My Kingdom for a Smoothly Run Conference

Today's "Underappreciated Technology of the Day"Right now, I am in Sweden, preparing to keynote a conference, thinking that the organizers are probably worrying about managing all the details. Every event organizer hopes their event will satisfy all their constituents but know how challenging that can be. They want to do their best to make the conference run more comfortably for the attendee and more efficiently for the hosting organization (while maximizing ROI) and speakers delivering the best content.

Planning and executing flawless events has never been an easy mission and lots of credit goes to those talented event organizers who pull it off regularly. However, what if it could be made easier? Today’s event organizers are flooded with more data than ever but with fewer resources to handle all these data sources.

On the other side of that coin, I speak at fifty-sixty conferences, give or take, every year. I know what poor conference experiences feel like. The experience a host serves up is critical, and how event planners use the data they collect can make or break the experience for attendee and organizer alike. Increasingly, big data strategies could help manage all the logistics associated with events—and they can do it in real-time, as the conference is taking place.

I was invited as one of the many “VIP influencers” to speak at IBM’s SmarterCommerce Summit (Glen Gilmore explains what this means). During and following the conference, many of us related our enthusiasm via social media methods of blogs and tweets. IBM neither asked nor required anyone to blog or tweet about the event, but many did. It was difficult not to share enthusiasm for the ways IBM understands how commerce can get smarter (see Bryan Kramer’s reactions).

People are doing many mind-blowing things with big data technologies, but IBM addressed a matter near and dear to my conferencing heart, and I would like to share my enthusiasm: I have never attended an event run more smoothly.

At the conference, Alliance Tech demonstrated to me how they accomplished this feat. They use RFID technology, embedding sensors in badges to help organizers equipped with iPads manage a variety of tasks:

Track the real-time behavior of people at conference trade booths to evaluate a range of key metrics to encourage more at-show sales and develop an intelligent show strategy:

  • Ascertain the number and quality of leads individual exhibitors are generating
  • Monitor the flow of individuals through the conference spaces as well as keep track of audience numbers and compare them with session evaluations to determine the popularity and value of individual speakers.
  • Evaluate through social media the opinions and comments of people involved in the event to learn customer reactions and preferences.

Information on what is happening in real time helps organizers do things like negotiate the number of breakfasts needed each morning given the attrition rate of participants. Are more chairs needed in a late afternoon session? Does partitioning need to be rearranged to increase room size? Was a person who is criticizing a speaker actually sitting in the session? This information and more is at staff’s fingertips the second they need it.

Social media tools can expand an event organizer’s understanding of what is happening then and there. To demonstrate how these applications fit in, IBM partnered with several companies to set up a social media command center. Whom did they monitor on the dashboard? Every participant.

Smarter Commerce 2013-05-21 (01)

OneQube [] (the left, white half of the dashboard), a company specializing in relationship management and engagement in Twitter chats and hashtags, displayed real-time information on all mentions and tweets for each participant. At one point, I ranked as a Jedi in the volume of real-time impressions; kind of cool since i hadn’t ever been a Jedi before. 🙂 That along side the Foreigner concert IBM put on, gave me real flashbacks to the late 1970s.

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MutualMind [] (the right, black half of the dashboard), a social media monitoring and analytics company, set up an example of real-time analytics that can help businesses understand their customers in social context.

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Eric Gore describes the specifics of MutualMind’s analytics.

In addition to its live feeds, MutualMind sent me a copy of “My Personal Profiler” document.

Smarter Commerce 2013-05-21 (MutualMind 01)

A number of bloggers who were at the conference have a hundred thousand+ followers. I am not one of those bloggers. But when it comes to the “klout score,” a measure of influence, I scored very high among the attendees, not because I have the biggest social reach, but because the people who follow me are skew very influential.

MutualMind also prepared a word cloud of my audience’s topics; this draws from the frequency of words they put in their Twitter profile to show who they are and what they are interested in. Many people’s profiles are filled with words related to “life” and “love” such as ‘coffee’ or ‘sailing.’ I was surprised to learn what my word audience topic cloud looked like.

Smarter Commerce 2013-05-21 (MutualMind 02)

Almost every word is indicative of my area of interest and occupation. This word cloud suggests my Twitter connections are in line with the audience IBM wanted to reach during this conference and demonstrates what others find as notable value in the content I shared.

Smarter Commerce 2013-05-21 (MutualMind 03)

From social media tools like these, event organizers can work with a level of business intelligence that hasn’t been possible before. Who is influencing whom? What are they saying that would help planners plan more effectively? What do participants want?

Logistics for a single event are complicated, but managing conference logistics as IBM is doing takes commerce to a whole new, smarter level. As someone who speaks at fifty-six conferences each year, I would be thrilled if all event planners were applying data in this way.

photo by: kevin dooley