Ask the experts: How to harness AI for meetings

Can artificial intelligence enhance networking at events by matchmaking delegates and scheduling their meetings? BBT asks consultants and TMCs for their views

In February next year, Tfest – a luxury travel exhibition – claims it will be the first trade show to be powered by artificial intelligence (AI). Before arriving at The Palm, Dubai, some 500 delegates will have had their meetings scheduled by AI.

Every time a delegate says “yes” or “no” to a potential meeting, Tfest organiser Private Luxury Events says the technology “learns more about their needs and their recommendations improve”. It stresses that delegates retain control over who, when and where they meet.

While AI matchmaking could help buyers and exhibitors connect more effectively with the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and bring together delegates who may never have come across each other except at trade shows, our experts caution over privacy laws, and whether this is a case of using technology for technology’s sake.

THE MICE expert: Linda McNairy, vice-president, global operations and shared services, American Express Meetings & Events
There are a host of consumer trends influencing the meetings and events industry, and one of the biggest is artificial intelligence (AI). Our 2020 Global Meetings and Events Forecast found that, in Europe overall, meeting spend is predicted to increase by 2.1 per cent and cost per attendee per day is expected to rise by 1.9 per cent. If budgets were to increase, 30 per cent of those surveyed would focus on improving the on-site experience – up 5 per cent from last year.

With cost per attendee up in 2020, using advanced algorithms and machine learning can not only help attendees better plan and connect at events, but also reduce workload and costs for organisers. We are exploring ways to utilise AI, including streamlining travel records, automating expense management tasks, using facial recognition for evaluating attendee reaction to trade shows.

It’s hoped it will simplify the job of the planner, giving them additional time to develop more personalised experiences and additional data to measure value. While creating a more personalised experience continues to be a priority, all meeting planners should be mindful of both remaining GDPR-compliant and how they handle attendees’ data. Our 2020 forecast also found that more than half (51 per cent) of meeting planners find the consent standards challenging. While the events industry is in the early stages of applying this technology, I do believe AI-driven innovation is integral to the future of successful meetings and events.

The consultant: Andrew Burgess, strategic AI adviser and author
I go to a lot of conferences and often I am on stage speaking on the subject of artificial intelligence. You would think, therefore, that I would welcome apps that promise to help me network at these events, using AI to match me with other compatible and relevant attendees. But I must admit that I have found these apps more of a solution looking for a problem to solve (the old “hammer looking for a nail” analogy). In consequence, I tend to ignore these new technological helpers because I don’t find them particularly helpful.

This is how it’s meant to work: you download an app, log in, and are then presented with a long list of people who might share your objectives and interests. But how do they know this? It’s hardly like Tinder where I would enter every tiny detail about myself. Most of these apps work off your LinkedIn profile, which hardly gives any meaningful insight into you, your role or your reasons for being at the conference. Even if you were asked to fill these details in, how many people actually would, and how many people do it thinking about how they can avoid being sold at for the duration of the conference?

However, I believe AI will begin to work well when meetings and events organisers are given the right data, and a good use case. In the future, as individuals start to take more control of their data (probably through the use of blockchains), they will be able to choose how much of their detailed personal and work data they want to release to the conference organisers. Then, perhaps, the apps will give me a shortlist of people I want to meet.

The event specialist: Sue Gill, chief executive, Your Event Solutions
Artificial intelligence has been on the radar of many events and meetings planners for some time. Thanks to technology that is more accessible than ever before, it’s now become a staple part of strategy and process. Personalisation is still key in this industry – stakeholders want to feel that your comprehension of their business and goals is a priority.

Utilising AI is becoming instrumental in the planning process. From understanding delegate behaviour in advance of an event to in-depth analysis of delegate roles and responsibilities, the intelligence that can be harnessed through AI is now fundamental to our offering. Client expectations are also increasing – particularly when it comes to high-spend, high-complexity conferences – and the demand for ultra-tailored content and experience is on the rise.

As well as integration into standard event apps, we’re exploring how we can incorporate live personal assistants and real-time communications and feedback into the event experience by using AI. This type of efficiency and personalisation will ultimately result in increased client satisfaction with the opportunity to subsequently grow ROI and repeat business. While AI is changing the landscape in terms of intelligence and data-driven insights, it also serves as a reminder of the importance of person-to-person communication.

There is little place for AI without the human touch. There’s only so much AI can do. We will continue to work to integrate emerging technology with our team of experts.

Brian Ludwig, senior vice-president, sales at Cvent
The networking format hasn’t evolved much over the years. At most events, people engage in conversations based on very little information on the other parties involved. Attendees might meet ten people, only three of which lead to a fruitful business conversation.

Business owners invest incredible amounts of time and money for their employees to attend networking events and recent research shows that two-thirds of business executives in the UK believe they would be expected to return with a business lead or convert an existing opportunity as a result of time spent networking at an event. Time is money. Organisations are looking for tangible results, and artificial intelligence and interest matching can help ensure attendees make more meaningful connections and maximise their time out of the office. AI can help us network smarter.

However, for interest matching to be successful, attendees must be willing to share specific personal and professional data points to ensure they are “matched” appropriately. They will want to know how that information is being used. Event organisers will need to do their due diligence and utilise technology that is both secure and compliant with current regulations such as GDPR. The opportunity for better, more impactful networking is there, but its success truly depends on the ability of event organisers to build trust with their attendees to drive adoption, gather the right data points and use technology that is secure and compliant.

Networking can be enhanced through mobile event apps, a purpose-built networking and appointments tool, pre-event surveys and data collection, or though real-time onsite engagement analytics. At the end of the day, people attend events for two main reasons, to learn and to network. Event technology providers need to ensure solutions help to make both of those elements the most impactful that they possibly can be.

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