The Future of Meetings: Sensory Analytics

How sensory analytics will allow planners to respond more readily to audience needs and enhance attendee experiences.

The future of meetings looks primed to be a beautiful collaboration of technology, community, personalization and well-being, based on insights from an expert panel convened by Marriott International and the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). One particular trend that could have an impact on the interactivity and engagement of meetings is the use of sensory analytics.

Sensory analytics allows meeting planners to track various data points and react to them in real time to create a better user experience. We highlight each perspective and what to consider as you look to incorporate such technology into future meetings.

How can this help meeting planners?

“From temperature to noise to lighting levels and physical space design, understanding environmental design and effectiveness allows the immediate address of such issues before they compromise an entire event,” explained Matthew Von Ertfelda, vice president and team lead of Marriott’s Insight, Strategy, and Innovation Team.

Peter Scialla, partner and COO at Delos, noted the importance of biometrics (e.g., accelerometry data that can be collected through wearable tech) and environment, such as air quality, sound quality and acoustics, lighting quality, smell, and thermal comfort, in creating a comfortable environment for attendees.

“Within each of these categories are several variables with interacting effects — each with unique potential to either detract from or contribute to personal productivity, focus and well-being,” Scialla added.

For example, meeting planners could use data points from wearable tech devices to determine whether attendees are too cold or too hot, and then automatically adjust the thermostat. Such data could also help presenters improve their delivery, Von Ertfelda suggested, by tracking elements such as tone, visual connection, energy and resonance of content across an audience, allowing the speakers to shift their presentation according to data feedback.

What do vendors need to know to implement such technology?

Many of the devices required to collect these data points are readily available in the marketplace. Even current-generation smartphones have the potential to be data vehicles. The key will be to make data collection as seamless and effortless as possible, so that it doesn’t detract from the attendee experience.  

“From a design and spatial perspective, the technology needs to be intuitive and invisible, never getting in the way of attendees as they connect and collaborate, rather, making these connections more effective,” Von Ertfelda explained.

To be effective, there also needs to be widespread adoption of the technology. This can be done through an app, Scialla noted, with special events to encourage members to share their activity data. Spatial data will likely require a sensing device, computer or mobile device for collection.

The main challenge that vendors and meeting planners will face is the need for transparency — namely, they clearly and effectively communicate how they will be collecting and using this personal data throughout the duration of the event. And the provider of the technology solutions should provide ample privacy protection.

“Generally, environmental data, measurements for air quality, thermal comfort and lighting quality do not pose much threat from a privacy concern, as these are not specific to a particular person,” Scialla observed. “Wherever possible, however, permission should be explicitly granted by anyone in a space or event where direct or indirect measurements are taking place. This technology should only ever be used to empower people to take more control over their environmental quality and their well-being.”

What will be the end experience for attendees?

The intent of the technology is to enhance their experience and comfort levels. So as long as privacy concerns are assuaged, attendees should enjoy a more responsive event, in which they are able to focus comfortably on the material at hand rather than be distracted by environmental issues.

As such technology becomes more prevalent, Von Ertfelda noted, attendees can expect “more dynamic events, which change and evolve immediately, based on aggregated and synthesized data and learnings. Meetings that more precisely focus on end user needs, enriching and accelerating learning and impact.”

This may result in fewer but more effective meetings, Von Ertfelda said. And that may ultimately lead to “less talking and more doing, more action, which is critical given the intensively competitive environment and exponential change underway.”      

Check back each month on Meetings Imagined for an in-depth look at more meeting trends!