Nov 9, 2014
Read Time: 7 min
Like the traditional printed guidebook, cardboard signage is disappearing from conferences and trade shows.
Associations Now Senior Editor, Joe Rominiecki, recently wrote an article about the impact digital signage will have on the future of conferences and the ROI associated with implementing this type of technology.
Digital signage is quickly becoming an essential part of the attendee experience because it is efficient, cost effective, and provides a professional look to a conference or trade show. All this is great news for sustainability advocates and even better news for event organizers and attendees.
Digital signage just makes it look so much more professional. You walk in and you’re just wowed. You know that this isn’t your father’s or your mother’s tradeshow.
Rominiecki makes a great observation about the potential of digital signage. He says, “where digital displays leap ahead of print signage is their potential for attendee interaction and engagement.”
I couldn’t agree more. In fact I was inspired by his article to put together a list of the potential uses of digital signage that cardboard cut outs just can’t handle.
Yes, of course good old fashioned paper signage can help your attendees navigate rooms. But can they display only one session at a time so that attendees know exactly what they’re getting into? I didn’t think so.
Digital signage pulls dynamically from your event management software. Once you build out your schedule, your signage will display only the session that is currently being held. The best part? If things go off track or you need to make a change to your schedule, a good digital signage platform will recognize those changes and adjust accordingly.
“Attendees enjoyed how easy it was to navigate the conference and access educational materials,” says Aimee Gabel, SPI’s Director of Education. “And I was relieved that what was displayed on the digital signage changed automatically to reflect current and upcoming sessions.”
And digital room signage displays much more than your session information. Take SPI or AHCA’s session displays for example. They feature the presentation information, speaker headshots and biographies, and an “Up Next” section that alerts attendees about sessions-to-come.
Attendees can even scan the QR code on the signage and get more information about the session in their app instantly!
One of the other classic areas printed signage excelled was communicating the full conference schedule to attendees. The problem once again is that if you make any changes to the schedule (have you ever had a speaker cancel?), you’re out of luck.
Digital signage changes that with real time updates from your event management software. You make a change, it shows up on the schedule.
Megan Flatau, Meeting Planner at AHIMA, says, “Having a digital schedule that’s crisp, clear, and readable takes a lot of stress off planners. One, it’s convenient for attendees, and two, changes are seamless so instant updates are clearly shown and attendees always have the most relevant information.”
Plus, you can add some interactive features to the schedule-at-a-glance too.
Just take a look at what Flatau and her team did at their annual conference this year. They added a Twitter feed that updated in real time at the bottom of their schedule. The display was placed in the lobby in a prominent location. This helped engage their attendees where engagement begins.
Let’s step away from how digital displays can replace old-fashioned signage for a moment. What can they do that static cardboard just isn’t capable of?
Well, they can take social media to the next level. In addition to a social schedule-at-a-glance, AHIMA also had a dedicated Twitter Wall. Attendees could see in real time what their peers were saying about the conference, city, and sessions.
This type of thing reminds them of the event hashtag and encourages them to engage with your program’s content as well as other attendees. And it is new, innovative, and relevant to a younger crowd. Here’s what Flatau had to say about that:
Speaking as a millenial myself, social media is vital for reaching younger attendees. Social media is integrated into our daily lives. A Twitter Wall speaks to us in the language we already speak while getting others involved out of curiosity or fear of missing out.
Most meeting planners already know the value of Twitter. With over 280 million active users, Twitter leads online real-time, in the moment, event-based social engagement and is now adding video to that mix with the launch of their new Periscope app.
And Megan had one more thing to add: “From a meeting planning perspective, it was a great tool because we could get instant feedback from attendees and expand our customer base without lifting a finger.”
AHIMA’s attendees were spreading news of the conference through word of mouth online. Talk about free advertising!
Instagram is a great platform for events. It’s visual, it’s instant, it’s real-time, and it’s easy to use lots of hashtags in one post to go viral. It’s kind of like the digital Polaroid social media network.
But one thing I constantly hear meeting planners struggle with is getting their audience to use it. Usually, upon further inspection, it’s because they’re not promoting it to their attendees.
In the same way that a Twitter Wall is a gentle visual reminder to tweet (that also conjures a bit of peer pressure), a live Instagram feed is a great way to engage your audience to share their own pictures.
And with Instagram recently surpassing Twitter in number of users, this is one platform you’re going to want to use effectively now rather than later.
Ah, the poster gallery. Usually located somewhere in the exhibition hall or a dedicated lobby, this is the place to find quick research presented by students, researchers, and experts alike. It’s kind of a staple ingredient to educational conferences and often where many rising stars present for the first time.
Those old paper printouts stapled to bulletin boards, however, just don’t cut it anymore. They’re clunky, ugly, and outdated. We’re not at a elementary school science fair after all! Our poster gallery should look as professional and modern as the rest of our conference.
That’s why a couple years ago, AAPD decided to go all-out and transform their poster gallery into a digital wonderland. Attendees could interact with the posters on the show floor, in their app, and online (they went so far as to get rid of ALL printed material… talk about ripping the bandaid off).
The onsite poster gallery was displayed on a series of touchscreen displays. Attendees could zoom in on finite details while taking notes on their app. And poster presenters got the VIP treatment with a dedicated space to present their poster in front of an audience.
Many planners might worry that this is cost prohibitive. The amazing thing is you only need 5-10 displays to make the gallery effective. Since the posters are digital, attendees can view them all on one screen and search the database of posters for the topics they’re interested in.
Gamification is all the rage at trade shows and conferences. It’s a great way to engage attendees and generate leads for sponsors. But what’s gamification without a little competition?
If you have an app that supports a live leaderboard feed on your scavenger hunt, put that feed on digital signage prominently displayed around your conference. Just like a Twitter or Instagram feed, it will remind your attendees to engage in this activity.
Examples from conferences like APIC’s and IFO’s are perfect representations. Attendees were able to see who was gaining points in real time running from booth to booth scanning the QR codes and answering questions.
Brena K. Issacs, winner of IFO’s scavenger hunt, sums it up perfectly:
Honestly, at first I wasn’t going to do it. It seemed like a lot of trouble when I already had a lot to see and do at Fusion. However – the first night I met up with some very competitive women, and when I realized I was giving them answers, but not scanning the codes myself, I decided to get started. For me, it was the competition that made it fun. The leaderboard was fun to follow on my phone, and it was fun to pass it in the conference hall, as well.
Like the poster gallery, printed maps of your trade show are a bit… old school (and not in a cool retro way). Replacing this with an interactive floor plan that’s available onsite, online, and in your app will really wow your attendees and provide them with the most updated information.
If an exhibitor backs out or changes booth staff, no problem. Update it in your event management software and it’ll show up wherever your attendees access it.
One of the best parts of a floor plan displayed on touchscreen signage is that your attendees can click each booth for more information about the companies represented at your show.
Time and time again we hear it: networking is the most important aspect of a conference or trade show. I agree. It’s all about who you know.
But, there is a flipside to that. Conferences are, by nature, educational). We spend enormous amounts of money to go find out what’s new in our industries, get ideas we can implement in our organization, and develop our professional skillsets.
Finding ways to bring the educational and social aspects of your conference together is crucial for maximum attendee engagement and value. With eventScribe 2.0, CadmiumCD has made that more of a possibility than ever.
Basically, attendees can opt in to share the notes they take on presentation slides and those notes are displayed in real time as a social media feed for each session. Meeting planners can also choose to place a digital display in the session room or lobby so these shared notes populate for all to see.
Audience Response Systems are also important for engaging attendees socially. Speakers can poll attendees on a certain topic, gain live feedback from the audience, and adjust their presentation based on the results.
This provides unique engagement opportunities even in a room of one thousand or more.
Seeing those results populate in real time on the presentation screen or on a digital display in the session room gives attendees a tangible visual to work with. It allows them to share their voice and have their opinions be seen.
When I spoke to Megan Flatau, she gave me some great insight into how digital signage will transform the future of conference education:
Digital signage can be an extension of your conference’s schedule, it’s brand, and it’s engagement strategy. Speakers love having their pictures displayed because it makes them identifiable, attendees love seeing upcoming sessions and having a beautiful and easy way to navigate the conference, and meeting planners love being able to make instant updates to the schedule. From both a logistical and aesthetic standpoint, digital signage brings conferences into the 21st century and allows younger attendees to engage where they’re used to engaging already.
So the question is, what are you already doing with digital signage and what do you plan to do in the future? I’d love to hear your stories. Leave a comment below, share your ideas with me on Twitter, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org about a time when you really blew your attendees away with digital signage.