Thursday, March 07, 2013

Apps and Games - How Do They Impact Your Conference? (and How Will They Impact The Future?)

Gamification is hot topic in the meetings industry.  We all want our conferences to be more fun and engaging, and thus mobile apps have become an attractive option to get people playing. When people share experiences they establish bonds, and that is what live events are all about (human-to-human interaction).

I am a fan and user of technology, and the right tool can be amazing (I find anytime I am critical of anything "tech" there are those who think I want to return to the horse and buggy.. NOT TRUE).  However, if thirty people at a conference of one thousand participants play the mobile app scavenger hunt game, there is some question to whether the utilization of the app is a "rousing success". 

Several conferences introduce apps for gamification and other purposes, only to have a majority of participants ignore the fun.  Many people do not play, and thus it is not a real community activity.  Then the organizers use Jedi mind tricks on the audience ("These are not the droids you are looking for") telling the crowd how successful the game has been in creating community.  But when people are not playing the game (or outwardly mocking it in the hallways), it is not really useful.  The use of technology or gamification are not magical solutions to the age-old issue of getting people engaged while at an event.

Community is not something one can force upon attendees... it either evolves at the event or it does not.... and a only a few people playing a mobile scavenger hunt will not impact the overall vibe.

Should we not have apps or games at conferences?  God no...that is NOT what I am saying.  We should use implement technology.  We must experiment with new ideas or nothing will ever change.  But do not stand up and talk about how great it is when an audience thinks it is a silly waste of time or difficult to navigate.  Treat it with honesty and get proper feedback on why people did or did not engage.  

I recently attended an event where their app was the "star" of the show in the eyes of the organizers..... but the attendees found it hard to use, did not like the registration process, and ignored the games.  When I asked people how they liked the app they shrugged.  Nobody wanted to admit the app was a flop, but it had no impact on the event.

We all miss the boat when we do anything that takes the spotlight off the people in the audience.  Falling in love with technology over the the "conference attendee experience" is a mistake that can easily be made when planning an event. Is it not ironic that we ask people to network with each other and then plunge them into their phones at every break?

What are your thoughts on conference apps, games, and other shiny new tech?  Where are they working... or not working?  How will they be better in the future?

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 


Tahira Endean CMP said...

I think apps are useful when well built and with clear objectives as to their use. Many are not.

Shawna McKinley and Judy Kucharuk built an excellent game on a well constructed QuickMobile platform for EventCamp Vancouver that had good success - they wrote a white paper and won an award at IMEX Frankfurt in 2012. - the first post has the link to the white paper and it has lots of excellent information.

I love the idea of social gaming but it works if you follow the "rules" - including that you need clear objectives, you have to have rules, you need regular feedback mechanisms and you have voluntary participation. Not everybody wants to do traditional teambuilding and not everyone wants to play a game, live or virtual. You also need to define what "success" means to you / your organization and if a game or app will help you achieve that.

Or as QuickMobile tells the story - POST - people, objectives, strategy, technology - they go hand in hand.

So yes, they have their place, just not everywhere.

Leslie M said...

Provocative post, Thom.

Look at younger generations. They expect learning to be fun. They grew up with electronics and wouldn't be able to sit through a lecture the way we did during college. They expect infotainment.

It's the same thing with conferences -- the younger the audience, the more inclined they are to participate through games and electronic means.

Thom Singer said...

Tahira and Leslie-

thanks for your comments. Yes, there is a place for them (I was not saying otherwise), but they must work.

In the case of the event I cited, most of the audience was under 35 and nobody liked the app. That is the real point, while people like "fun" and want to be engaged, an app is not a magic wand of delight.