Why wearable technology will transform the event industry

The future looks bright for wearable technology according to many studies, the latest of which is Cisco’s Visual Network Index and predicts an increase to 58 million devices in 2015 and even 177 million by 2018.  That looks pretty impressive and it actually is considering that such a market would be worth approximately 30 billion US dollars.  Yet, in comparison to (say) the global smartphone market, it’s peanuts.  At  an estimated bying rate of 2,3 billion devices a year, the smartphone market accounts for roughly 20 devices per smart wearable device.

While all these statistics and contradictory trend reports, may give the impression that wearables are not (yet) a reality, I would argue that these numbers only mean tough business for those entering in this market.  Meaning that margins will be low from the start, with the exception of some more ‘premium’ products from vendors like Apple, and most importantly set for a race down the bottom.  On top, these wearables work together with a smartphone and are pretty useless without one.  This means that the wearables themselves don’t account for much network traffic, reducing to zero the incentive for telco’s to develop device subsidies plans, like they did so keenly for smartphones.  But that’s their problem not yours as an event organizer.

So, wearable devices are not going to impact the event industry for a lack of adoption?  On the contrary, they will and already have if you think about it.


Every event attendee has at some stage worn a RFID or NFC bracelet in the past years when going to an event.  For access control, or for paying drinks or food, or for sharing content on social media.  Especially the concerts and festivals industry has adpoted bracelets a couple of years ago.  Identifying the potential advantages of selling more, worrying less about cash distribution and theft, checking entrances better, managing crowds in a more secure manner.

But where wearing a bracelet on a concert is pretty standard, you won’t see it on a conference or trade show.  And that’s because the audience won’t accept that.  No need to discuss reasons or measures to circumvent that, the fact that in the future your smart wearable device will be able to take over those functions easily solves this puzzle.  Smart watches will become the RFID-NFC bracelet in the next months and years.

Google Glass

Google’s entry in the market of wearables is and has been since the start one of the most eye-catching ones (I liked the pun).  Not always positively because it’s so visible and packed with cool features, but also because it’s a little bit scary, or at least swiftly categorized as a danger to privacy by so-called experts.  Only a couple of months after Glass’ announcement it  is already declared dead, sometimes by people that also tried to bury Apple’s iPad and iPhone or the Android operating system immediately after their introduction.

While I understand the concerns and honestly value the importance and need of privacy, I think Google Glass can be a game changer for events, congresses, trade shows and basically any location where lot’s of people meet each other and engage with new and exciting content.  Google Glass may not become the hyped, ubiquitous tool that Google wants it to become for their business, but it sure has a lot of potential to offer as a business and marketing tool.googleglass

Think about how much simpler it would be to keep your smartphone in your pocket while stroling down the isles of a trade show, not forced to look at your screen all the time, missing out on interesting products and people.  Think about not having to grab for your phone to check messages and reminders for your next appointment on the show or speakers session to attend.  Could that be the reason why today mobile event apps or not all that much used by attendees ?  I honestly think so.

Virtual reality

riftNo, I really can’t imagine myself walking around with an Occulus Rift on my head, but imagine being able to admire, on a booth, in 3D, the latest model of some multi-million dollar machine that was just too expensive to fysically move to the event venue.  Can you smell the (social) media coverage that would generate for the event and the exhibitor ? I can.


The chances of meeting tens of interesting people, existing contacts or new partners, on an event are high, certainly higher than on any other average day.  How convenient would it be to attendees to use their smart watch or glasses to connect, to exchange personal information, to get a reminder of a planned meeting and at the same time get some background information on the person your meeting with.  Get his interests, hobbies, carreer at his current company, experience,…

The mobile event app is created to increase convenience and make a better customer experience during an attendee’s stay at an event.  But it virtually requires the poor man or woman to glue a smartphone on your face, which is not very convenient when walking.  Wearable technology will just reveal the true added value of event apps and event technology and as a side efffect increase the number of created interactions.  Which, in my book, is exactly what conferences or trade shows are all about : creating interactions and leads.

More advantages or use cases of wearable technology for events ?  Or recent experiences with events using wearables, just post a comment.

Why you want to invest now in event technology ?

The approaching dedicated show Event Tech Live 2014 next week, but also the overall desire and anticipation to use and integrate technology in almost every aspect of our daily lives, causes a spike in interest and searches for event technology.  And rightfully so, I may add.  Today many, if not virtually every big and smaller trade show or conference boasts a mobile app, online registration, an online blog and social media interaction.  But every often I see isolated efforts not demonstrating a valid online strategy nor tight integration of these supporting tools.  Many organizers will invest in technology to keep up with the competition or just because – they feel or think – the audience expects that.  But you shouldn’t invest because it’s a buzz.  Only if you’re convinced technology can have a positive impact on your event.  I’m pretty sure it will. Why ?

1. Strategy first

While the practice of experimenting with technology isn’t bad – as I emphasize later in this article – you musn’t confuse an experiment with a best practice or final setup.  The goal must always be structural, well-defined and with tangible results and positive outcome in mind.  So you want to have a clear strategy including a list of goals and the appropriate tactics – read technology – to achieve that goal.  Look at all available event tech on the market, evaluate if and how it can help you achieve your strategy and goals.  And foremost look at how each individual technology effort can be enhanced by adding more or integrating with other pieces of technology.  Keep an eye on efficiency, costs and measure the results.

Of course Rome wasn’t build in a day and you can start small and isolated but don’t settle for that.

TIP : also look at technnology that’s not – or not yet – typically adapted to the event industry’s needs but holds promise to achieve your goals.  Typically retail technology (in Dutch) can be usefull in event environments.

2. Data is the ultimate proof360-customer-view

The real bonus of using event technology is the data it provides.  It has the potential to stop you from having to guess.  About what your audience wants, about how exhibitors performed, about the effect of your event, about activity levels, about the return of your efforts.  Actually about virtually everything you always wanted to track and then use to improve your event and demonstrate the value it holds.

3. Increase productivity

Good event technology boosts the productivity of your audience.  Whether it’s rapidly finding your way to the next exhibitor you wanted to pay a visit, or sifting through the lectures at a conference looking for topics of your interest, or looking for interesting other visitors to meet with.

But it also helps you to become more productive and improve your event’s value.  Knowing exactly how many people attented a demo and how many questions were asked and answered after a lecture, helps you identify valuable topics and speakers for your next edition.  Good social media analytics will point you to the community thought leaders, helping you Tweet: Great social media analytics will point you to the community thought leaders, helping you increase your reach. #eventtech #adekspoincrease your reach and maybe attracting the guru for a workshop at your next event.

Good event technology increases the likelihood of succesful interaction between people, networking and connecting the right business opportunities.  Without technology, organizing an event is like fishing with a line and hook and ultimate patience.  Great as an outdoor leisure but not for providing sustainable living.  As an organizer you went through an enormous pile of work and effort to realize the event and then you leave it up to pure serendepity for the right people to meet each other.  With just a little technological help you can do so much better and more rewarding.

4. Increase engagement

A mobile app, a Tweetwall, a Pinterest photo contest, a website, a voting system, … All of that will support your efforts to engage with your customers in a dialogue.  But the dialogue mustn’t start at the entrance and stop at the exit of the event’s venue.  The conversation has to be continuous.  By all means the intensity must be raised during the event by sharing valuable information with your audience.  But before and after the show you also have interesting things to share, or at least you must have.  Interest spans are decreasing which means you have a harder time if you have to reintroduce yourself and fight for attention from scratch, every time a couple of months before the event’s opening date.

This requires proven knowledge of your audiences – fact based, not hunches – stored in integrated software solutions, giving you a 360° overview of every single participant in your events.

5. Demand

I know I said in the beginning of this article that introducing event tech because people want it, is not a good reason to start with.  But don’t underestimate the power of your audience.  “Power to the people” is an increasing reality, and not only in the virtual world.  This means not having a highly appreciated piece of technology on your event can be more harmful than having it in a way that’s not optimal.  You must however make sure the experience is valuable from the beginning and be clear about the ultimate goal.  Ask for features users want to see in the future and communicate well about your plans for the future with this technology tool.

6. Experiment

Try new stuff !  Don’t be afraid of technology.  People attending your events aren’t.  More and more events will be attended by people between 25 and 40 years old.  Those are manifest 24/7 users of technology.  Try something new, evaluate well and then drop it or use it differently, more wisely to achieve your overall strategy.  Or to provide objective answers to the questions that you want to see answered.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Your specialty is organizing an event and managing a community, not knowing exactly how technology can help with those tasks.  So ask for professional help when developing a strategy or searching for effective technology.

It’s all connected. Just like any event’s goal is to connect more people and ideas together, the goal for your arsenal of technological features should be to connect them and gain insights and information helping you to become a better organizer who knows what people want to get out of your events.