Interactive technology at events is changing by the minute, so writing an article about the latest and greatest is risky at best. But we’ll give it a go, with the help of André Mika, senior vice president, digital creative, at event marketing agency TBA Global. Hot at the moment? Location-based services and QR codes.

See and Be Seen
Location-based services use the GPS in your smartphone to know where you are, and to offer you information based on where you are. Here’s a conference-related example: You’re walking down a hallway past 10 breakout rooms. Point your smartphone at a room and it tells you who is in that room. Go in, and now the meeting planner knows you’re there, so she sends you a note: Do you want to download the PowerPoint presentation from this session? Or don’t go in, because you see that your colleague is already listening to that session, so it would be better to attend the session across the hall.

We should probably stop right there. What if you don’t want people to know you’re at a particular breakout session? Or in the bathroom? Or at the bar?

“The meeting app has the geo-locator, and you can turn it on or off,” Mika says. Attendees can choose to be seen or not seen, or seen just by a certain network of other attendees.

A Tiny Code, A Ton of Impact
Have you scanned a QR code yet? Have you scanned one lately? (QR stands for “quick response,” and the codes are small maze-like graphics, similar to bar codes, that are readable by mobile phones. Point your smartphone at the code, and you get some piece of information or a link.)

“People don’t realize how much information a QR code can trigger,” Mika says. Here are some of the possibilities:

  • Give the person who scans the code a calendar link and have an event entered automatically into their iCal or Google calendar
  • Engage in e-commerce by sending the user a “buy now” link
  • Launch a YouTube video
  • Send contact information via a virtual business card
  • Link to social media—for example, automatically post a photo at a user’s Facebook page or send an article link to the user’s LinkedIn page
  • Put up a QR code outside a breakout room, and when users scan it, they can receive the session presentation, speaker bio, link to an evaluation form, sign up to receive more information, or join a LinkedIn group on the session topic
  • Use a QR code to earn revenue for your organization while you make attendees’ lives easier. For example, you get a company to sponsor free Wi-Fi for attendees. The company provides a QR code that takes an attendee directly to the Wi-Fi connection. The sponsor’s payoff could come either from ads that users see when connecting to the Wi-Fi or through collecting contact information from users.
  • Add competition or entertainment to your event. A client recently asked TBA Global to create a game that was “light and fun and would keep people playing” during the conference, Mika says. So TBA Global is setting up an entirely QR-based game with 27 QR codes throughout the venue. Every time an attendee scans one, Mika explains, he or she is playing the game and also getting brand messaging from the sponsor.

All of these new options for interactivity along with the evolving use of meeting apps will change the way meetings are planned, Mika says. Here’s one example: With thousands of people in a room for a keynote presentation, you might not plan a Q&A segment. If you do, you have to accept that aggravating lagtime while the questioner gets to a microphone or waits for one to be passed around.

Well, how about allowing an attendee with a question to open your meeting app and simply touch “Join Q,” which then launches the FaceTime video call system? The questioner appears on the screen at the front of the room and asks his question. “Now you have something incredibly interactive even in a 17,000-seat arena,” Mika says. Your screen can also include attendees’ (moderated) comments in a crawl or ticker, so you’ve got new information constantly appearing. “It’s up to meeting planners to rethink how interactive they want their meetings to be.”

The Buildup
Those are some of the things that may soon be happening on site at your conference. And if you are thinking holistically about attendees’ digital experience at that event, you’ll collect these and other tools in a mobile meeting app. The key to meeting-app success is an early launch that starts the buzz.

“We think meeting apps must be launched way before the meeting,” says Mika. Two months before, he suggests, so that attendees have time to download the app and create their profiles, start discussions with each other, and promote the event to their own social networks. “A good meeting app should give attendees an easy way to share that they are attending your event,” he says, “and should provide an easy way for you to get feedback so that you know their burning questions and what is most important to them, and can start creating a bond with them.”

He also suggests that a successful meeting app will allow users to create not only a conference schedule but a personal schedule. You want them to be able to organize their conference sessions as well as their personal appointments, and to link to tools such as OpenTable for restaurant reservations. The bottom line: “Attendees have to find your app useful, not a one-way broadcast.”

The goal in all of this, Mika says, is to take live events, extend them, and make them digitally connected. And not just among attendees. “The attendees promote the events themselves by posting on their Facebook pages. But it’s not these posts that have the impact,” he explains. “It’s the 550 Facebook friends who re-post. It’s the spread of the information. The reach is the network, so the challenge is how to get past the first level. Good content means you have a good chance to go viral.”

Mika and TBA Global’s new “experiential digital” team, which includes Gi-Gi Downs, vice president, digital creative; Shawn Busteed, vice president, programming and technology; and Ty Braswell, lead digital strategist of mobile and apps, are focused on that challenge. “TBA Global has always done digital,” Mika says. “But it was inserted as an element in a live event. Now we’re acknowledging that it is not just an element. It’s more.” Get the whole story at the TBA Global Web site.

One last thing: Just before this article was posted, Fast Company posted an article called “Augmented Reality Kills the QR Code Star.” As we said: Things. Change. Fast.