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The New Frontier: Events & Artificial Intelligence

From crafting communications to in-depth post-event analysis, artificial intelligence is changing the face of meetings and events

By Julie Kendrick

If you haven’t yet had a chance to use artificial intelligence (AI) to plan, manage, or review the metrics of a meeting, your fellow planners would probably say, “Come on in, the water’s fine!” While some industry professionals might be hesitant about a new technology that’s being so heavily touted, and while there are clear dos and don’ts for those new to these systems, most of the experts we spoke with are positive and hopeful about the ways these tools can improve and streamline the work people do every day. In fact, according to Stefan Deeran writing in Forbes magazine, this year is “poised to be a breakout year for AI-powered events.”

While the acronym AI is heard all the time, it’s a good idea to clarify what’s usually meant when someone is talking about AI. Specifically, it’s a collection of different automated technologies that can make tasks easier and improve the quality of the way they’re completed. These technologies are very good at discovering patterns, searching data, translating languages, answering questions, and making predictions. And, even better, they can often perform these tasks more quickly and accurately than humans can. When industry professionals consider the types of work done in meeting and event planning, they can probably see what a big impact this technology will have on the industry.

AI programs can take a lot of data input to produce things like emails, reports, and analyses. || Courtesy of Adobe Stock

“In event planning, AI has emerged as a transformative tool, significantly enhancing various aspects of the process,” says Hwansuk Chris Choi, a professor at the University of Guelph’s School of Hospitality, Food & Tourism Management in Ontario, Canada. This technology allows planners to create meetings and events that are perfectly targeted to the specific needs and goals of attendees. Choi noted that planners are currently using it for a host of frequently cumbersome or time-consuming tasks like writing personalized communications, “matchmaking” like-minded people, selecting collaborative groups, providing instant answers to attendees’ questions, translating languages, conducting return on investment (ROI) analytics, and more. 

Start Now and Go Slow

If all this talk of a brave new world of AI is creating a bit of anxiety for planners, this might be the right time to take a deep breath and talk with some peers who are already using it. “Don’t be threatened by AI, which is why I encourage everyone to get onboard now,” says Jan Tolle MacDonald, manager of global accounts at Scottsdale, Arizona-based HelmsBriscoe. “To stay relevant, it never hurts to stay on top of developments that could shape the work we do. As planners, it’s easy to stay focused on the job at hand, but AI is going to change how most of us spend time on the job. It’s better to get your feet wet and at least use the tool daily so you can understand it.”

This is still a relatively new technology, however, so meeting planners should proceed with caution. Gretchen Culver, owner and creative director at Rocket Science Events in Minneapolis, Minnesota, notes, “Given where AI is at right now, it’s important not to completely delegate a task. This technology still needs oversight. AI can create some compelling marketing collateral for your clients, but make sure you proofread to ensure it’s on message. Or, use AI to create the first draft and then fine-tune with your insight and knowledge. Don’t go overboard with AI at the event, either. People are still warming up to the idea and aren’t interested in using technology just for technology’s sake.”

Her thoughts are echoed by David Beckett, vice president of business model and performance at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting in Aurora, Ohio, who says, “From smart chatbots for customer service, to lead retrieval intelligence, and for reporting design, AI will have an impact on meetings and events. I think it will be on the operational efficiency front more than the product and sales front. I’m cautious about promises that early adopters and promoters shout about AI, since they tend to be the same people who jumped on cryptocurrency or beacon technologies. We will see more and more use of AI, but you don’t need to get caught up in the shiny object.” 

Culver, like many planners, asserts, “AI will transform every facet of event planning and design.” As she puts it, “It’s a rapidly improving and expanding technology, and it shouldn’t be ignored. People are coming into contact with AI in their daily lives, so why should events be any different? I see it as a tool to alleviate pain points in the planning process and during events. Its customer service abilities are a great benefit not just for attendees, but also for planners. The AI customer service tools have gotten so good that it’s hard to believe a human isn’t the one answering your question.” 

Becoming Better Writers With AI

Probably the single biggest use for AI right now is generating original content. MacDonald says she uses ChatGPT every day, and she has even downloaded the app for on-the-go queries and edits. “At a minimum, I use it to review emails, but I also use it to get new ideas or concepts I might have missed otherwise,” she says. “I have also used it to review contract clauses, and I have been surprised by its accuracy. But, of course, I still need to edit and verify.”

AI-generated content can better connect planners with their desired attendee audience with well-crafted, specific subject matter. || Courtesy of Adobe Stock

Beckett says that it “can really improve content writing required for session descriptions and titles, to help better connect with the desired audience.” Kastina Morrison, the founder of venue consultant and manager Bigger Picture Solutions in Minneapolis, Minnesota, uses it to help write captions for multiple venue Insta-gram accounts. “Each venue has a different brand voice, so I ask ChatGPT to provide adjustments in tone.” She finds that it’s been easy to use, noting, “The biggest tip to help in working with it is you have to talk to it like you’re having a conversation. Ask if it can help you with a project and then ask what it needs to help you.” 

It’s important to also note that AI can provide good starting points for what you want to write, but those responses require an actual human to review and revise the work they produce. As fast and efficient as these tools are, they’re still no match for the experience and authentic voice of a professional planner. 

Which Programs to Use—And For What Purpose

The meetings and events experts we consulted offered some on-target recommendations for ai programs they’re using in all areas of their businesses. Here are just a few: 

ChatGPT

This is probably the one that’s most familiar to people. As explained by Heather Seasholtz, vice president of operations at CM Event Solutions in Alexandria, Virginia, “It’s ‘generative’ AI, which means that as people ask it questions or give it information, we’re feeding its database.” That reality comes with a caution, says Seasholtz. “If incorrect information is being added, then you may not receive factual information back. Always check your information.” Also, she notes, “ChatGPT 3.5 [the free version] is only loaded with information up to January 2022, so information can be dated. This is especially important if you’re asking about destinations and venues that may have changed ownership or closed after that date.” Additional up-and-comers moving into the generative AI space include Bard by Google, Jasper Chat, and Spark. chat.openai.com

Facial Recognition 

From registration to security, this tool is gaining fast traction. Top vendors include Amazon Rekognition and Zenus, which use facial recognition to track attendee engagement and analyze demographic groups. aws.amazon.com | zenus.ai

Matchmaking and Collaboration

Large-scale conferences can benefit from fast and accurate ways to pair up attendees based on their interests, experience, and goals. Software programs like Grip sift through social networks to provide hyper-refined matches. And when those matches want to interact, tools like collaboration.ai can create preselected groups and assign them to seating, workshops, and interactive free time to brainstorm together. collaboration.ai | grip.events 

Platforms 

“There are many platforms leading the way in demonstrating how AI can streamline event management and significantly enhance the attendee experience,” says Hwansuk Chris Choi, a professor at the University of Guelph in Canada. “One is Hubilo, which has a matchmaking feature that’s particularly noteworthy. It uses AI to connect attendees based on interests and professional backgrounds, and its real-time data insights help organizers make informed decisions during an event.”

Socio Labs is a platform that amplifies events’ reach and impact through social media by monitoring online conversations and identifying key influencers. “This helps organizers engage with the audience more effectively and measure the social media footprint of their events,” Choi says. hubilo.com | socio.events

Recording and Transcribing

Many planners have been using Otter.ai for meeting transcription and automatic meeting note generation. Colibri is another tool for recording meetings, displaying real-time transcription, and generating notes. Tools like Supernormal and Beulr can integrate with productivity tools like Google Meet, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. beulr.com | colibri.ai | otter.ai | supernormal.com

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