How the iPhone Changed the Conference Experience

The first iPhone went on sale 10 years ago this week. Since its launch, it's had an impact on almost every aspect of association management. A look at how it’s changed meetings and events.

Want to feel old? This week, the Harry Potter series celebrated its 20th anniversary, the ATM turned 50, and the iPhone launched 10 years ago.

While I can’t imagine life without any of them, consider how much Apple’s “truly magical product”—as former CEO Steve Jobs called it when announcing its 2007 launch—has affected associations. It’s transformed everything from content delivery and strategy to advocacy efforts.

Another area where the iPhone’s presence can’t be ignored: meetings and events. Here’s a look at a few ways—both positive and negative—this smartphone has changed the conference experience.

As attendees have come to rely on their iPhone to make other parts of their lives easier, they’ve also come to expect it to make their conference experience more seamless.

It’s upped attendee expectations. Here’s an easy way to disappoint—even upset—your attendees: Tell them that your meeting’s website isn’t mobile-friendly or that the conference doesn’t have a dedicated app. As attendees have come to rely on their iPhone to make other parts of their lives easier, they’ve also come to expect it to make their conference experience more seamless.

For example, they want the most up-to-date information at their fingertips, they want to be able to communicate with other attendees and speakers, and they want to be able to do it quickly.

A few months ago, I was at a conference that had a virtual personal assistant built into its app. When I showed up to an empty session room, I opened the app, asked where the session had moved to, and 12 seconds later (yes, I noted the timestamp) I had the new room number.

It’s made speakers work harder. Because people use their iPhones to manage their work and personal lives, they can sometimes be distracting at meetings. After all, according to research firm Dscout, the average person touches his or her cell phone 2,617 times each day. So it’s no surprise that a speaker might look up to find attendees looking down at their phones.

However, some clever speakers have found a way to take advantage of attendees’ smartphone habits. During a recent PCMA webinar called “Leverage Your Event Participant’s Smartphone Addiction, Salvatore Camarda, managing partner at MeetApp North America, said this: “We’re not going to stop people from staring at their cell phones. What we can do is disrupt those disruptions by using the same channel for our benefit.”

How does Camarda do that? He programs the conference’s event app to publish a push notification to the audience every eight minutes, so that attendees receive an alert that directs their attention back to what’s happening on stage. These notifications ask feedback-based questions to create a more personal relationship with the audience, and Camarda often incentivizes participation with some type of reward.

It’s caused some headaches. While the iPhone has made it easier for attendees to connect and communicate via a meeting’s app or other social channels, it’s also made it easier for them to immediately share what they’re not liking about an event, session, or speaker. While this is not always what meeting staff may want to hear in the moment, this real-time feedback does allow them to fix any issues or address any problems quickly.

Another headache? Battery life. Relying on a smartphone to navigate a conference is an inevitable battery drain. While associations have responded by offering attendees onsite charging stations, charging lockers, and lots of plugs, it’s still up for debate if there can ever really enough places to power up.

It’s made meetings more inclusive. iPhones have helped bring more participants into the fold. For example, introverted attendees may be more inclined and more comfortable to chat and interact with speakers and other attendees via an app than at a face-to-face networking event.

Or, if an association chooses to use a mobile-friendly website or app to stream parts of its meeting to nonattendees, this is a good way to engage people who would have otherwise been unable to attend due to travel costs or for medical reasons.

Now it’s your turn: How has the iPhone affected your association’s meetings and events? Please share in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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