Technology has always changed the way we plan events. Some subtle, some not so much. When Apple released the iPad in 2012, most people wouldn’t have guessed it would be a game changer for events. Since then, Apple has sold more than 360 Million iPads, and they have the power to transform almost every aspect of your event.
In the early days, iPads were looked at as “content consumption devices”. People associated them more with iPods (which by that time had 4” touch screens), than iPhones, much less an actual laptop or desktop computer. They were for watching movies, listening to music, playing games, and not much more – a far cry from where they are now.
The modern iPad is a beast of performance, creativity, form, and function. They’re more powerful, have all-day battery life, and can be incorporated in almost every aspect of your event.
Let’s walk through a typical event from start to finish and see all the opportunities this new computing paradigm can offer both you and your attendees!
The Site Visit
Early on in the event lifecycle, we have the site visit. You’re visiting a hotel or other venue, furiously taking notes so once you get back to the office you can line the options up and choose between the possible locations. iPads are lightweight, so they’re easy to carry around the venue, and the Apple Pencil is one of the smoothest, most accurate digital writing tools around. You can use an app like Nebo to jot down handwritten notes as you go, and it automatically converts even the worst handwritten scribble into plain, legible text.
As you walk from room to room, you can capture full panoramic views with the onboard camera, easily inserting them into your notes for further reference. Once again you can use that Apple Pencil to mark up your photos, circling important features or problem areas. Some iOS apps even allow for approximate measurements of walls and ceiling heights using the camera and other sensors on the iPad.
Once you get back to your hotel room, in just a matter of minutes all the notes, photos, and other information you gathered during the day can be easily imported and organized into your new “digital three-ring binder”.
Your Digital Office
Office productivity is probably the area that iPads have come the furthest since their release. Microsoft seems to have made a commitment to support both iOS and Android devices, ensuring the ability to open, edit, and save any and all Microsoft Office files you need. While there are certain limitations, for the most part, these are full-featured versions of the programs. Combine that with Google’s push to have their office apps available from any internet browser, and you have the ability to create, edit, organize and save documents, and have them available anywhere, anytime.
Apps such as Evernote or OneNote can help organize your notes, drawings, photos, links, and so much more into coherent “notebooks” for each event. By pouring everything into a single repository, you’re enabling one of the most powerful features: search. Both of these apps (and many others, but these are the top two) have the ability to search a single notebook, or across all of your notebooks for words or phrases, even in handwritten notes or diagrams. This includes any files such as PDFs that you might have attached or included in your notebooks.
What does that mean? It means you no longer have to flip through page after page of BEOs, audiovisual bids, or other lengthy documents trying to find the right page. Just use the search bar to find the information you’re looking for!
Once on-site for the event, your iPad becomes your digital office. Want to keep everyone on the same page? Distribute iPads pre-loaded with the apps of your choice to your entire team to make sure everyone has access to the information they need, when they need it.
If you’re a hotel, audiovisual company, or other vendor, the iPad is the perfect way to create and keep track of change orders and other on-site decisions. Just input the change, the charge, and have whoever’s requesting it sign with their finger on the dotted line. No muss, no fuss, and infinitely trackable. Who approved keeping the bars open another hour? Hold on, let’s just check…
During the Show
The Registration Experience
From the moment they arrive at the venue, iPads have the potential to improve the lives of your attendees as well. Mounted in attractive kiosks or stands, iPads can be used as a way for attendees to easily sign in at registration. Rather than a registration worker asking, “How do you spell that again?” for the hundredth time, guests can simply type in their own names into the iPad. From there the worker can easily see the registration and print out the attendee’s badge.
Some systems even allow these apps to talk directly to the badge printers, allowing for essentially “self-check-in”. While not a replacement for registration desk workers, you might be able to reduce the number of staff you need. It’s always good to keep a few friendly faces around in case guests have questions, or there’s a problem with their registration.
Another great use of these kiosks is for “walk-up” registrations. The attendee can enter in all the relevant information for conference registration, and then even pay using an iPad terminal. No paper, and no lengthy forms to fill out. Talk about a seamless, low-friction experience!
Second Screen Magic
Now that everybody’s checked in, on with the show! Rather than relying on the reliability of attendee’s personal devices and cellular networks, more and more meetings are providing their attendees with iPads, preloaded with everything they need for their event. The agenda and all necessary apps are preloaded, as is the WiFi network and password. Once the keynote speaker hits the stage, the audience is given access to the power of the “second screen” experience. No more squinting at the projection screens from the back row, as the presenter goes through their presentation, the slides are automatically pushed to every attendee’s iPad, allowing them to easily see every slide. More than that, they can zoom in, annotate, and draw over the slides, as well as type in their own notes from the presentation, all of which can be emailed to them.
When it comes to “next level” presentations, the keyword is Engagement. The best presenters know not only how to keep their audiences on the edges of their seats, but also how to make them feel like they’re a part of the show. One of the easiest ways to do this is to simply ask their opinion. Long gone are the push-button remote controls of audience response systems. Now mobile apps and websites offer attendees the ability to ask questions, see what others are asking, vote up questions they’d like to see answered, answer polls, and so much more.
Most of these apps have the ability to filter and moderate the questions being asked by the attendees, to make sure no inappropriate questions make their way to the stage. Often the planner or company representative assigned to this task is busy and responsible for multiple duties at the event, so being able to have real-time moderation of Q&A in a lightweight portable device is another perfect use case for the iPad.
Script, Teleprompter and TimingsWhat about the presenter or keynote speaker themselves? How many times have you seen a presenter bumping into the microphones on the lectern as they move to the next page of their notes? Rather than awkwardly shuffling through paper notes on the lectern, why not use an iPad? No shuffling, no folding, just a smooth scroll from page to page with the flick of a finger. And while there are more bullet-proof options out there, the iPad can make for a great speaker timer in a pinch, and several apps offer remote control possibilities for setting and resetting the timer from another iPad or iPhone. There are even apps out there that can turn an iPad into a poor-man’s teleprompter.
How Did We Do?
The conference is over, and everything went great. Or did it? Most people agree it’s best to get feedback from your attendees as quickly as possible, and the longer it takes, the less likely you are to actually get any response at all.
Since your attendees all have iPads at their seats, build in five minutes before dismissal for folks to take a moment and reflect on the time they spent together. Find out more about the food, the venue, the program, and the registration process while it’s still fresh in their minds via easy-to-fill-out forms. Don’t go crazy, though. You don’t want the last thing for your attendees to remember to be the world’s most boring survey.
And remember those kiosks you used to check folks in at registration? Set them up toward the exits with simplified versions of the survey. Any information is better than no information, so a simple happy face or sad face could suffice- an easy button for attendees to hit on the way out. Even a simple happy/sad metric can be useful when comparing from year to year!
In Conclusion: “What’s A Computer?”
The little girl in the Apple commercial asks, “What’s a computer?” when the neighbor asks her, “What’cha doing on your computer?” as she sits outside on her iPad. If you thought iPads were just for fun, take another look at this remarkable device. It’s time for event planners to ditch the binder and join the digital revolution!