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Apps 2.0

Turn the app into a communication tool.

Some event apps, such as the ones designed by Pathable, offer a networking and messaging feature akin to LinkedIn, which helps connect attendees with similar interests or job titles. This enables attendees to form new acquaintances before the event and communicate through a single social platform.

“Instead of coming in cold and having to talk about the weather, you come in connected,” said Martin-Bilbrey. “And it allows event planners to create a more engaging event culture and community without working so hard.”

Event apps can also serve as two-way communication tools between the attendees and the exhibitors or speakers. During a moderated Q&A session, people can use the app to send their questions to the speaker or moderator. For instance, if a lecture focuses on a particular case study, the speaker might invite his listeners to share their questions and reflections on a virtual message board throughout the session. Brown noted that if you can get people to download this kind of service onto their personal devices, then it is no longer just one person speaking to 500; it is 500 people speaking to each other.

Use the app to track attendance.

Advanced features like iBeacon technology or session check-ins make it easy for planners to track attendance. iBeacon technology involves setting up “beacons” imbedded with Bluetooth chips throughout the event that activate welcome notifications and other information on attendees’ phones when they walk within range. It also identifies their locations so that other attendees can keep track of who has arrived and which sessions are more popular. 

“It can be a cool way to let people know who is there, or for a scavenger hunt,” said Brown.

Attendees can also use a session check-in system to mark their locations, which often entails scanning a bar code from the app at different stations.

Add a little competition.

Everyone has a competitive side, so it is no surprise that one of the most effective ways to spur participation is to include a contest or game. During one event, Law described how they incorporated a horseracing game into the app and featured a leader board so attendees could compare scores throughout the day. At the end of the event, the player with the highest score won a prize.

Another popular type of competition is a bingo-style checklist, where attendees complete certain actions to earn prizes.

“Let’s say you’ve got 300 pharmaceutical sales reps in town for three days who don’t know each other very well,” said Brown. “You can create a buffet list of items on the app like, I want them to download learning materials, take quizzes, send a message to each other, tweet about a meeting — these are the things I want people to do. Then those points accumulate and people can see where they are on a leader board.”

This activity often encourages attendees to interact as they compete, so it can serve as a great ice breaker. Participants who complete the most tasks receive an award, such as dinner with the CEO.