Why I Think AI Will Change How We Attend Events

If you caught me around the country speaking over the last few months, you may have noticed I’ve gone Google Glass on VR and AI. And what I mean by that is that I’ve bet hard on these two technologies changing the way we experience events. You are free to pick on me in a few years time if it doesn’t happen, in the same fashion I like to joke with Google Glass wearers.

We are extensively covering VR and its older bullying brother, AR, but I wanted to spend some time telling you why you should care about AI and why it matters for event technology and the event industry.

Before I start, let me warn you, as I am growing my own fringe of trolls, I am not suggesting you should spend a dime on AI. I am not suggesting you should jump on it, like there is no tomorrow.  I am not suggesting you dump your app provider because they don’t offer chatbot modules. I am telling you what you should know about it, before making the right decision for your business, event and attendees.

The Interface Problem

I insisted on this aspect with great emphasis in the latest edition of The Event App Bible. There is an inherent problem with most event apps on the market, the user interface.

Of course, you have some brilliant examples of fantastic interfaces but the implementation is not the problem. The very nature of apps as they were conceived 10 years ago, does not reflect the needs of event attendees.

Let me clarify that with a tangible scenario: I need to know where the restrooms are at a major trade show. I really can’t hold it anymore. 

In 1989, I would ask someone from the event, if I were able to see them in the crowd.

In 1999, I would check the print show guide and wander through the map, understand where I am. And eventually I found my way after asking for directions.

In 2009, I would look at the map in the app after clicking on several screens. Lately, if my app was fancy, I would have beacon wayfinding to have the fastest route to take me there.

In all cases, I would have felt extreme discomfort with my physiological need, I mean, don’t let me be graphic. While the latest attempts to give me an answer are commendable, they do not solve the basic issue of letting me know where the restrooms are, NOW.

This is where I think AI, especially in its most interesting application, Concierge or chatbots , will make waves in events.

AI + Voice = Success

Now think you have a Siri or Cortana or Alexa for your event. ‘Hey Siri, where is the closest restroom?’. ‘Dear lord, attendee, go straight and take the second left, here is a map to get there’.

See what I did there? See how it makes sense? I don’t want to be bothered with playing a scavenger hunt to find where your app hid this precious, if not vital, information.

Voice plays a big role in this, it makes it even more immediate. Events are fast and whatever tool you can use to support speed, attendees will welcome it.

But let’s stay on our AI case.

What and Where

Of course, not everything is as urgent as restrooms. Or is it? What about our key objectives of running events, learning and networking? They seem very urgent to me. Probably your attendees or their businesses have spent thousands to attend, where is the ROI?

I was reviewing some numbers of what attendees use in event apps the most. Usually, it is the schedule and the list of attendees.

What about if instead of scrolling hundreds of pages in the app, I could just ask my smartphone – ‘what session should I attend?’ and based on my preferences, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin (you name it) profile, I would get the top three sessions I should attend.

We love Google for a reason. Google gave us the ability to skim through the noise to give us relevant information, thanks to its intelligent algorithm.

What about who should I meet next? Once again, give me the recommendations that matter and tell me where to meet them, or schedule an appointment for me.

The Intrinsic Service Component

Whether we like it or not, events are part of the hospitality industry. That means being nice and attentive to the needs of your guests. Yet when it comes to technology, we tend to take steps back. Instead of surprising our guests with an enjoyable level of tech hygiene, we tend to think it doesn’t really matter.

Why should I use an interface from years ago if I am accustomed to asking Alexa to do my shopping by just shouting in my house? You should delight me, not disappoint me.

The service component of these apps is so evident that most brands are jumping on bots to save big on repetitive tasks. Yes, you heard me right, I pulled the ‘you can save money’ card.

I was talking to a group recently and most of the crowd disagreed that AI would have had an impact. Until I got to the social media and service desk people. They were strongly in favor. In large shows, you are pestered by the same questions over and over again.

You may say that you ‘took care of it’ by writing it on the show guide or in the app FAQ. Let me break some news to you, nobody reads anymore. Actually, if you made it this far in the post, a virtual high five to you my friend, you are part of a disappearing elite.

The Deep Learning Element 

With AI chatbots and AI interfaces, we are just scratching the surface. We are not considering the deep learning aspect of AI. The ability of these apps (apparently they haven’t figured out how they do it) to learn and predict your needs.

That is extremely important for the above scenarios, but what about you, the event professional? What about the data you could collect? What about the real-time analytics you could act upon.

The possibilities are endless, but still in inception. I know a few apps are investing heavily on this side of the business and I am extremely excited to see what will happen.

In Conclusion

There is a strong case on why artificial intelligence is set to have an impact on events. As an event professional it is key to know these changes and to start questioning your app provider about their plans to incorporate AI modules in their apps.

In fact, this could be the natural evolution of event apps as we know them. While tech is exciting and cool, we always need to use it when it answers the basic question – is it adding value to our attendees? Is it making the event experience better? If the answer is yes, you are onto something.