Mastering Second-Screen Technology

Event organizers are moving beyond simple Q&A and polling to use second-screen platforms to fortify conference content — while gleaning real-time analytics.

Were this column a typical conference presentation, I might feel compelled to spend several minutes defining the term “second screen.” I would do that to make sure the entire audience understands how the fact that many people are constantly looking at the screens on their smartphones is affecting content delivery in a variety of mediums.

Or, I could display a link that pointed the audience to an online resource (, so that those new to the term could use a mobile device to quickly bring themselves up to speed.

That’s similar to how the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) used a second-screen platform called SlideKlowd when the department was moderating a controversial forum on bullet trains at a recent event. Audience members could view Caltran’s presentation on their mobile devices through the SlideKlowd platform, where they also had access, through links, to a wealth of additional facts and figures.

One of the biggest benefits of using this kind of second-screen platform is that it can provide feedback to conference organizers and presenters, who gain access to real-time analytics about what the audience is interested in. “You think you know what your audience wants, and many times you are correct,” said Chris Cavanaugh, president of FreemanXP. “But sometimes they gravitate toward things that are surprising.”

By having access to real-time data, Cavanaugh added, event organizers are able to see where they might need to modify agendas and content on the fly. When it used second-screen technology for a recent Fortune 1000 Internet application company’s client event, FreemanXP collected more than 6,000 data points. That data not only is key to creating a better event for attendees, but can be used to guide the company in creating content, programs, and products that are relevant to their audience’s interests throughout the year.

The primary barrier to widespread adoption of second-screen platforms is not technology, but presenters themselves, who “must be willing to incorporate it into their presentations,” said Mike Immerwahr, senior digital marketing manager at Microsoft. It takes more work to create an immersive presentation, he said. The best option as a presenter is to help your audience engage the way they want to engage: “If they are tweeting, give them a tweet,” Immerwahr said. “Point out places they can look up active references to things.”

Event organizers make a mistake if they try to control the attendee experience in ways that are counter to how people behave, said Phil Hamstra, vice president of strategic initiatives for Meeting Tomorrow Inc. “Instead,” Hamstra said, “you must enrich the experience.”

Going With the Flow

With attendees now showing up at events carrying one, two, or even three mobile devices, the presence of second screens is a reality that is not going away. Is there a secret to embracing the second screen and keeping your attendees engaged in a productive way?

The way Microsoft’s Mike Immerwahr sees it, presenters are faced with three choices: “Be so brilliant they can’t look down [at their devices], which we know is challenging. Accept the fact they are second screening, and use it to your advantage within the context of your presentation. Or develop a high-value app and give it to them on a device.”

Traci Browne

Traci Browne is the author of The Social Tradeshow: Leveraging Social Media and Virtual Events to Connect With Your Customers