Engagement and Gamification: these two words have been showing up on the hot lists of meeting event technology articles for a couple of years now, and as younger millennial audiences demand “experiences” rather than events, they continue to be some of the hottest buzzwords in the industry. But what exactly do we mean when we use these terms? And how can renting technology help us to achieve our event rental goals? In this article, we’re going to walk you through how to bring these powerful tools to your meetings and events and offer plenty of examples along the way to help spark your creativity.
Engagement vs. Gamification
First, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page as to what these terms mean. “Engagement” has a few different meanings, but unless you’re a wedding planner, there’s only a couple of them that are relevant to meetings and events. Put simply, engagement is the act of occupying, attracting, or involving someone’s interest or attention. The word “engage”, however, has a deeper meaning according to most dictionaries: to participate or become involved in. So when we’re talking about engagement, it’s important to realize that there are a couple different ways to accomplish it, either by getting and holding an audience’s attention or by getting an audience to become active participants in the event. Either way, we’re creating engagement.
Gamification, on the other hand, is probably better considered to be a subset of engagement. It’s a form of engagement, rather than something entirely different. “Gamification” is the act of taking elements normally reserved for gameplay (such as scoring points, competition with other people, and rules on how to play), and applying them to other activities, in hopes of (you guessed it!) engaging your audience. In addition to making relatively ordinary activities fun, by having clearly defined rules, points, and other measurements, organizers can define and track audience engagement in specific ways. This allows planners, sponsors, and other stakeholders to have measurable, quantifiable results. When you’ve got measurable results, you have a way to truly show the all-elusive ROI – return on investment.
That’s huge, so before we get into the tech, let’s take a moment to go into a little background and best practices when it comes to engagement and gamification.
Have a Plan
You can’t just throw a bunch of technology at your event and hope for the best. You need to make a plan, and you have to implement it in a smart, controlled way that’s going to let you have the best chance of achieving your goals. When mobile event apps first started taking hold, events were lucky to get 10% of their attendees to install and use them. Smart organizations quickly figured out that just having a mobile event app wasn’t enough- you had to have an implementation plan. By promoting the technology early and often, as well as providing incentives for attendees to use the app, some organizations were able to get that install rate up to 50%, 80%, and higher. Just like with mobile event apps, if you want the best chance of successfully engaging your audience, take the time to ask yourself (and your organization) a few questions. Do this even before you’ve decided on what engagement technology you’d like to bring into your meeting or event.
Why Are We Doing This, and What Do They Need?
First, before bringing in any kind of new engagement technology, you have to understand the “why”. Why are you doing it? What are you trying to prove? What are the desired goals of the event, and what do you want the attendees to walk away with? Are you just wanting to add a little spice to your event by livening things up with a little gamification and friendly competition? Or are you trying to make sure that attendees walk away having learned all about your sponsors and the services they provide? The vast majority of times when event technology fails is when organizers failed to have a clear vision of what they wanted to accomplish with it. There are very few events where the only reason for using a new technology is just because it’s new, so understanding what you want it to actually achieve is a necessary but, unfortunately, often overlooked first step.
Now that you know what you and the other stakeholders want to achieve, the next step is to figure out what your attendee wants and needs. Your “why” is irrelevant if you can’t get your attendees to participate. Think of the humble post-event survey – audience engagement in its most basic form. You may have a thousand questions for your attendee as they leave your event, but if you ask all of them, you may significantly reduce the number of responses you receive. Some statistics show that surveys with over three questions have up to an 80% abandonment rate! If there’s no incentive for the attendee to fill out the survey, and it’s more than a couple of questions, you’re asking an awful lot of people. Even the chance of winning a gift card or a small discount for next year’s event can create a significant increase in survey responses.
Know Your Audience and Find Your ROI
The same goes for knowing your audience when it comes to gamification and more complex engagement. Not everyone is a super-competitive “Alpha” that will participate just because you’ve added a little competition into the mix. Not everyone is a “gamer”, so whatever activities you’re planning, you have to take into account all of the different types of people that attend your event. Make sure there are roles for everyone to play. You need to not only plan for the Alphas that need to a chance to take a leadership role, but also those who are just in it to socialize and network, the more introspective and quiet, and the hands-on and intellectual people. We’ll come back to this idea later as we talk about some of the options that are out there for engagement tech.
Finally, it’s time to start taking what you’ve learned from the above and start coming up with ways to measure your results. That’s the only way you’ll be able to learn if you actually achieved your goals, and be able to prove ROI. It also will help you decide what kind of engagement tech is right for you. So as we get into the technology below, we’ll talk not only about what the benefits are of each type but also what specific measurements can be made to determine ROI. Many event professionals argue that it’s literally impossible to talk about ROI unless you have set, quantifiable goals, and many meeting and event stakeholders are demanding proof that their money is being spent efficiently and effectively. Audience engagement technology is one of the most cost-effective ways to do just that.
Number One, Engage!
We already touched on post-event audience surveys, but when most people are talking about engagement they mean during the event. One of the easiest ways to engage your audience is also one of the oldest: just ask their opinion. For decades this meant either an audience member shouting their question to the stage or if they were lucky, stepping into the aisle to speak into a microphone. Of course, one of the biggest disadvantages of the standard “let’s put a couple of mics in the audience and have a Q&A session” is that it forces audience members to step into the spotlight (sometimes literally) to ask their question. If an audience member is embarrassed, feels their question is “dumb”, or worse- feels there may be retribution from fellow employees or management due to their comment or question, standing up in front of a microphone to do so could feel like a fate worse than death. Fortunately, as early as the 1970’s technology providers had a solution.
The hardware, known as ARS, or Audience Response System (sometimes called APT- Audience Participation Technology, or ART- Audience Response Technology) was seen as THE major upgrade to the reigning king, the microphone on a stick. Wireless remotes looking more like a remote control for a set of lights or blinds were handed out to each attendee, and poll graphics were superimposed or embedded into PowerPoints. While the technology was solid from a hardware standpoint, as smartphone and tablet technology began to take off in the 2000s, these systems began to feel dated compared to the sleek, full-text input options of iPhones and Blackberrys.
More Than Just Q&A
Fortunately, software developers have been working for years to bring the benefits of these hardware solutions to smartphones, tablets, and other devices, allowing not just polling, but rather full audience interaction and engagement. Audience response software brings the ability to ask questions comfortably and (if the organizers allow it) anonymously directly to the attendee’s smartphone or tablet, opening up a level of dialogue previously not possible. More importantly, this not only brings basic Q&A and polling functionality to the attendee but so much more. Software can allow attendees to see what other attendees are asking, and if they have the same question, upvote those questions so they bubble to the top of the queue. This technique can also be used for brainstorming the answers to your organization’s deepest questions, allowing you to tap directly into the “wisdom of the crowd”.
Behold- The Second Screen!
These types of engagement apps can also promote accessibility and facilitate learning, through “second screen” technology. This allows attendees to see the slides being presented on stage, on their device. This can make the viewing of presentations easier for those with visual impairments, or allow an attendee to mark up the presentation with notes, comments, doodles, or whatever will help them absorb the material in a way that makes sense to them. Using second screen technology can also be an effective way to reduce audiovisual costs, as every attendee can have the presentations literally at their fingertips. Having every seat in the house within sight of a giant projection screen becomes less of a priority, and smaller, high-resolution flat screens can be used instead. Considering the high cost of rigging in some facilities, the cost savings can be in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, more than covering the cost of the additional engagement technology.
All of this is to say that we’re in a golden age of audience response technology, where every attendee potentially has the ability to participate in the conversation, and in a myriad of ways. Unfortunately, much like mobile event apps, what holds back this technology is the fact that we require it to be installed on the attendees’ personal or work device. With the hundreds (or thousands) of different models of phones and tablets out in the wild, it can be nearly impossible to guarantee the software will function correctly, or if the attendee will actually install the software at all, both of which cause some attendees to be left out of the conversation.
The Benefits of Renting Engagement Tech
That’s where rental technology can save the day. By renting tablets or smartphones for your attendees, you can ensure that all necessary apps are pre-installed. This includes not only your audience response system, but can also include second screen technology, note-taking ability, and even your mobile event app so they can keep track of the schedule without having to take their own phones out of their pockets at all. That’s got the side benefit of reducing distractions for your attendees, so they don’t get sucked into email or Facebook. You can’t force attendees to participate, but you can remove all the potential barriers for doing so. There are other benefits to keeping your attendees’ phones in their pockets but let’s come back to that in a moment.
The other major inconsistency for attendee devices is their choice of carrier. Renting devices can ensure that you’ve got all the connectivity your attendees will need, without having to use their own data plans, or without having to worry if they’ve got a signal. Aria can rent devices that work on all the major carriers, eliminating the possibility of attendees not being able to participate just because their chosen carrier doesn’t happen to have a cell tower nearby. Even if WiFi’s your game, you can
(a) make sure your devices are pre-configured to attach to the correct WiFi network at your event.
(b) continue to reduce inconsistencies by making sure all your devices are the same. Not every device connects to WiFi in exactly the same way, so renting all the same type of device can at least reduce the number of things you have to troubleshoot if someone is having difficulty connecting. Additionally, the support staff don’t have to be technology experts, trained on multiple platforms. Instead, they can focus on just the hardware they need to know, rather than every possible combination of iOS or Android phone or tablet out there.
So What’s the ROI?
As for showing the ROI on this type of engagement, it’s a no-brainer. If your goal is to broaden the conversation to a wider selection of your audience, you should easily be able to show the number of questions asked using the technology, compared to the year before where you had a couple of microphones in the aisle. As you start to get metrics on participation, you can start to compare them year-over-year, seeing what works, and doesn’t with your audience. By renting the hardware, you can make sure that everyone who wants to contribute to the conversation, can. If your goal is education, try taking a poll before your presentations to gauge your audience’s knowledge of the subject, then poll them again afterward and see whether or not they learned the material. You’ll find out right away if your presenters are as effective as you’d hoped, or if your money might be better spent trying something else.
Whatever the goals of your event, audience response can almost always be an important insight as to whether or not you’ve achieved them.
Beyond The Ballroom: Other Engagement Opportunities
While Q&A, brainstorming, polling and other audience response software can be a fantastic window into what your audience is thinking or feeling, it’s by no means the only way. Remember, we’re looking for interaction – getting, and keeping our audience’s attention. Another way to do that is to grab their attention before they’ve even had a chance to sit down. Interactive touchscreen displays in the registration area for your event can entertain or educate your attendees while they wait in line, offering interactive timelines, 3D models, or so much more. And with displays up to 15 feet wide, there’s plenty of wow factor and room for multiple participants, making sure everyone can have an opportunity to engage. These types of touch screen video walls can be expensive to purchase, but renting allows a tremendous bang for very little buck, and can be a powerful addition to what can ordinarily be the mundane act of registering and entering your event.
And speaking of large-screen displays, another great use of video wall technology is a “social media wall”, where attendees photos, videos, and comments can be compiled before, during, and after your event. It’s a great way to encourage attendees to share their experiences with each other, but more importantly with those that might want to attend next year.
Keep it in the Family
But social media can be a double-edged sword, promoting the negative as well. As a result, many companies whose events have found themselves in the spotlight of government regulations or the court of public opinion, have started enforcing zero social media policies. Does this mean these industries can’t participate in the fun of social walls? Nope. By renting the technology for their attendees so they can keep their phones in their pockets, they can reduce the risk that someone feels the need to post to Instagram or Twitter, and create a closed-loop system. Photos and videos can be shared within the app, and displayed on the social media wall, without being distributed publicly. After the event, the devices are collected and securely wiped, and the shared media is handed over to the organizers to do with what they wish. So public or private, we’ve got your social media fix covered!
One of the most common ways to encourage attendees to participate in social media is to, of course, offer prizes to the top contributors. Which leads us nicely into…
Let the Games Begin!
To be honest, almost anything can be gamified. Like we mentioned at the offset, just add a few rules and a way to keep score and you’re off and running! Just remember to keep in mind your best practices, and don’t forget the WHY of your event. Remember your goals, and make sure your gamification efforts support them. Also, while a little healthy competition can often be enough to encourage participation, bragging rights aren’t always enough. The fastest way to encourage participation is to offer the opportunity to win prizes. Large prizes can draw a crowd to be sure, but you’d be surprised what even low-cost, kitschy prizes can get people to do.
Let’s take a quick look back at some of the technology we’ve already discussed, and see how gamification can add an extra element of fun, encourage participation, and even help us determine ROI. In addition to providing the opportunity for audience members to respond to polls, ask questions, and brainstorm, the same technology can be used for trivia challenges, game shows, and other fun competitions. If the goal of your event is to get your salespeople up to speed on the latest marketing strategy, why not turn it into a friendly competition? After the presentations are all done, it’s time to pick up the iPads you’ve rented for your attendees and pit your Easter Region vs the West. Who was paying closest attention? While you’re at it, make it an annual competition, with a traveling trophy for the winning region! Just make sure to use your polling technology before the event to establish a baseline, so you can really measure how much they learned.
The Booth Everyone’s Talking About
Where this kind of technology really shines is in the tradeshow and expo environment. Instead of just sitting in your booth offering attendees their 101st stress ball of the day or glowing pen, you can combine an iPad trivia game with a giant LED wall showing a leaderboard. Nothing creates a line at a tradeshow booth like a game, especially if there’s a prize for the top winner of the day. People will often return and play again and again, giving your booth staff plenty of time to get to know them, find out more about their organization, and whether or not they might be a potential customer (or perhaps more importantly, if you shouldn’t waste your hard-spent marketing dollars and salespeople’s time on them). Plus, if you sprinkle in some trivia about your organization or products here and there, they’ll be learning about you, too.
They Just Wanna Have Fun
Of course, not every game has to have an educational component. Sometimes the ROI can be found in your attendees just having fun, after all- that can be one of the goals for your event as well. As already mentioned, social media walls can be a great way to encourage participation in and of themselves, but adding a little healthy competition can encourage even more. LED walls and flatscreen monitors strewn throughout the event can show not only the content being shared but also the current leaderboard of who’s sharing the most, and what prizes might be won. Just remember to include the possibility of winning a prize just for participating. Leaderboards can be counterproductive if people look at them and feel they have no chance of winning, so why bother trying?
Get Out! (and About)
Teambuilding can often be one of the goals for an event and is another opportunity for rental equipment to shine. Scavenger hunts are popular teambuilding activities, but once again if they have a digital component, you’re relying on your attendees’ devices and data plans. Issuing teams a single LTE-capable iPad on the strongest carrier in the area can ensure that all teams are on a level playing field, the proper software is installed, and the equipment is properly tested and capable of running it. Many scavenger hunts will include an element of “geotagging”, where participants are guided to a location using a GPS signal. If you’re relying on your attendee’s phones, the responsiveness and accuracy can vary wildly. And finally, some of the most fun from scavenger hunts can be found in asking your teams to take pictures along the way. By making sure all teams have the same rented equipment, even your photos will have continuity, instead of being shot with a myriad of phone cameras of varying resolution.
Plus, remember how we mentioned making sure everyone can participate? “Keeper of the iPad” is a tremendous responsibility, that should not be taken lightly! Beyond that, many scavenger hunts and other games are now making use of multiple devices per team, giving each of the members unique roles and responsibilities.
Bring that E-Sports Feel
Otherwise, in the “pure fun” gamification department, equipment rental offers easy access to the latest and greatest in video game consoles. While often thought of as being solitary experiences, many of the most popular games offer multiplayer versions where players can square-off head-to-head. When planned carefully, you can create an experience that not only entertains those directly playing the games but also those watching or waiting in line. Here again is a perfect use for LED wall technology. Consider creating a “pit” where the contestants sit, playing their individual consoles with their own individual monitors. But… by splitting the video signal and routing it to a switcher, you can now present any one player’s view on a giant video wall, or all four players at once, depending on what the action calls for. Add a professional host (think improv comedian) contributing live commentary to the crowd for a hilarious take on the “e-sports” feel.
Once again, keep those best practices in mind and know your audience. Is your crowd going to enjoy a Call of Duty style war game? Or is Mario Kart more their speed? Better yet, offer a variety of options to suit every kind of player!
Next Gen Gaming: Virtual Reality
And finally, if you’re really ready to take things to the next level, consider renting the latest in Virtual Reality hardware. These immersive games can have jaw-dropping special effects and can transform any event into a futuristic extravaganza. How can VR encourage participation, engagement, and interaction? The same way that any of these technologies do. Headsets can be linked to provide group experiences, or you can create a little competition for whoever gets the highest score. Either way, make sure you have that big screen to show those waiting in line what the player is seeing and doing, so they get a taste of what’s to come. And of course, the can’t-miss opportunity to take a picture of their friends with a VR headset on, laughing hysterically as they navigate the virtual world – and post it on the social media wall!
Ready, Set, Go!
No matter what kind of meeting or event you plan, it’s easy to add engagement opportunities for your attendees. Whether it’s purely educational, or just to have a little fun, rental technology can help your attendees move beyond just attending your event, to truly participating in it.
Just remember to make a plan and stick to it. Start with the “why” of your event. What are your goals? What is it that you want to accomplish using engagement? How can that engagement be tracked and measured so that we know that it’s working? Only after you’ve answered those questions should you start trying to determine what technology is going to help you achieve those goals.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, and remember one of the best benefits of renting event technology is that you don’t have to own it afterward! It makes it easier to take a chance on something new, without having to be locked into a long-term commitment. Plus, you can always have the latest and greatest engagement technology at your events, year after year.