Success stories come in all sizes. While technology that facilitates interaction among attendees can provide huge benefits for large meetings, it can have a significant effect on smaller ones as well. Here we present an interview with Erika Brunke, executive director of the Corporate Events Marketing Association, who used nTAG services for her 250-attendee CEMA Summit 2007 in July.
What were your objectives in using a technology tool that fosters interaction among attendees?
Brunke: Primarily two things. One was for first-time attendees–-there were 75 out of 250 total attendees--to feel more embraced by the overall community. The other was for our board members to be more interactive with the attendees in general.
Were you able to quantify the results?
Brunke: Our data analysis report shows that first-time members interacted with other members 10 percent more than would be expected if they mixed randomly. Board members interacted with the new members 120 percent more, and with other members 140 percent more, than would be expected by random choice.
How did you come to select nTAG?
Brunke: They pitched to us for our conference last year. We really wanted to introduce more technology into the conference, and the electronic badges and business-card exchange capability they showed us looked excellent--a big upgrade over the traditional paper badges we had been using.
We used other technologies for audience polling and for RFID [radio frequency identification], which allows us to see what attendees are in each session without having a person scan badges upon entry or exit from session rooms.
How did the electronic business card exchange work?
Brunke: When you meet an attendee, you push a button on your badge, and the other person does the same, and the card information is exchanged. People are more open to exchanging information in that format, without having to ask for a business card. Then after the event you can go to a Web site that has the information of all the people you met, rather than going home with a stack of paper cards and maybe losing some of them.
This is especially good for us because we have a no-selling policy at our conference. Vendor members cannot initiate conversations with event managers about their business. The passive way information is exchanged with the electronic business card approach is a good fit for this.
For this year's meeting, card exchanges exceeded our expectations by a factor of five, with the average attendee exchanging almost 25 cards.
How else did you use this Web 2.0 technology for this year's conference?
Brunke: We had some networking games to get people interacting. For example, at the welcome reception, everyone was assigned a "secret partner" to find. nTAG pre-programmed the badges so that when you encountered an attendee, the badge would say, "I'm not your secret partner, but I spoke to your secret partner 20 minutes ago." Then you could narrow down your search. We gave a prize to the person who found their secret partner with the least amount of exchanges, but it really got everyone mingling at a pretty high rate. That was a great example of social networking.
We also used the tool for real-time session surveys. At the end of each session, the session leader would walk people through the survey. The response rate was expressed in terms of survey questions answered per person per hour, with the average being 0.56, but the important thing was that we got a lot more response than we used to get. That is really going to help us develop better content for future years.
And this year we switched to nTAG for audience polling. We had a town hall meeting on intellectual property matters, just the kind of session where people might feel uncomfortable raising their hands. Using an audience response system was a good way to keep it interactive.
What did you learn about your event or attendees as a result of using these interaction tools?
Brunke: That we need to continue to embrace the first-time attendees. We already had a first-time attendee reception prior to the general welcome reception, and a buddy program in which a board member is assigned to each new member. But electronic social networking was definitely a step in the right direction.