At modern-day meetings and events, it's common to see the tops of heads. That's because attendees spend as much time with their faces pointed downward at their smartphones as they do upward at peers, speakers and exhibits. As a meeting professional, you have a choice to make: You can either ignore attendees' relationship with their devices or you can exploit it.
Speaker and author Jamie Turner thinks meeting planners should do the latter. And he thinks they should use augmented reality, or AR, to do it.
"Event planners are constantly looking for new things they can do in order to keep people engaged and coming back again for next year's event," says Turner, CEO of the marketing website 60 Second Marketer. "For that reason, it's in their best interest to use things like augmented reality as a way to enhance their events."
AR—which uses technology to superimpose virtual images and information on top of real-world scenery viewed either through AR glasses or the camera of one's mobile device—has three principal advantages at events, according to Turner. First of all, he says, it provides enrichment for attendees, who can use AR to access additional information and experiences to which they wouldn't otherwise have access. Second of all, it provides deeper engagement by attracting and keeping attendees' attention, which ultimately helps meeting planners, speakers and exhibitors deliver on their objectives. And finally, it tracks attendee movements and behavior, yielding data that meeting professionals can use to strengthen future events.
Still, the most pressing question meeting professionals have about AR isn't whether to use it or why. Rather, it's how. Here are five suggestions:
1. Use AR to Gamify Your Meeting
AR first exploded onto the scene in summer 2016, when the mobile game Pokémon Go took the world by storm. In it, players use their smartphone cameras to find and catch virtual Pokémon in the physical world around them, wracking up points and bragging rights along the way. Meeting planners can use AR to the same effect at their meetings and events.
"As an event professional, your job is to get people in a large event to navigate through the floor so they can engage with booths, with people and with various events that are happening," Turner says. "Imagine an augmented reality app that is part of your event app that says, 'Hey, you can score points as you go along and visit these various booths.'"
Planners could conceive awards and prizes to high-scorers to motivate participation and engagement.
2. Use AR to Promote Speakers, Networking
Meetings and events are most effective when attendees feel connected to the speakers and presenters before them. AR can enhance that sense of connection by giving attendees access to value-added information -- including speaker bios and rich media -- onsite as they're listening to speakers speaking.
"Imagine having people in a venue who are watching a panel discussion," Turner says. "They can hold up their smartphones and hover over each panelist to get additional information about them."
The same approach could be used for networking purposes by helping attendees learn more about each other.
3. Use AR to Assist Attendees
Where is the general session? Is there a restroom nearby? Can you tell me where to pick up my name badge? These are just a few of the questions attendees routinely ask event staff during meetings. Meeting planners can provide better answers, faster and with fewer staff resources – all while enhancing customer service -- by using AR for indoor wayfinding purposes.
If you're meeting in a unique or notable venue, you can take this concept even further by using AR to facilitate self-guided virtual venue tours.
4. Use AR to Create Social Media Buzz
The social networking app Snapchat uses AR to help users supercharge their selfie game by layering virtual props and special effects on top of their self-portraits. Meeting planners can use AR in a similar manner to simultaneously entertain attendees and promote their event to non-attendees.
"Let's say you're doing an event for the ski industry," Turner says. "You can use AR to show people what they'd look like in ski garb, or how they'd look on a ski slope."
Attendees can then share their ski-themed selfies with each other and with their network, generating excitement for the meeting both inside and outside the venue.
5. Use AR to Display and Demo Products
Meeting planners who are hosting a trade show or product launch can use AR to give meeting attendees a close-up look at products and services that might not be practical to demo in person. A car manufacturer, for example, could use AR to show off a new vehicle inside a hotel ballroom that lacks access for large freight. A medical device company could likewise showcase a new medical implant in a convention center instead of a hospital by operating on a virtual patient.
Concludes Turner, "These are just a few examples of things you could do to use augmented reality at an event. It doesn't matter which ones you use. The key is just to get started. You shouldn't be afraid of new technology; new technology leads to better experiences, and better experiences lead to growing your event year after year."