagramming for Social Distancing
Event diagramming has always been an essential part of the business of event organising. With the pandemic, however, came a whole new set of concerns and a need for improved technological solutions.
3D event diagramming systems have now been developed that incorporate local or universal social distancing regulations into their spatial design.
As venues slowly reopen during 2021, planners can use these tools to make sure that ventilation layouts and floorplans meet all the correct designated spacing and capacity requirements. Being able to ‘walk through’ the 3D layout helps venues to communicate clearly to organisers exactly how they are managing these important safety concerns.
Attendees of virtual events in 2021 are at real risk of ‘digital events fatigue,’ with 86% of respondents to a recent survey saying they abandoned a virtual event early last year (up from 66% a year earlier.)
Organisers need to consider new ways of keeping attendees engaged and stimulated, after a year of stay-at-home orders and self-driven work.
Gamification essentially means adding gaming elements designed to increase participation in your event, whether digital or in-person.
For example, you might incorporate points systems, competitions, rewards, prizes, or fun, problem-solving tasks into your event agenda, your branded app, or to the event as a whole.
For example, at its Xperience17 event, YourMembership management chose a Harry Potter theme, and integrated gamification into the conference using their event-specific app. The app was adopted by a huge 88% of attendees who were sorted into ‘houses’ to compete against each other.
Justin Pierce, Director of Innovation, Industry and Employability, at Torrens University Australia (TUA).
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