Sarah Halfpenny Events

Is on-site event technology a distraction or enabler?

by Sarah Halfpenny

On-site event technology such as gamification, apps and twitter boards are being utilised to enhance the delegate experience and to enable wider interaction and participation. However, in reality, does it in fact have the potential to lead to audience distraction and unnecessary interruption?

By utilising technology that is both appropriate to the event format and audience can be a great way to engage people, especially with competitions, leader boards and the use of social media such as twitter to inform others what is being said, discussed and debated.
It can enable and aid the conversation and can be used to successfully transfer the conversation from the live event to relevant online platforms. This undoubtedly has the benefit of engaging a wider audience on the topics and issues of the day.

Managed and communicated clearly to an audience, it can add real value to the delegate experience. Get it wrong though and it can leave a lasting memory for all the wrong reasons!

I recently attended an event where they utilised on-site event technology in a couple of ways. Sadly, I felt that in both cases it didn’t add any value to my experience and in fact just led me to become distracted and annoyed. Why? I explain the scenarios below.

The first was when they wanted to use technology as a way of engaging the audience to provide an instant opinion using a thumbs up thumbs down icon. In theory this could have engaged the audience to better understand the feeling in the room on the topic being debated. In reality though I feel it did the opposite and actually distracted the audience who very quickly lost interest and switched off. Why? Because it took a few minutes to explain to the delegates what they needed to do, the delegates were not prepared and slow wifi created delays. So what could have been a fun interactive element of the event turned into an awkward and frustrating one for all.

The second use of online technology was for a Q&A session. The audience tweeted question, which were then managed and posed to the panel by the Event Chair. The twitter board was directly behind the panel of experts on stage and all questions popped up in real time. By being so transparent it didn’t allow the Chair any time to sift through the questions to ensure an appropriate balance of topics and issues raised. It meant that the Chair had to very publically dismiss a number of questions and had to interpret the questions being posed which created a few awkward delays and uncomfortable moments. The panel didn’t know who to addressed the answer too and it didn’t allow for a two-way conversation with the appropriate delegate. In brief, the use of technology to aide the Q&A session lacked regulation, generated an unbalanced viewpoint, created some self-conscious silences and more importantly I think it really effected rapport with the audience.

Having witnessed these scenarios, I do believe that on-site event technology can and should be part of a delegate experience, but only if its going to add value and be appreciated by the audience. Delegates still want to take advantage of being at a live event so let them concentrate on the value of being with other like minded people without distraction. If the technology has the potential to hinder this experience, then I would certainly proceed with care, cover all scenarios or seek an alternative approach.