The Intersection

Evolution of Event Apps

How are event apps changing, and what do you need to know?

On the crowded show floor of IMEX America — held at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas on Oct. 15-17 — Dena Kaufman, COO of Opus Events Agency, found herself navigating her way through hundreds of attendees to locate a booth she wanted to visit. While a few years ago, she might have consulted a print map or conference program, this time she turned to IMEX America’s app. “Boom,” Kaufman said. “I knew exactly where I needed to go based off of the icons.”

That demonstrates not just the increased prevalence of apps at live events because of a shift in attendee expectations, Kaufman noted, but a drastic improvement in app usability. “[The new event-app designs are] an evolution of mentally how someone looks at something, mentally how they are going to use it,” Kaufman said in an interview with Convene. “Early on there was this misconception that for a human to be involved there had to be some flashy engagement,” like over-the-top games or overly complicated technology. But meeting apps are shedding the bells and whistles, and must be “extremely easy to navigate,” with event organizers putting information directly up front.

Indeed, conference apps can be utilized for everything from navigation to networking, and due to skyrocketing smartphone sales, “people are leveraging their mobile devices in more ways than ever before,” Mark Lidga, manager of mobile solutions for PSAV Presentation Services, said in “Modern Mobile Apps,” this month’s video in The Intersection Series: Where Technology Meets Inspiration, presented by PCMA and PSAV. “They want to have all that meeting and event information at their fingertips at any given time.”

But just because delegates bring smartphones doesn’t guarantee they’ll download your app — or use it. When it comes to that, Lidga said, there are two necessary elements: exceptional content and a seamless user experience. If the app presents difficulty, attendees won’t use it, and if the content isn’t there, why would they? “The app’s got to be colorful, smart, and easy-to-use,” Lidga said, “but it’s the content that everyone really wants to get at.”

Kaufman agrees that putting content first and continually updating information throughout the event are key. She and her team have the ability to “work up to and through the show,” she said, making the conference app a living, breathing, changeable entity rather than a static piece of information. “Now you have the ability to create on-site signage on the fly, and to put all of that in the attendees’ hands without reprinting anything.” And more. Event apps have evolved to be much more than a replacement for print materials, offering things that your event “swag bag” couldn’t, Lidga said, such as “the social-media aspects, or multimedia, like audio and video streaming.”

Plus, with growing numbers of app providers in the market, the cost is becoming more and more reasonable. As a result, inexpensive, dynamic apps give more power to event organizers and provide attendees with the content they want and the smooth experience they expect. “Keep it simple initially,” Lidga said. “Give [attendees] the core content they need, and let them drive the path forward on mobile apps for you.”

Watch this month’s Intersection video:

Sarah Beauchamp

Sarah Beauchamp was formerly assistant editor of Convene.