Long gone are the days of projectors in darkened rooms and people huddled over paper pads, frantically trying to scribble down notes. Technology has completely revolutionised the conference and exhibition experience, and today’s events are bright, energetic, and media-rich experiences.
As Tony Luff, the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre Executive Manager of Technology said, it’s the things that you almost don’t notice and take for granted where technology is driving the greatest impact. “Delivering nicely designed lighting, and crystal-clear sound, drives a successful event,” he said. “It means the difference between an attendee getting fatigued from trying to see and hear what’s going on throughout the day, and someone who feels comfortable and enjoys the entire experience.”
With those foundations in place, however, the ability of a facility such as the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre to deliver memorable events is enhanced at every level by the application of effective technology, as well as a deep understanding of what resonates with delegates. Luff shared the five key technologies that are set to make a difference to the convention experience in the years ahead:
1. Rich Media
Advanced lighting means that conference producers can control the mood and ambience of the event to a granular level, Luff said, and shift the mood as the convention progresses, from perfect brightness and clarity for the presentations, through to warm colours setting a festive atmosphere for post-event networking.
Additionally, he added, the proliferation of LED screens and the complexity of what you can do with them means that unbound creativity can be brought to spaces. Each event can use these screens to establish a unique identity of its own. “Our control technology for LED screens allows us to overlay as many videos as we need to so we can create the effect that the client wants,” Luff said. “This means we can deliver moving backgrounds, multiple cameras on screen, or we can have content playing over the top of the moving background, and then intelligently transition the content to create a seamless and dynamic visual experience."
2. Virtual Presence
You might think that with COVID-19 restrictions now removed, the appetite for virtual presences at conventions would be diminished. The opposite is true. Now that the right technology is in place to enable a virtual experience that is almost the equivalent of being at an event in person, conferences are embracing the ability to have presenters and delegates attend from anywhere in the world (without having to fly them to the event).
“Remote presenters can connect from just their laptop or right up to from high end facilities at institutions, be it at a university, large corporate, or large government department. We can test the remote presenter’s audio and video with the with them prior to going live so they are comfortable and confident when presented to a 2,000 person plenary,” Luff said. “We can use Zoom, Teams, or any custom platform to integrate the whole experience for audience and presenter. The quality of the technology, and the way it scales to a convention centre, is so impressive these days. It’s no longer an inhibitor to have your keynote speaker located on the other side of the world.”
3. Event Recording
Another key capability for leading venues is the ability to record every presentation, in full detail, and make it available on demand post-event. This requires significant storage capacity as well as the streaming infrastructure. However, it has become something valued as a way to ensure that delegates miss nothing that might be of interest, Luff said.
“If it’s a 10, 12, or 15-room event, it’s obviously impossible to go to everything on the day, so being able to revisit what delegates missed over the next week or so has become something very valued,” he said. “The need to be able to facilitate hybrid and on-demand events through COVID-19 means that we have the capacity to capture every second of an event and present it all as a clear, on-demand record of everything that happened.”
The experience of an event starts before delegates enter the first presentation. Being able to find their way around and have confidence that they’re in the right place at the right time has always been a challenge for large venues like the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre, and finding innovative approaches to wayfinding has been the solution.
“We have developed a digital signage package that means we can integrate the client’s content across the entire facility, so everyone knows what room they're going to, where the food and networking areas are, and so on,” Luff said. “We make extensive use of screens throughout the facility, which can be managed remotely 24/7 to ensure accurate, media rich content is available in real time for our clients and guests to view. Clients can use this to adjust movements throughout the building in accordance with the intended flow of their event.”
VR and Metaverse access hasn’t become the core element of conferences that some might have predicted, but as a high-impact novelty, they will continue to have a growing role to play, Luff said.
Part of what has held VR back has been COVID-19. With the return of face-to-face events, post-pandemic, delegates want to interact face-to-face with one another again, and not through a screen. However, as a way of supplementing the content of an event, the ability to offer VR experiences opens up a world of exciting side attractions.
“For a space as large as ours, you’re looking at 1,000-plus headsets to make it work. Which we can certainly facilitate, but it definitely adds to the total cost for the client,” Luff said. “That said, in the years ahead, as the price comes down and the software to drive it becomes more accessible so that VR is less technical to produce, we are going to see increased interest in the vivid experiences that the technology enables.