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Think small—small screens on smartphones, that is

Think small—small screens on smartphones, that is

The massive and disruptive adoption of smart phones and tablet computers represents an unprecedented shift in our lives. If you still need proof, take a look at NBC News’ comparison between the 2005 and 2013 crowds gathered at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.This is what we call the “mobile transformation,” which poses fundamental challenges for virtually every business, including the event and meetings industry. Just take the people in the photo at the bottom to the conference room and you’ll see a typical situation that many event pros face today when running a meeting or making a presentation.

The challenge is: how to keep your audience engaged and still focused in the age of distraction?

One common approach that aims to fix the nagging problem of disengagement and low-visibility content involves placing wide big screens in between the rows in addition to the main presentation screen. Joanna Moor, the technical specialist of VisionEvents, recently shared this view here in her Special Events Blog postabout the advantages of setting up the wide-screen presentations for engaging events.To my mind, wide screens can really help if you plan a huge event with a long line of sitting rows and the venue plan allows putting those screens around for the ease of middle and back rows’ participants.

However, this may not always play well if the venue doesn’t support placement of the screens or if screens are set higher or further out than needed. Further, if the slides are so wordy and hard to read, even on big screens they can become unreadable. As a result,the audience's attention wanders, and they become less engaged than they could be.Nobody wants that for sure.

In this case it’s good to use the potential of mobile devices that people usually keep open and close at hand all day long. Using a classic “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” strategy, why not place all the key information that’s being presented on the screens of mobile devices and add some interactivity?

If we take a look at the latest mobile technology trends we see that the smartphones are getting bigger, and some tablets, a bit smaller, all with a view towards becoming easier to work with, easier to hold. And what’s good for the event planners is that attendees can use their own smart devices as personal conference screens for watching what’s being presented on the main screen--without missing anything--even sitting far away from the main stage.

Straw polling that we conduct at events we support affirms this. The most common complaints we hear is that slide content is too small or too dense, or that the room layout hinders visibility. Sitting in the back row can also be a problem, and there's no way to get of the back row! In some polls, more than 10 percent of respondents report difficulty in seeing the presentations at every conference they attend!

Yet, almost everyone we poll has a smartphone, and more than half report taking a laptop or tablet computer to events. It only follows that meeting organizers find more, better ways to leverage the devices that people are already bringing into the conference hall. (And as often as not, those devices serve as a diversion from the event content, as people check e-mail, stock quotes, send text messages and so on.)

There are a tremendous number of really good mobile event apps on the market today, but most of them are focused on scheduling and agendas, and enjoy only sporadic use during the event. The next step beyond this is to integrate those personal devices into the event content delivery, so that certainly, participants eyes are glued to their smart phone, but they're following the presenter, not checking-in with the home office.

Ironically, those personal "diversion" devices that distract from event content can become engagement devices, when properly exploited by savvy planners. All that's required is a shift in the planner's perspective, to turn an event's weakness into its greatest strength.

Since 2012, Golubeva has been marketing and PR manager at NiceMeeting, based in Pleasanton, Calif., an event technology company focused on mobile audience engagement technology. The company's mission: to develop game-changing solutionsthat allowevent planners to turn audience mobile devices from distraction to engagement. 

TAGS: Event Tools
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