Whether dabbling with an augmented reality app, getting up to speed on the complexities of 5G service or employing cocktail-mixing robots, planners are no strangers to emerging technology. As meetings and events become increasingly tech-driven affairs, we’ve checked in with top event production pros for their takes on the latest event tech trends and what’s to come in the year ahead.
While concepts like celebrity-turned-hologram performances and foldable screens may not seem far-off or futuristic to some, event producers note it often takes years for the latest innovations to hit mainstream markets in earnest.
“Right now, we’re in the middle of a lot of interactive tech trends—things like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality,” says BlackOak Technical Productions Managing Director Adam McCarthy. “These technologies have been emerging for years. We’ve seen them, we’ve heard about them, there’s a conscious awareness around them and many consumers have probably experienced them once or twice. Still, we’re just now getting to a point where that technology is being implemented in interesting, affordable ways.”
McCarthy notes trends like VR and AR have been slow to mainstream adoption due to cost, technical sophistication and the programmatic implementation required to build compatible content–something he predicts will also be true for products like holograms. "The underlying technology used in these products is nothing new. It's the creative application we see day to day that's current."
“If there’s a single element you could pinpoint that’s changed and continues to change events, it has to be the use and impact of video,” says Robert “Bob” Jones, head of production and vice president of operations for FROST Chicago. For Jones and his team, the production and incorporation of everything from custom video programming and event marketing content to video mapping, video projection, video walls and more has become not only a large part of their client work but also the most transformative, with seemingly endless possibilities.
FROST Chicago Creative Director Jeffrey Foster agrees, noting “concepts like video mapping have been a practice in the industry for a couple of years now and planners from all walks of the industry are starting to understand the benefits. The ability to completely transform a room, wall or décor piece is truly unlimited.”
Foster and Jones have also found that video elements like mapping and projection can not only elevate the overall event experience, but have also begun to unseat more traditional event elements.
“We believe that technology is the new décor. You see it everywhere from retail executions to award shows,” says Foster.
“In many respects, elements like conventional décor—floral, linens, etc.—are being reimagined and we’re seeing an uptick in replacing and/or enhancing those elements with video. In a scenario where you might have had a floral runner at a wedding or corporate event, now planners are choosing to use projection to create that same visual but a visual that’s become much more dynamic. You can change the aesthetic from one part of the event to the next to create transitions that transform the event itself,” says Jones.
An increased demand for video content has also driven desire for already popular LED products. “Over the last few years with the developments we’ve seen in video display surfaces, it’s certainly changed how we approach using LED walls as opposed to projection screens,” says McCarthy.
FROST Chicago’s team has also priori- tized LED products having recently invested a significant portion of its purchase budget to doubling the company’s inventory of high-resolution LED product. “LED is something the market’s dictated we double down on. We even have a member of our staff dedicated solely to servicing nothing but our LED quality and in-house repair,” says Jones.
As events also trend toward soirees held in surprising and unconventional spaces, pro- ducers like McCarthy have also found solutions like LED products to be key.
“Events in alternative spaces like an alley or warehouse are exciting production challenges and new technologies are helping to make that design more approachable.” McCarthy says. “In a lot of these spaces, you won’t have much control of the natural light so an LED wall, which is much brighter and performs better in high ambient light situations, could be the solution. Or maybe you’re in a space broken up by columns or smaller rooms and a central presentation won’t make sense. Coordinating a livestream on a private network or directly to your cell phone as a second screen is a great alternative. As our tech advances, more and more of these nontraditional spaces open up new possibilities.”
McCarthy and his team have also found that the less traditional the space, the more important the fundamentals become. “When you’re hosting an event out in a field, even A/V basics can differentiate and impress. Just nailing the fundamentals in a setting like that can create an amazing event experience for your attendees.”
On the Horizon
While event producers expect the current curiosity for and accessibility to AR- and VR-focused applications to grow, the use of holograms and drones is on the horizon.
McCarthy and his team have begun to use drones for social events and weddings with coordinated programs customized with romantic symbols and the couple’s initials—something he notes could be easily adapted to a branded corporate event. “An entire show can be easily customized to include a brand’s messaging, logo, brand color, etc. Drone shows are a newer trend on the rise and can make for a surprisingly approachable wow-factor,” says McCarthy.
To keep an eye out for new and emerging trends, McCarthy also advises paying close attention to highly-televised events known for producing showstopping productions. “If you think back to Lady Gaga’s 2017 Super Bowl halftime show, the drones she incorporated really entered the collective conscious at that moment and sparked imagination for viewers,” McCarthy. “Major events like Coachella or the Super Bowl are a huge source of inspiration and can be central to how they under- stand new technology and what’s possible in mainstream events.”
McCarthy also eagerly awaits events like the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where “we’re guaranteed to see some new and intriguing concepts on display,” he says. “To me, the best way to see and experience what will be coming to private events down the pipeline is to scope out what the broadcast industry and major league sports are doing. If you want to see the future of events, just go to a basketball game.”
He finds asking questions like how broadcast entities are changing the stadium experi- ence or merging the live and at-home experiences can help in understanding and adapting the trends that may emerge. “Companies and productions like these are a kind of vanguard of a lot of those emerging technologies and it’s only a matter of time before they’ve become ingrained in the event industry.”
With plenty of competition for attendee attention in the digital age, producers report that regardless of how the latest trends may take shape, event technology done right is still a tool in telling a larger story.
“We’ve become such a visual culture that we find ourselves reminding clients they’re bringing people together to share a larger message or story and the production should reflect that,” says McCarthy. “We’re not just using the latest technology for technology’s sake. The technology may change, but the function does not.”
From digital assets for social media and registration to general sessions and break- outs, McCarthy stresses the importance of consistency across production touch points in telling a cohesive story. Jones agrees, noting, “Strategic use of tech tools to communicate clear, polished and creative messages is what the guests will remember. Using those touch points to tell a story, stir an emotion, communicate a feeling that sticks with attendees long after they leave—that’s what makes the impact.”