by Michael J. Shapiro and Sarah J.F. Braley | January 01, 2016

One year ago, M&C presented an inaugural list of top meetings innovations, brilliant ideas that are shaping and improving the meeting experience. As we welcome 2016, we again select the most significant developments in the meetings marketplace. Some are simply experiments -- kernels of great things on the horizon -- while others herald major advances in nascent technologies that are sure to break out and go mainstream. All are ideas worth watching and considering for your own events in the year ahead.

1. Education everywhere. Bringing classrooms onto the floor of a trade show makes learning more accessible while keeping participants near exhibitors (always a good idea). The International Association of Exhibitions and Events and the IBTM shows are having success with this practice, making the exhibit hall a central education point, increasing traffic and gaining extra revenue by charging exhibitors to be featured in mini sessions.


The TechCenter showcase
at IAEE's Expo! Expo!

At IAEE's Expo! Expo! last month in Baltimore, short topical programs were offered three ways:

 The Meet Up Pavilion, a casual networking space in the center of the show floor, presented small sessions on a range of topics.

 A "SwimUp TECHbar" was hosted by experts who provided one-on-one technology advice.

 Half-hour Campfire Sessions on various industry topics were held at the back of the hall, while tech topics were covered in the TechCenter.

At IBTM World in Barcelona in November, education was delivered on the show floor in the ACS Knowledge Village, four purpose-built and themed theaters created in partnership with ACS audiovisual solutions.

"This reflects our desire to implement principles of meeting design to ensure both the content and environment is world-class and demonstrates our commitment to education," says Erica Keogan, associations and education manager, IBTM Events.

2. Retention tools. Education is a key component of most meetings, but how effective is it? What are attendees actually learning from sessions and speakers, and do they retain the information afterward?

While it's important to make each session relevant and interactive, it's also critical to follow up with attendees, reminding them of what they learned and imparting more nuggets to help them retain and use the information.

"The learning experience doesn't have to be done the old way; it can be expanded," says Will Thalheimer, Ph.D., president of Work-Learning Research. He espouses a theory called "subscription learning". The concept requires follow-up information to be delivered periodically to extend the educational process.

Several tech tools are designed to ensure that attendees will absorb the bits of information that you send. These include Cameo, Q MINDshare  and Mindmarker. Each can deliver quizzes, challenges or other interactive media to help attendees apply their learning in the workplace.

To involve speakers in the process, ask them to sit for a quick video interview after their presentations. Ask them: What five minutes of additional material do you wish you had shared? What is a the first thing attendees should do when they're back at their desks? What would you tell them in three months?

Send out these video snippets at staggered intervals after the event to reinforce learning.

3. Holograms onstage. Nearly four years ago, deceased rapper Tupac Shakur came back to life to perform onstage with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, both of whom remain officially among the living. That proved one of the more memorable uses of holograms of late, but the technology also is showing some potential for use in meetings.


NH Hotel execs share the stage
via holographic technology.

The NH Hotel Group unveiled a 3-D holographic telepresence system last year for testing in Berlin; Milan, Italy; and Rotterdam, Netherlands, as well as in its high-tech flagship NH Collection Eurobuilding in Madrid, Spain. The lodging provider drew crowds with its display of said technology at the Global Business Travel Association's convention last July in Orlando. The system is flashy, to be sure, and the NH demos did feature some musical performances by Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull for entertainment value. But NH clearly is gearing its hotel installations toward business meetings, for purposes such as showcasing speakers who interact in real time with meeting attendees from a remote location.

4. Beacon breakout. We've been hearing about the potential of beacons and Bluetooth Low Energy-driven apps on the show floor for a few years. The technology provides location-based functionality where GPS has notoriously failed. While widespread adoption has been slow, the progress made lately promises an imminent breakout.

Maritz is using beacons and a proprietary integrated app successfully with auto-industry clients to push location-relevant messages and content to attendees, and Washington, D.C.-based Radius Networks is working with several venues on beacon-based solutions. Particularly noteworthy are the features Radius developed for last year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, helping attendees navigate the mammoth trade show. Radius is building on that technology and adding features for this month's edition of the show.

Count on more frequent and ambitious rollouts this year. "The majority of use cases have been within the retail market," acknowledges Katie Harvill, managing director of meetings, events and branding firm Matchstick Creative, based in New Orleans. But Harvill plans to take advantage of recent hardware and development advances to drive interactivity at her events in the near future.

"As with anything else, you have to determine your objectives first," Harvill says. "Whether it's pushing out content, creating engagement through networking or gamification, driving efficiencies through navigation or collecting user data, beacons are a catalyst to achieving these goals. However, it's up to you and the environment you create to determine the technology's adoption. There remain some minor technical hurdles in some situations, but our outlook is very positive."

5. Live streaming for all. Last year marked the debut of two highly buzzed-about apps that allow anyone to live-stream quickly from their smartphones: Periscope and Meerkat. Periscope, owned by Twitter, provides instant access to all of one's Twitter followers and can be shared by one follower to all of their followers, and so on, vastly increasing a potential audience. Periscope videos remain available for viewing for 24 hours, while Meerkat's disappear when the stream ends. Both apps have amassed millions of users, and more such apps likely will surface soon.

The key here for meetings and events is the simplicity of these apps. They won't take the place of a professionally broadcast hybrid event, but they can very well supplement one, allowing anyone with a smartphone to do a live report on-site. The Professional Convention Management Association used Periscope at two sessions during its 2015 Educational Conference, and the PCMA communications staff will be streaming with Periscope once again during this month's Convening Leaders conference. There's an ad-hoc quality to such apps, and the process still involves some trial and error, but the implications for increasing reach and engagement are very real.