Event technology includes a lot of bright shiny things — brand new apps and systems that claim to solve problems and make life easier for producers and their teams. Bright, shiny things look great on the surface, but can be short on delivery when put to practical use. This can apply to any technology we use.
Like most event companies, we produce a detailed project plan before an event, which we call The Specs. The Specs is the blueprint we use to execute a flawless event, and it works. But, it’s also incredibly labor intensive to create, and we have often thought there must be a better way. So this year, we decided to try a brand new company in the space who claimed they could bring all the details of an event together and tag them so that each team member could print out their own customized set of specs. The promise sounded great, so we jumped.
And we fell.
The new technology hadn’t been tested enough, and the labor we put into learning the system and creating outside work-arounds meant that we spent even MORE time on the specs than normal. We were still able to execute the event, but only in spite of, and not because of, our brand new technology platform. It was a painful lesson for the entire team.
So what did we learn?
New technology is not always better technology
Brand new apps and software will have bugs that need to be fixed. Even beta testing is not sufficient to work out all the problems, and many existing problems aren’t discovered until you’re deep into using the software. Be cautious about committing fully to dedicated software and apps, and use it in a limited way on an event before going full-out with it.
Start small with new technology
Regarding the ‘specs’ platform, we learned that if you have a core element that makes the event run, you need to tread carefully into any technology adoption that promises to make it simple. Definitely try it out on a small event, and set a cap for the hours you will spend on learning the system. If those hours go beyond the pre-set time allotment, drop it. It’s not ready for you or your team, and you have better things to spend your time on, like producing the event.
Old Tech Has Merit
Not everything can be solved with technology. There are some things that are just ‘doing the dishes’, as I call it. Doing the dishes means that you will always have to scrape food and rinse a dish before you put it in the dishwasher, no matter how advanced dishwashers will become. Trying to eliminate certain elements of a workflow is like pretending that there will never be manual labor required to get a job done. There is, and always will be, things you must do manually. The key is to find where you can legitimately shortcut some of the work, without being blinded by the bright shiny things promises of new technology that will add unexpected challenges to your plate.
Our New Tech Recommendations
We did enjoy a couple of positive tech experiences this year. We incorporated a few new elements using technology, including virtual reality screenings and Voxer. They were both great additions, and we had some positive takeaways.
Creating a virtual reality pod (similar to a photo booth but delivering immersive experiences) with viewing times and stations was a huge hit with our attendees. Since we work in the social good sector, the film shown told about a nuclear bomb test dropped in the Australian outback during the 1940s and its effect on the Aboriginals living there. It had a powerful message, made more so because it was presented in a virtual reality format. Everyone who used the VR pod said they had a profound experience, and discussed it at length with the filmmakers. I don’t believe a standard film screening would have impacted people with the same intensity.
So for us, virtual reality is a huge win — a plus for technology in this sector. It’s something we’ll continue to adopt, adapt and recommend for our clients who want to create conversations around change and activism.
We also experimented this year with Voxer, an iPhone and Android app that turns your phone into a two-way radio and voice recording device. Voxer allows you to send voice, text, image and video messages, and works by allowing everyone on your team to communicate in real-time with live voice, just like a two-way radio. It also stores conversations so that you can listen to the messages and respond to them later.
We had been looking for a way to replace our bulky two-ways, and have found that Nextel phones, while easy to use, still hadn’t given us any edge over the old stand-bys. I was hesitant about Voxer at first, because while I have no love for heavy radios on my belt, I felt like we were headed into bright, shiny things territory — things that appear really cool on first impression but, as with the event planning software described above, fall short in delivering on what is promised.
I think Voxer can be useful in some situations but not so much in others. It’s a free app, and teams can try it out without making a financial commitment. We used it for an event at the United Nations in September. Voxer was great for team members circulating in the main halls where they could communicate freely on the app and kept it open the entire time. It was less useful for those of us in the Council rooms who needed to be talking with speakers. We had to go back through numerous recordings to catch up on an entire conversation thread instead of being able to listen for our names within the thread. Overall, I’d give Voxer a B+, and recommend it with a caution to try it out before using at a live event.
It’s good to be wary of bright-shiny-things-complex, but as treasure hunters know, sometimes those shiny objects can become very relevant by solving specific problems and integrating comfortably with our overall strategy.