1. Integration of the “i” (as in iPad, that is)

For a device that’s already two years old, the iPad is as hot as it was when it was introduced. In fact, it is one of the most popular holiday corporate gifts this season, according to our informal survey of incentive merchandise industry experts.

Patrick Payne, CEO of Vancouver, B.C.–based mobile meeting guide developer QuickMobile, has seen an uptick in the number of corporations renting iPads and iPod Touch devices in bulk for attendees. Some companies even buy the devices for them, like Hilton Worldwide did for the 2,000 hotel owners attending its Worldwide Global Partnership Conference. The iPads were pre-loaded with two custom-built apps—a meeting guide and a virtual concierge. Hilton also pre-loaded them with a link to the company’s intranet, a printer app enabling printer use throughout the resort, and excerpts from the latest books written by conference speakers (including Richard Branson). Hilton offset the cost of the iPads and apps with sponsor support from AT&T, IBM, Microsoft, and Apple.

2. Scaled-down SMM

More companies are taking a modular approach to their strategic meetings management software, choosing specific functionalities rather than enterprise-wide solutions. At the same time, more SMM technology vendors are forging partnerships with major meeting management companies.

“For many companies, deploying all the advanced components of an enterprise strategic meetings management program from the start is prohibitively expensive and complex,” according to Anil Punyapu, Cvent’s vice president of enterprise sales and partnerships. As a result, Cvent has released a new product called ProStart—a scaled-down, less expensive version of its meeting management software—through BCD Meetings & Incentives, the Chicago-based independent meeting and incentive management company. Competitor StarCite created a similar partnership with Twinsburg, Ohio–based Experient, releasing a streamlined software package under the brand name MeetingComplete.

3. Innovation Abounds

In late October, EIBTM chose the winner of its annual Technology Watch contest—ITN International, for its Citywide Attendee Credential System, which allows attendee name badges to be used as transit and city tourist attraction passes as well. ITN has been a pioneer in the use of near-field communication technology for events in much the same way as Hipmunk, the 2011 winner of GBTA’s People’s Choice Awards, has been a pioneer in travel search technology. Hipmunk CEO Adam Goldstein founded his company just weeks after his graduation from MIT in June 2010. And the brand-new IMEX America exhibition in October selected three up-and-coming technology companies to demonstrate their products at the show: ViridiSTOR’s GreenBox, which takes a “library approach” to storing conference materials on a USB; EventMobi, an interactive mobile show-guide app that awards points to users for actions such as attending sessions and scanning QR codes; and EventPilot, a mobile conference application.

4. Cvent Funding Makes Headlines

In what The Wall Street Journal called “the largest private investment in a software company since 2007,” Cvent raised $136 million in funding in July. Cvent offers cloud-based software services for meeting site selection, online event registration and management, e-mail marketing, and Web surveys, and its online marketplace connects meeting planners with 150,000 meeting venues worldwide.

In a guest appearance on the Tech Crunch blog in July, Cvent founder and CEO Reggie Aggarwal talked about company’s first days in 1999: “I was 30 years old, living at home and borrowing money from my parents to fund my dream—I was like the Indian George Costanza. I wasn’t taking any salary and quickly ran up $250,000 in credit-card debt. But lucky for me, as a law grad, credit-card companies practically begged me to open lines of credit. So, just before quitting law, I signed up for 10 cards to bankroll my idea. Everyone had a start-up back then. I thought it would be easy. It wasn’t.”

5. GPS and QR Codes at Meetings

You thought it was only for the car. But André Mika, senior vice president, digital creative, at event marketing agency TBA Global, New York, N.Y., sees growing use of GPS by meeting organizers. Here’s an 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.

And just as QR codes have taken off in advertising, they have found applications at meetings. One example: A QR code outside a breakout room for people to scan to receive the session presentation, speaker bio, link to an evaluation form, or join a LinkedIn group on the session topic. Another: During a familiarization trip of the Disney Dream in April, the hosts set up QR codes at all the major attractions on the ship they wanted attendees to see. This way, people could do their own site inspections using their smartphones.

6. EventCamp Momentum

Everyone is talking about the EventCamp conferences—“unconventional learning experience for event professionals”—spawned in New York in February 2010 out of a Twitter discussion. This volunteer-driven meeting for event professionals looking to integrate technology and new media into meetings and special events grew into several regional EventCamps around the country and in Europe in 2011. The 2012 National Conference is scheduled for February 11–13 in Chicago.

Why all the buzz? Because first efforts at engaging participants through social media can be risky, says Jessica Levin, CMP, manager of communications and member services at accounting firm association Moore Stephens North America Inc., and one of five founders of EventCamp. “We are trying things that planners can’t always do in ‘real life’ because of the fear of failure.” With each event, she says, “We hope to push the boundaries of what is possible.”

For example, in August, EventCamp Twin Cities (ECTC11) had general sessions and breakouts in Minneapolis, plus concurrent “pods” of local participants in Amsterdam, Philadelphia, Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and two “corporate pods” hosted by businesses. It also included a Twitter channel for virtual participants, a real-time Skype connection for the pods, and streaming video for both.

EventCamp is also about learning as you go: When there were tech snags during the closing session at ECTC10, organizers met about what had gone wrong and created a post-event whitepaper for attendees to download.

7. App Happy

The average smartphone owner spends more time using apps on that phone than talking on it, reports mobile research firm Zokem. And by 2013, according to research from Gartner, more people will access the Web via mobile devices than with laptops.

Apps are becoming standard fare at association meetings and making their way into corporate meetings as well. Among the many features they can provide: agenda management, conference alerts and updates, appointment scheduling, attendee list distribution, audience polling, conference programs, session handouts—and that’s just the beginning.

While native meeting apps (apps that attendees download on their smartphones) can cost $2,500 to $50,000, depending on complexity, mobile Web apps can be much less expensive. It depends on what you’re after—a low-budget solution that puts meeting basics on attendees’ phones, or a full-featured communications tool you’ll use year after year.

8. Gaming Explosion

Companies are adding elements of gaming to everything from training to teambuilding to incentives. Experts from Maritz Loyalty & Motivation, a division of Maritz Inc., Fenton, Mo., are focused on incorporating game mechanics into employees’ online relationships with their companies, while on the medical education side, CME providers are spicing up symposia by turning the learning into a trivia game. There’s no part of the industry that isn’t being affected by the gaming phenomenon.

At its 2011 Sustainable Meetings Conference in February, the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) became the first meetings industry association to integrate an online multi-player game into a face-to-face event, which was followed by a whitepaper tracing the success of the experiment, called “Game ON!”

Why the surge in popularity? According Elizabeth Valestuk Henderson, chair of the GMIC conference program committee, the total concentration that people bring to online games can be applied to learning. “If you watch gamers, they’re completely immersed in what they’re doing,” she said. “They’re working in teams. They’re solving problems. There is growing interest in applying the theory and practice of gamification in business environments.”

9. Growth in Hybrid Events

In October, the Professional Convention Management Association announced it was investing an undisclosed amount of money in the Virtual Edge Institute, a Pleasanton, Calif.–based organization that offers research and education on virtual events. “PCMA recognizes the fundamental changes that are taking place, and we see the tremendous opportunity to be a leader in the discussion on behalf of our members as they shape the future of the meetings industry,” said Deborah Sexton, president and chief executive officer, PCMA, speaking at an October 6 virtual press conference.

Both organizations are leaders in the hybrid movement. PCMA had co-located with Virtual Edge during its January annual conference in Las Vegas, which was designed so viewers could log into the live sessions and hold discussions in a networking lounge all week. And the Virtual Edge Institute launched a program this year to train and certify event marketers, meeting professionals, tradeshow managers, and others in digital events. The first classes for the new Digital Events Strategist Certification program were held in June in partnership with PCMA.

10. Social Media Merges with Meetings

Twitter feeds, Facebook promotions, LinkedIn groups—the big three social media sites have become staples for many in the meetings industry. You can’t attend a meeting any more without a Twitter hashtag, and at last count, Meeting Professionals International’s feed had close to 9,000 followers. On the incentive side of the industry, companies now use Facebook to build excitement around the program (replacing those promotional mailings of baseball caps and coffee table books). A LinkedIn success story: SPIN (Senior Planners Industry Network), which started as an online group, has turned into a live one, spawning regional think tanks, webinars, and its first annual SPINCon conference this June in St. Paul.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg, with other technologies that have applications for events, such as Foursquare, gaining ground. Foursquare marked its two-millionth user in July, and is adding approximately 15,000 worldwide users per day. At the annual South by Southwest Music & Media Festival in Austin, Texas, Spin magazine used Foursquare to interact with readers, awarding badges to those who “checked in” at performances of bands that editors recommended.

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