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iPads shake up traditional company meetings
22 June, 2012 - 09:54
With more companies realizing the value of introducing iPads at live events, the tablet is playing a growing role in enhancing engagement and interactivity. Kelly Kass reports.
By Kelly Kass
With 100 million readers, Reader’s Digest is the largest magazine in the world with a rich, 90-year history. However, in order to keep up with the changing times, it’s important for the company to adapt to new technologies to engage meeting attendees and build the internal brand.
Susan Fraysse Russ, Vice President of Global Communications at Reader’s Digest, had a brainstorm: what if the company moved their global leaders meeting materials onto the iPad to create a completely different delegate experience? She recalls:
“As a company, we sort of lost our way in that we were always the biggest and the best. As times changed, we didn’t change as quickly. So we were trying to get all our employees focused on new technology and think about the best ways to do that. With 66 million iPads expected to be sold in 35 countries by the end of this year, these tablets aren’t going away. The technology will continue to grow and grow.”
To Russ’ surprise, buy-in for iPad use at the meeting was a breeze.
“The second senior leaders heard about it, people jumped on board to support it, even offering money from their budget to upgrade to 3G. I had people throwing money at me to try to do a better job. I’m proud to say we didn’t need to do that. We were really able to keep it within the same budget,” she recalls.
Changing the face of meetings
In April 2011, Russ and her team held the global leaders meeting in Palisades, New York. The theme was Face 2.0, keeping in tune with the need to educate leaders about the importance of keeping up with new technologies. What better way to get that point across than by holding the event at an IBM-owned property for technological inspiration.
“When people checked in, instead of registering and being handed their conference packet, they were handed an iPad. We did a quick demo for new users.
“On the device, we installed all of Reader’s Digest‘s Apps so people could experience our magazine in digital form. We wanted leaders to think about how consumers use tablets and where they take them (such as accessing our recipe apps in the grocery store or in the kitchen). We also showed attendees what the competition was doing in the digital space,” Russ explains.
To promote interactivity, attendees used Facetime on the iPads to interact with other delegates. They also connected on Facebook.
Meeting content, such as the conference agenda, were put on the iPads saving Reader’s Digest hefty printing costs. Likewise with venue maps and meeting rooms locations. Internal videos were also accessible on the iPads.
An Angry Birds tournament added an element of fun at the meeting. $20 iTunes gift cards were awarded to the winners.
In addition, an avatar was created for each attendee which they used till the end of the meeting.
Perhaps one of the most beneficial uses of the iPad was the ability for fast, paperless feedback.
“We surveyed everybody on the iPad providing a link to fill out for quick, easy survey results. People liked the fact they could do one more thing with their iPad,” Russ points out.
Specific comments that stood out for Russ were:
“A thought-provoking couple of days.”
“We get the point – that we have to change and get into the digital space. By the way, thanks for the iPad.”
Yes, attendees got to keep their iPads, even if they owned one already. This eliminated the need – and extra cost – of providing parting gifts and meeting giveaways.
All in all, 98% of attendees rated the meeting as extremely effective proving the power of innovation when it comes to connecting conference delegates.
The business side
From a business standpoint, the meeting proved to be just as successful.
“A year later, our digital editions equal one third of our newsstand sales. We are quickly and effectively moving people away from buying printed newsstand copy to reading digital copy. Everyone is still learning but the obvious benefit is that it is much cheaper to produce and deliver electronic versions of our publications,” Russ says.
Subscriptions are also being converted with numbers expected to grow by the end of the year.
And best of all, Russ says, Reader’s Digest was named among the Top 10 Apps by Ad Age. It’s also the #1 magazine app on the Kindle.
“Incorporating iPads really changed the dynamic of the meeting and really engaged our employees. It has inspired me to find ways to use the iPad going forward. There’s really an app for everything you need to do in a meeting so we wound up saving expenses that we hadn’t even anticipated,” Russ points out.
Chris Elmitt, Managing Director of Crystal Interactive in the UK, has been a champion of tablet use long before the iPad came onto the scene. Crystal Interactive specializes in helping meeting organizers connect with attendees “to capture ideas and feedback in real time, to reach clear conclusions in onward action.”
Thanks to the popularity of the iPad, Elmitt says, “People are using devices we used to rent two years ago. We went from hiring out the technology to everyone having more powerful technology in their pockets.”
With the number of client conference attendees owning iPads nearing 50%, Elmitt and his colleagues have changed their business model enabling browser-based feedback for Q&A, brainstorming and voting.
Crystal Interactive has also introduced an event app for conferences which serves as a 'digital assistant' for delegates.
“When people log into our system with an iPad, our app gives them the information they need for the event including the agenda, where they’re sitting in their session and who’s seated at their tables. They can also access attendees’ profiles so they can message people if desired. The iPad becomes their PA and their networking coach,” Elmitt says.
He credits Genie Mobile as being another helpful app for conferences.
Content made fun
Elmitt points out that the iPad has enabled another popular element which has taken off at conferences: gamification.
“I never understood the popularity of gamification till our clients started requesting it at their events. As a result, we’ve put together games which attendees play on their iPads – from Trivial Pursuit-style quizzes to a game show format. It enables people to learn facts about their company in a tactile way. Gamification has opened the door to a whole new world and conference experience,” Elmitt says.
At a conference for 750 sales force employees, one of Elmitt’s clients even combined iPad use with face-to-face. Attendees were required to engage with people in the exhibition hall in order to correctly answer a quiz on their iPads. Winning points were doubled, offered in pounds to an area charity for greater incentive.
“The quiz offered a deeper learning in terms of the company seeing who was around the exhibition stand. It was a good way to measure and gain more perspectives,” Elmitt remembers.
iPad attraction is top down
Interestingly, Elmitt has found that the driver for using iPads at events is not a desire to improve employee engagement. Rather, it’s a result of executives being impressed with the shiny new toys.
“Executives have a disposable income or they were given iPads as gifts at high-powered conferences. They see the tools as an effective way to communicate without the costly and time-consuming need to print materials. And they can read their iPads easily on the train ride home. So they say to their communications team, ‘These are amazing. Let’s get them into the next conference.’ It’s not the cool kids pushing the technology up in the company. Instead, it’s coming from the other side.”
The other side of iPad use
Before locking in iPad use at a company event, Elmitt says the number one aspect to get right is Wi-Fi access:
“Wi-Fi defines what you do with your devices.”
Unfortunately, with the amount of data downloaded growing each year, clients’ appetites to pay extra for Wi-Fi are not growing.
Other challenges for companies to keep in mind have to do with security issues.
“From a security point of view, it’s leaky. People might be able to access your 4-digit pass code. So it’s hard to make iPads part of the corporate network and Apps approval can take awhile,” Elmitt points out.
The final challenge, he says, has to do with the specialty feeling of owning an iPad.
“The usefulness of an iPad has to start ramping up or the novelty will decline. We all have iPads now but the company has to make sure they deliver value.”
One user’s own iPad experiences
We spoke with Luis Suarez, social computing evangelist at IBM, about his own experiences using an iPad at IBM conferences.
“If there is anything that I have learned to appreciate and treasure quite a bit is pure mobility while on the road, without damaging my own health as a result of it.
"That's how I feel about my iPad that I have been using for a few months now when I'm traveling. It's the only thing that I take with me nowadays. My MacBook Air stays at home, along with all of that cabling, making it really easy for me to stay on the move, remain productive and effective enough, and still be connected with the whole Social Web with a touch of my fingertips,” he explains.
Suarez relies on a bevy of of iPad Apps to help him make the most of the conferences he attends. Among his favorites are Mind Mapping Apps, Tweetbot (for Twitter), Pocket (his read-later on the go), Dropbox, and Evernote – an app which he finds essential since it allows him to capture notes on the fly.
While Suarez is on the road, he also relies on his iPad to remain productive, tapping into IBM mobile applications like IBM Connections, Sametime, SmartCloud Meetings and Symphony.
“I can still get a glimpse of what's happening at work while I am away...now, they keep saying that iPads are not very good at helping knowledge workers produce content, just good enough to consume it, and that may have been the case with the iPad v1, but with the new iPad things have improved tremendously to the point where this year I haven't travelled much with my computer. Yet I have been capable of staying productive simply relying on my iPad and the bunch of quality Apps I have been using.
“Perhaps what we need is to finally break that mental model that we still need to carry our laptops with us to keep working, when in reality the iPad, unless you are doing some rather heavy computing, would do just fine.”
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