Brandt Krueger

Freelance Technical Meeting and Event Production, Education, Speaking, and Consulting. Geek Dad, Husband

Consultant, Meeting and Event Technology
Owner, Event Technology Consulting
Instructor, Event Leadership Institute
Cohost, #EventIcons - Where the icons of the event industry meet

Filtering by Tag: meetings

Are Chatbots Really the Next Big Thing in Events?

(An edited version of this article was originally published in MeetingMentor Magazine in Summer 2018. Updated January, 2019)

If you were following the Silicon Valley tech blogs, you would have guessed that by now we’d be living in a world filled with chatbots. But as the years came and went, they just didn’t quite seem to catch on in the way that many pundits were expecting, and headlines such as “The 200 Billion Dollar Chatbot Disruption” also came, and ultimately, went.

The meeting and events industry, on the other hand, seems to have a continued interest in chatbots, with more and more articles being written on the subject, and high-profile events providing the service to their attendees. Could it be that an industry that’s all about connecting people might actually be one of the best suited for the next wave of digital disruption?

So what the heck are they?

First, let’s be clear what we’re talking about when we say “chatbot”. One of the easiest ways to think about chatbots is as a form of digital assistant, like Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa. While these assistants can do quite a bit more than your average chatbot (including home automation control, shopping, games, and more), one of the most common uses is to simply answer our everyday questions. “Hey Google, what’s the weather today?” is a question I hear almost daily in my household as the people get ready in the morning, deciding what to wear. “What’s the drive time to Pizza Luce?”, “How tall is Mount Rushmore?”, and “How do you spell Dubrovnik?” were other questions I’ve heard in just the last week. Where these assistants shine is their ability to hear us ask questions in our normal tone, using our normal language, and (hopefully) give us the right answer.

This ability is called “natural language processing” and is a very narrow subset of (buzzword alert!) Artificial Intelligence. It’s what allow us to interact with our digital assistants in a much more “natural” and conversational manner, and what allows them to interpret what information we’re actually looking for and respond with it. Chatbots use the same technology to interact with us, but instead of talking to our event chatbot, we’re interacting with it using text. This could be through an app like Facebook Messenger or Telegram, through a chat box on a web page, embedded within an event mobile app, or even just texting to a specific number set up for the event.

Ugh, who wants to talk to a robot?

Apparently, millions of people. Over the course of 2017 the number of people using voice-activated assistants grew 128.9% to over 35 Million people in the United States alone, according to a report by Juniper Research. The same report estimates that by 2022, over half of US households will have a voice-enabled smart speaker in them. When it comes specifically to chatbots, another report found that 60% of millennials have used them at some point. Of those that tried them, over 70% reported they had a positive experience, and of those that hadn’t tried them, over half said they’d be interested in trying them.

I think a lot of the resistance to digital assistants and chatbots comes from the horrible customer service experience most of us have had with “phone trees”, another form of automation that was supposed to make our lives easier. Who hasn’t wanted to push their phone through a wall at the 9 different options being presented to you, with none of them being the reason you’re actually calling? Usually that frustration stems from the fact that you just want a simple question answered, and you want it answered quickly. That, folks, is where chatbots shine.

Actually Making Life Easier

That’s really what it boils down to: people just want their question answered in the fastest, easiest way possible, and if that means texting with a chatbot, well… then… great. If they want to know where the reception is that evening, they don’t want to open the event app, wait for it to update, click into the agenda, then into the reception entry, and finally get their answer. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to type in:

“Where is the reception tonight?” 

And get the answer:
“The reception is in the Crowne Ballroom, on the 23rd floor. Just follow the signs in the lobby to the west elevators. Don’t forget, it’s a Hawaiian theme, so be sure to wear your best floral print and flip flops!”

Notice how there’s even more information there than was actually requested, potentially saving time having to ask follow-up questions? The bot might even attach a map to the event in the next message, just in case. How convenient is that? Plus, let’s be honest. No matter how many emails you sent out providing that information, you know a significant percentage will have forgotten the information, or even worse, never read them in the first place!

But what if it doesn’t know the answer?

Robot+Questions.jpg

While most people see this as a negative, it’s actually one of the more powerful benefits of chatbots. If it doesn’t know the answer, most chatbots will kick the question up to a real, live person for the answer. Why is that a benefit? Because it can help you identify the questions you didn’t anticipate. After all, a chatbot is only as good as the information it’s given, and can only answer the questions to which you’ve given it the answers. If more and more people start asking a question it wasn’t pre-programmed with, you can simply add the answer to the bot’s program on the fly.

It can also help you react to unforeseen issues with your event in real time. If attendees are asking your chatbot, “How do I get to the ballroom from the hotel?” you may have a signage or staffing issue. If quite a few are asking “Where are the Mothers’ Rooms?” and you don’t have any, you can react quickly and get some arranged- an actual example from an event that utilized chatbots.

The Future Bots

Natural language processing technology is only getting better, and event bots have a bright future. Already, providers are able to get a bot up and running in less than 20 minutes by having the planner fill out an online survey. As AI and machine learning get applied, you’ll be able to offer up your current website and printed materials to be analyzed by the service, and then auto-generating the most likely questions and answers based on that information.

The “event app” went from “Why do I need that?” to almost every major event having one in less than five years, and event chatbots could well be on the same trajectory. So what do you think? Have you tried a chatbot at your event? How did it go? If you haven’t, what’s the likelihood you’ll try a chatbot in one of your events this year?

#EventProfs Chats- Retiring

silhouette image of a fisherman in the water with golden reflection of a sunset.I've been putting this post off for a while, but it's time to face facts.  As I mentioned in my previous #EventProfs chat update, I became the temporary community manager for the #EventProfs Twitter chats for two reasons- 1) I got a lot out of them when I first joined Twitter, and didn't want to see them dissolve, and 2) I figured even a half-a-community manager was better than nothing.  Unfortunately, I think it's time to admit that my schedule no longer permits me to have even one cheek on the chair. And so, for the following reasons, I'm announcing the semi-official retirement of the #EventProfs chats:

  • Attendance was incredibly sparse.  On the night of one of our "biggest" guests, the head of Wolfgang Puck catering, there were at most five participants in the chat.
  • For other up-and-coming #EventProfs I was able to wrangle in to guest moderate, there were more than a couple complete non-chats, where nobody showed up at all.
  • Since being on hiatus, exactly two people have asked- what happened to the chats?
  • I pushed out for two separate, two week periods requests to fill out a very short survey on the future of the chats.  31 people responded.
  • The data on those surveys was a bit contradictory:
    • Approximately 50% of those responding said that the biggest reason they missed the chats was that it was an inconvenient time
    • About the same amount answered that changing the date or time would not make it more likely that they would be able to attend- that they were just too busy.
    • Yet, almost 80% said they wanted the chats to continue and would try to make it more often.
  • Since taking over the chats, I've taken on a lot more responsibilities, not the least of which is an increased presence in teaching classes for the Event Leadership Institute, as well as becoming a full-time co-host of the weekly industry netcast, the Event Alley Show

I think the survey results actually mirror my own feelings and situation- too busy to be the kind of quality community manager that the project would require to really get it moving again, but really wanting to see them continue on and thrive.  I met so many wonderful people in those chats.  So many of the good things in my life and career, I can trace back to them in one way or another.

Was the low turnout depressing?  Sure, but these are not sour grapes- just an acknowledgement of the reality of the situation.  Without being able to devote the kind of time needed to really promote the chats, how could I really expect them to take off?

So I thank all of you who contributed to the short lived revival of the chats.  I met some new folks and made some new Twitter friends, which was always my favorite part of the chats.  I cleaned up the wiki a little bit, and I encourage you to wander through the archives, as a lot of the topics are still relevant today.

Now, it goes without saying that if anyone wants to take up the charge, please don't hesitate to contact me, and I'll be happy help you get things going again.  But it might be time to finally realize that the community has moved on, and formed other communities.  I know I'll be doing all I can to create a new community around Event Alley, and hope to see a lot of you there.  There's still so much we can learn from each other.

Be well, my friends.

-Brandt

#EventProfs Chats Update

Happy 2014, event professionals!

5130241225_5baa4fa263So towards the middle of last year, I was lamenting the fact that the weekly #eventprofs twitter chats appeared to be abandoned.  I approached Adrian Segar (from conferencesthatwork.com, and a prior community manager), and Lara McCulloch (from ready2spark.com, and who is generally credited with starting the #eventprofs hashtag on Twitter).  I expressed my desire that the chats continue, and suggested that I become the temporary community manager until someone who had more time and drive for the project could be found.  I knew I didn't have a lot of time to devote to the project, but I figured that even a bad community manager was better than no community manager, and attempted to revive the chats.

Attendance was sparse, but a lot of people seemed to really like the idea of the chats and expressed a desire for them to continue.  Towards the end of 2013, I released a survey to gather data from folks on if, and how, they'd like the chats to continue.  My intention was to take that information and use it to guide the chats for 2014.  There's a lot of good information in the surveys, and I look forward to sharing that data with you.

Now, remember that part about not having a lot of time and "even a bad community manager..."

So I just wanted to let everyone know that I fully intend to bring back the chats, but a couple things have delayed the restart for 2014.  First off, our January at metroConnections was off the charts.  One of our biggest months ever, and definitely our largest January of all time.  This certainly seems to lend support to the data being reported that the meetings and events industry is rebounding from the recession!  Now, in the midst of that January, as I announced in a previous blog article, I've joined the team at Event Alley, and am now a co-host and producer of the Event Alley Show, a weekly live Internet broadcast focused on the meetings and events industry.  This has proven to be a lot of (rewarding!) work as well, as we completely rebranded and moved the show off of the audio-only BlogTalkRadio platform and on to live Hangouts on Air and YouTube.  Anyone who knows me knows that it has been a dream of mine for a while to be part of a show like this, and it's already been an amazing experience!

So, that's the update- still working on finding a good time and format for the #eventprofs chats, and still very open to your comments, and suggestions.  If you haven't already, please take a moment to fill out the survey.  Also please check out the #EventProfs wiki, which contains all the archives of the chats going back for quite some time.

Once things settle down, I'm planning on bringing back the chats officially!

Be well out there, folks!

-Brandt

Joining the team at Event Alley!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE First Ever Live Radio Show for the Event Industry Moves to Video, Adds New Team Members, Changes Air Day

Weekly online talk show will address challenges and bridge the gap between planners around the world in a new format, reaching thousands of event professionals each year

WASHINGTON, January 15

After 46 audio episodes last year, weekly online talk show Event Alley (www.eventalleyshow.com) is teaming up with new sponsors Eventsforce and HighRoad Solution to advance the event industry through a new video format.

Launched in January 2013, Event Alley offers business professionals the opportunity to ask for advice on challenges and current event projects, learn about new and exciting tools for planners, talk to leading authorities interviewed on air, hear about news stories affecting the industry, and give opinions on topics important to the community. The show will now air live weekly on Wednesdays at 10:00 AM PST / 1:00 PM EST / 7:00 PM CET, with recordings available in video and audio formats on the web.

Lindsey Rosenthal continues as the show’s executive producer and host, and will be joined weekly by Brandt Krueger, an event technology specialist based at metroConnections in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Canadian event producer Tahira Endean, CMP, of Cantrav Services in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Event Alley will return on Wednesday, January 22, with hosts Lindsey Rosenthal, Brandt Krueger, and Tahira Endean addressing recent events, industry news, and engaging live with audience members about experiences at The Special Event in Nashville, Tennessee, and PCMA’s Convening Leaders in Boston, Massachusetts.

About Event Alley Lindsey Rosenthal is the chief strategist of Events For Good (www.eventsforgood.org), a consulting firm helping nonprofits learn how to more effectively raise money through events. Rosenthal combines customized and memorable event experiences and effective and successful fundraising campaigns to yield impressive results based on the practice of fundraising event strategy.

Brandt Krueger is the director of video and production technology at metroConnections (www.metroconnections.com), which offers a single source for creating and managing the entire event experience from conferences and meetings to stage productions and transportation. For more than a decade, Brandt Krueger has been instrumental in the technology and production aspects of delivering client “wow” moments.

Tahira Endean is the director of creative and production at Cantrav Services (www.cantrav.com), a people-based organization that brings together the knowledge and passion of a team built over 30 continuous years of serving meetings, events and incentives to create smart, memorable and relevant programs.

Contact Lindsey J. Rosenthal, MTA Executive Producer Event Alley Show info@eventalleyshow.com @EventAlleyShow 347-709-9550

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Interactive Polling: Reading the Minds of Your Audience

Audience feedback is one of the most important ways you can improve you meetings and events.  Comment cards or surveys can help guide you when it comes to crafting your next event, but why not take advantage of the group while you have them and get real-time feedback?   When you’re looking for a rough idea of how an audience is feeling, just having a show of hands might be sufficient.  When it comes time for an exact vote count, or if you just want to add a splash of technology to your meeting, you may want to consider many of the great interactive polling options available.

Interactive polling technology goes by many names and comes in many packages.  The most common of the options is still, by far, the wireless keypad.  These are handheld devices with a number keypad on them and perhaps an LED display to let the voter know their vote has been counted.

Different people refer to these keypads in different ways.  Here’s just a few of them:

  • APT (Audience Polling Technology)
  • ART (Audience Response Technology)
  • Voting Keypads
  • Reply System (A brand name of voting keypad)
  • Audience Clickers
  • Voting Doohickies (I have a client that won’t call them anything else)

There are scores of different makes and models of these keypad devices, but they all pretty much run the same way.  The presenter will ask a question and usually display a slide with the answer options.  An example might be “Which of our products do you think has the highest profit margin?  1) Wrenches, 2) Hammers, or 3) Screwdrivers.”  Sometimes this slide is displayed via specially designed software.  In other systems the options might be embedded in a PowerPoint deck.

Note: Many of the dedicated software systems for APT haven’t been updated in a long time, so they can look a little dated.  However, with a few modern exceptions, I haven’t found embedding the polling in PowerPoint to be very stable, and can cause crashes.  I’ll take a little dated and stable over pretty and likely to blow up, any day.

Once the question has been posed, the audience members take their keypads and enter in the number that corresponds to their answer.  If the keypad has a display, the number they entered will display to indicate that their vote has been registered.  The keypads operate on a closed wireless network, and send their signals to a base station located backstage or at the tech table.  This base station is hooked up to a laptop where the data is crunched and the results can be displayed- again via dedicated software or embedded in PowerPoint.

The speaker is now able to address the results in real time.  If the audience chose screwdrivers as being the most profitable, but in actuality hammers are, it can serve as an educational moment for both the speaker and the audience.  It’s not difficult to imagine that this kind of real time information can be extremely valuable to C and D level executive wanting to know if their corporate messaging and education are actually sinking in with the rank and file.

The biggest advantage to this type of interactive polling is that is is a closed network, compared to some of the options we’re about to look at.  It should come as no surprise then that these types of hardware solutions are popular with financial and medical groups, where security and confidentiality are extremely important.  We recently provided polling keypads for a group that was so secure that the techs had to leave the room during deliberations, and only allowed back in to run the equipment during the “Is the motion adopted? Yes or No” phase.

Many of the handheld solutions have been around a while, and as such can look a little dated in the era of smartphones.  There are a few high end models, however, that offer their users a whole new level of interactivity.  These new models feature full  QWERTY keyboards, color display screens, and even built in microphone and wireless audio support.  If the voting needs to be tracked, attendees can insert a special encoded badge into the keypad, identifying them.  To return to anonymous polling, they simply need to remove the badge.  This kind of tracking allows this hardware to do more than just polling and relaying audience questions.  It allows them to manage other portions of your event, such as silent auction bidding.

While they can be quite a bit more expensive when compared to the old standby keypads, they can replace many other expensive systems at an event, such as wireless translation headsets, and audience QnA microphones.  When used to their full potential they can be worth every penny and provide a rich, fully interactive experience.

Just as conference and trade show brochures are being phased out in favor of mobile phone applications, so to are the old polling keypads.  With the majority of meeting and conference goers walking around with a wireless supercomputer in their pocket, more and more planners are exploring the world of mobile and web-based polling technology.  There are many services out there, and they’re all a little different, so it’s extremely important to know your audience and know at what level of interaction they’re mostly likely to participate.  Some Internet-based services even allow users to vote through multiple options, increasing the response rate dramatically.  These options include voting via text message, a mobile web site, or even via Twitter.

Many mobile event apps are building in the ability to push polling to their users in an attempt to be the “One App to Rule Them All”.  Others use stand alone polling apps, and still others use mobile web pages.  Whichever route you go, be sure to take into account how that data will be gathered and displayed.  Almost all of these services are going to require internet access of some kind in order for the attendees to send their responses, so there either needs to be quality cellular data services or WiFi available.  This is where text message polling can come in handy, as the cellular connectivity level for sending texts is much lower than data.  In other words, you can send a text message with “only one bar” of signal much easier than you can access a mobile web page on the data network.

Much like the keypad network, the responses are sent to a central location, only instead of a wireless base station, the responses are sent to a server provided by the service.  Results can then be accessed via the web, so once again you’ll need to make sure whatever machine needs to display the results has a solid internet connection in order to retrieve the data.

Note: Be sure to get an idea of what the results display will look like, too.  Many of the mobile apps that have built in polling don’t have an effective way of displaying that data live in the room, and are designed more to replace comment cards than to be truly interactive polling.  Even in full screen mode they might have scrollbars, links, and logos  (other than yours) on the results page.

These services are growing in popularity exponentially with our customers.  We find that once they dip their toes in the interactive polling pool, they become addicted (in a good way) to that instant feedback.  Everything from educational quizzes and game shows, to voting on what to name their internal network, customers are finding more and more creative uses for live interactive polling.

On Why You Should Consider Skipping the “Augmented Reality” and Just Buy More Bacon

By any other name...

This post was originally going to be titled On Why Your App is NOT Augmented Reality.  I was all set to go on an epic rant about how several high profile event apps were being touted as “augmented reality”, when in fact they weren't AR at all.  They were just ordinary apps, pretending to be augmented reality, as part of the seemingly never-ending feature war that the mobile conference and meeting app market has become.

But... after discussing the topic with some other industry folks (thanks @kristicasey!), that’s not entirely fair.  I’m still not 100% convinced the examples I’m about to give are AR, but I’m willing to entertain the possibility that they’re a tiny fraction, of a small percentage, of the potential for the AR apps of the future.

The definition of augmented reality:

335623-tonystark

So what is an augmented reality app?  Before I can even think about accusing someone of not being AR when they say they are, I should probably define that, eh?

I define an augmented reality app as something that displays a live view of the world (i.e. “reality”) and then takes information, graphics, animation, sound, or other data and adds it as a layer over or alongside that reality (i.e. “augments it”).  So the definition of an Augmented Reality App, is any app that - wait for it - augments reality.  Weird.

Surprisingly, if you look around the web that’s pretty close to the definition everywhere, much like looking up the word “recursion” on Google (Did you mean: recursion).

The first key part of that definition is the word “live”.  If I take your picture with my cell phone and then use an app to draw on squiggly hair and Snidely Whiplash mustache, I can’t think of anyone other than an argumentative philosopher that would say that app is somehow an augmented reality app.  It would, however, be hilarious.

The second key part of the definition is “layer over”, as in- you see (or hear, or smell) reality, but information about that reality is also being given to you by whatever device or app you’re using.

Like what?

My perfect example of what an augmented reality app could be: Imagine you’re at a trade show and want to get to a specific vendor.  You hold up your phone (or look through your Google Glass) and you see what you see in real life- booths, displays, people, carpet (double padded... oooooh...)  However, when you input the name of a vendor you want to find, a large arrow appears in the image, hovering over where you want to go.  On the carpet below you appears a line with arrows on it, showing you the quickest way to the booth.  Along the way, you see the names of each vendor hovering over their booth, with a button to favorite or remind you to look at later.  You don’t bump into anyone, because you’re seeing all this through your device, layered over reality.  As you approach your destination, the arrow gets larger and larger, until you’re standing right under it, in all it’s 3D glory!  This kind of AR is called “geotagged” as it’s information based on specific locations in your environment.

Another example: You point your device at a conference brochure, and a beautiful animated version of the conference logo on the page appears and dazzles you.  You open the booklet to the speaker bios page.  Each one of the photos now has a highlight box around it.  You select a speaker and their photo comes to life, and the speaker gives you, in their own words, a 30 second description of their session.  Again you can tag the speaker as a session you’d like to learn more on, and move on to the next.  This kind of AR is known as “marker based”, as its animations and information is keyed off certain markers contained in the printed brochure, showing your device where to layer over the data.

Now, for those who don’t happen to have these magical devices, you can still wander the trade show floor with a paper map, trying to find booth 702 in Aisle G, or you can just look at the speaker bios and the two sentence descriptions of the sessions in the conference brochure.  Those who have downloaded the app and have the right hardware?  They will experience an immersive world of extra content, all subtly branded and sponsored.

Where it falls apart

A book is not augmented reality.  A book is something that takes you out of reality.  It can be very informative, even about your current surroundings or situation, but it exists outside of that situation, and would still exist if you were in a completely different place, doing completely different things.  A map is not augmented reality.  You have to look at the map, interpret it, then look up and try and apply that information to the world.

Likewise, a traditional conference app is not augmented reality.  You open it, you read it, it informs your decisions, and you apply it to reality.  While you’re looking at it, though, you are almost completely disconnected from reality.

So what about the apps that spawned this article?  One, from a high end hotel chain, claims to make them the “First North American Luxury Hotel Brand to Feature Augmented Realty” in its ads.  The other is from a music festival sponsored by a large U.S. (but no longer American owned) beer brewery.  In both cases you had to open a pre-downloaded app, the app would engage the camera in the device, and then you point it at some printed materials.  Once the app recognized the materials, the page “came to life” in the display with a colorful, approximately 3 second animation.

Aaaaaaaaand done.  That was the end, as far as I’m concerned, of the augmented reality portion of the evening.  After that three second animation layered over the printed page, you were taken to a menu, in the case of the music festival.  The hotel? A full screen video with a couple of buttons, one of which would let you skip the content.  From that point on, the apps looked and behaved just like any other event or conference app, with links to schedules, bios, bands, special offers, and other normal old “exclusive” content.

augmented-reality-ikea-appWell, who’s fault is that?

So are these apps “Augmented Reality Apps”?  I would say no.  Three seconds of AR does not make it an augmented reality app.  But look closely at the hotel’s claim- they “Feature Augmented Reality”.  It’s not an augmented reality app, it’s an app that features augmented reality.  Likewise with the festival app.  Despite the headlines for the articles written about it “bringing augmented reality to events”, the actual app makers themselves hold no such illusions:

“When you hold your phone up to an image or product, it takes just seconds to get that experience on your phone," <redacted> said. "Once you get that experience, that’s when people really start engaging, whether playing a game or doing polling or whatever”

So the idea is to hook them with a few seconds of something interesting, then get them to do something else- play a game, polling, whatever.  Fair enough.

So are these apps using AR?  Technically, yes.  Are they using AR for anything other than just a quick, flashy gimmick?  No.  What you’re looking at through the display is almost irrelevant- it’s just a cute animation based on the printed material that triggered it.  The difference between that and scanning a QR code is minimal, at best.

The future's so bright, I gotta eat bacon

Think I’m being too harsh? Do yourself a favor and watch this demonstration:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NKT6eUGJDE&w=560&h=315]

That video is from 2007.  TWO THOUSAND FREAKING SEVEN.  Think about that.  That’s a full three years before the iPad.  Here we are six years later, and the computing power in our mobile devices is bordering on the obscene.  My earlier two examples might have seemed a little far fetched, but are they really?  After watching that video, I can't help but feel that we've only scratched the surface of what's possible.  I know there's people out there right now, pushing the the technology to the limit, and what's coming around the corner is going to blow your freakin' mind.

In the meantime,  you’re telling me that the best we can do is a three second animation over your conference brochure cover or print ad?  C’mon, son.  I want my giant floating arrows and talking speaker pages.

So if that's it- that’s all you’re going to do with AR, you should save yourself the money and buy all your attendees an extra slice of bacon for breakfast.  They’ll be happier for it.  For the money the hotel chain spent on the app, plus the giveaways and discounts the app provided, they could have become the "First Luxury Hotel Brand to Feature Complimentary WiFi.  Because You Deserve It."  The copy would have written itself...

On Teleprompters- What are they, and when should you use them?

It is no secret that being a good communicator is key to success in business. We value those who have the ability to communicate well, and that often includes public speaking. One proven tool to aid in the delivery of a speech or presentation is the teleprompter. However, knowing when and how to use one may be just as instrumental in earning that standing ovation.

History of the Teleprompter Simply put, a teleprompter is a device that “prompts” the person speaking with a visual text of a speech or script. This allows the reader to read the text word for word, ensuring a consistent and accurate speech, while maintaining the illusion of spontaneity.

In the 1950s, Fred Barton, Jr. came up with the idea of a teleprompter as an actor. He later helped found the TelePrompTer Corporation, which built the first devices. Although in some countries it may be referred to as an AutoCue (a UK brand name), the TelePrompTer name has become the generic term for these devices in most of the world.

The earliest teleprompter was nothing more than a scroll of paper with a script printed on it that was then run over a mechanical device operated by a hidden technician. It wasn’t long before the initial version was improved upon by becoming automated and mounted on a television camera. These improvements, though better than cue cards and a standalone prompter, were not enough because the speaker was still looking slightly off camera. Thus came the next, and most important improvement: reflective glass.

Instead of being mounted facing the speaker, the prompter was mounted below the camera and facing up, or mounted above the camera and facing down, with the text reflected off a piece of glass directly in front of the camera lens.  The placement and construction of this glass prevented it from being seen by the camera and allowed the speaker to look directly into the camera while reading.

The computer revolution in the 1980s brought many advances. Scrolling paper rolls were replaced with monitors and computer-generated text as early as 1982, but were still in use as late as 1992. The advancement of technology has also enabled teleprompters to become lighter and thinner, straying away from old bulky ray tube monitors to ultra-slim flat screen monitors. Voice recognition software has also played a part. For example, high-end news organizations are testing teleprompters with the ability to be voice activated, ensuring that the prompter is always going the right speed for the speaker.

Today’s Types of Teleprompters The three main modern types of teleprompters are camera mounted, presidential, and floor or stand mounted.

  • The camera mounted teleprompter, as we’ve already discussed, works with text being bounced off special glass placed in front of the lens. This type of prompter is used mainly for pre-recorded videos for speakers, guests, or top-level management. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, weights and need to be coordinated with the AV provider to make sure that the right type is used and matches the camera.
  • The presidential teleprompter works basically in the same manner as the camera mounted monitor, except the mirrored glass is mounted at the end of a thin pole instead of on a camera. However, just like the on-camera models, the speaker is able to look directly at the audience through the glass as if it were not there. This is great for a live event. They are almost always used in pairs - one to the left and one to the right of center - encouraging the speaker to change focus and look at the entire audience.
  • The floor/stand teleprompter can be placed at an angle on the floor, mounted on a stand, or hung from rigging points in the back of the room. When using them by themselves, floor mounted prompters can be just as good as presidential prompters but it can cause the speaker to look down more or make them appear as if they are only talking to the first two rows of attendees.

In addition to the actual teleprompter itself, there are some other components that are also essential -- the software and the remote control. Both camera mounted and presidential prompters require images to be reflected off of a piece of glass, which then requires that the original text be reversed.  All professional prompter software should have this feature. Teleprompters also require a way in which to stop, start, and manipulate the speed of text.

When should/shouldn’t you use a Teleprompter? Using teleprompters, such as a presidential monitor, infers professionalism and makes a speaker look more “presidential.” In general, prompters make the speaker look better as they allow them to connect with the audience, whether live or prerecorded, through eye contact, and studies have shown that eye contact can be a major factor in whether or not we trust someone.

The average person (not a trained actor, or someone with a photographic memory) has a difficult time memorizing large chunks of text. This is why many speakers use PowerPoint or notecards to keep them on-track. However, these methods can be cumbersome and make the presenter feel the need to add graphics or slides when they may not be relevant or useful. Teleprompters are also used when a speaker needs to convey a lot of detail or technical specifications.

Just as knowing when to use a teleprompter is important, knowing when NOT to use one is just as essential. The budget of an event can play a very big part in the use of a teleprompter, because you not only have to pay for the equipment but you have to pay for the person to operate it. Cost is not the only factor when considering a teleprompter; the environment is just as important. If the room and audience are small, the use of a teleprompter might be awkward. Imagine being in a small breakout session and having the speaker behind a pair of presidential monitors.

Preparing Speakers for a Teleprompter Picking the right equipment is only half the battle when it comes to delivering a good speech. The speaker and the speech itself have to be a finely tuned machine. Options include hiring a speechwriter, which is surprisingly inexpensive, and they can work with the speaker to hone a message and to use language comfortable for the speaker. It is very important to write as one speaks, because if the language isn’t familiar, it often sounds stiff and awkward.

Not only does the speech have to be well written, the speaker delivering it has to also be well trained. The speaker should rehearse in the space before the event and allow plenty of time with the prompter itself. Even the most experienced speaker can find a prompter a little unsettling for the first time. Otherwise, a prompter will likely hurt the presentation, rather than help it.

One of the most important tips is to make sure that the speaker knows they are in control, not the teleprompter. It’s the operator’s job to make sure the speaker has the words they need, when they need them, not the job of the speaker to try and “keep up” with the prompter.

Conclusion In conclusion, knowing your audience, your prompter equipment, and your speech will ultimately reward you with a successful presentation. It is wise when budgeting to accommodate for not only the equipment itself, but for the operator and a possible script writer as well. Also, make sure that plenty of time is allowed for rehearsal and practice. Practicing with the equipment and with the operator can help make or break a perfect prompter presentation.

Originally published at metroConnections.com

On Being Nice to Airport, Airline, and Hotel Employees

Buh Bye

Ok, so much of what I’m about to say may seem obvious, but I can personally vouch for the fact that most of what highly paid motivational and inspirational keynote speakers say is, after you’ve heard it, pretty obvious stuff.  I’ve sometimes considered becoming a motivational speaker myself, with my “hook” being that I’ve heard hundreds of them and can boil most of it all down to about 10 salient points- but that, dear friends, is a story for another day. THIS story is about how I went from hating traveling to enjoying it, and it all started on a whim.

For a very long time, I really despised traveling.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the destinations, but I hated the journey.  I was blessed that my parents wanted their kids to be exposed to other cultures, peoples, and places, and we traveled a fair amount both inside the US and even a couple times abroad.  So now in my adult life, I really do love being in other cities all over the world, soaking up the surroundings, seeing how very different we all can be, and how very much alike we all are.

But the getting there... oh, man...

To start, there was the ear pain.  Every time I flew, my ears would properly “pop” and pressure-equalize on the way up, but not on the way down.  This would cause excruciating pain in my ears during decent, not unlike having your eardrum being squeezed by a vice made of ice needles.  The pain would usually subside once on the ground, but one or both of my ears would remain clogged with fluid for anywhere from 1 to 3 days.  After many years of trying every remedy people could think of - chewing gum, drinking water, pressure points, ritual sacrifice - I finally learned from my Dad, who had the same problem but to a much lesser degree, to use a special kind of silicon earplugs that cover the whole ear-hole.  That’s a technical term, of course.

This worked like magic, but I had to wear them for the entire ascent and descent.  It also had the secondary benefit of blocking out the other ear-holes on the flight that talked too much.  A happy ending to at least that part of the story, but the number of years that I just suffered through the pain far outweighed the ones where I knew that particular solution.

Setting my medical issues aside, everything about airports and airline personnel just rubbed me the wrong way, and it seemed as though every travel experience was worse then the last.  There was the time I was stranded in O’Hare overnight and slept on a bench (which I later turned into an unpublished short story called The Moving Walkway is About to End), or the time that I was stranded in the Bahamas with no money and a taxi voucher that no taxi driver would take.

Even in the years before 9-11, I always seemed to have issues with security.  When my parents would swing through town, I would meet them at the airport for dinner, and if I even had a scrap of a gum wrapper in my pocket it would set off the metal detector.  After 9-11?  Forget about it.  I was a constant subject of bag searches, pat downs, and explosive testing, mainly due to the large amount of electronics I have to bring along for the typical meeting production gig.  Or perhaps I had a 3.25 oz tub of hair gel that just needed to be confiscated by the Federal Government.

At the ticket counter and in the air, I found the airline employees unhelpful, inflexible, and sometimes downright mean.  During the times I was stranded, I was never offered a hotel voucher, bonus miles, or indeed (other than the useless taxi voucher) any compensation at all.  After having been drinking alcohol legally in the UK for a full semester abroad at age 20, I was carded and not served on the flight back, due to “US Federal Law”.  When I explained that there was no federal law regarding the legal drinking age in the US, I was told, “Then it’s Northwest Airlines Law.”  No drinky-drinky for me.  I settled back into my middle seat and scowled.

It definitely felt like every airport ticket counter person, every security guard, and every flight attendant in the world was out to make my travel life as miserable as they could.  To add insult to injury, I was traveling more and more for work, pretty much insuring a future filled with increased pain and suffering.

And then one day, I’d had enough.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I was tired of feeling like a victim, tired of feeling helpless.  It was time to do something radical.  I decided to fight back in the only way I could.

I would kill them with kindness.

And so, on this utter whim, I decided one travel day to be just as unbelievably, doughnut-sprinkly sweet as I could, to every person I interacted with:

  • Long line at the baggage drop off?  *Big Smile* “Wow, you guys are really swamped today.  Hope you get to take a break soon!”
  • Bag check at security?  *Big Smile* “Sure, no problem!  I always get checked because of all the electronics gear I have to bring.  What’s that?  Oh that’s a wireless presenter mouse- pretty cool, huh?”
  • Getting an ever-shrinking bag of peanuts?  *Big Smile* “Thank you very much!”

At the end of the trip, I realized that I felt less tired, less put-upon, less grumpy.  So on my next trip, I continued to be just as nice as I possibly could to everyone I met:

  • At the gate- *Big Smile* “Hi how are you doing?  Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.  Want me to grab you a coffee or something?  You sure?  Ok, well I was wondering if there were any aisle seats available since it looks like I’m in a middle seat.  Oh, great, thanks!” (this was before it was so easy to see and change seats online)
  • On-plane flight attendant safety briefing? I watched every second carefully with a *Big Smile*.  I learned later that this is a big peeve of flight attendants all over the world- “At least pretend  like you’re listening, won’t you?  You think you’re tired of hearing it?”
Keep in mind the nearest exit may be behind you...

OK, so I said this would seem obvious, didn’t I?  But you can probably guess what started to happen.  People started being nicer to me, and I started feeling... happier.

It felt like I was getting more aisle seats (again before the ease of online seat-change) and exit rows.  Once I achieved medallion status as a frequent flyer, it felt like I was getting upgraded more often than my traveling companions.  A couple times I bought a drink and had it upgraded to a double at no extra charge.  “Here, have a couple of bags of peanuts.  You want some cookies, too?”

A friendly TSA agent informed me as we chatted while he looked through my bag that one of the biggest reasons bags get pulled aside is when they look like a mess of jumbled cables and wires on the X-ray, and if you take the time to coil and pack them neatly they’re able to more easily see what everything is.  And yes, I said friendly TSA agent.  I would not have guessed such a thing existed previously.  Guess what- they do.  A lot of them.

Turned out he was right.  I started very carefully coiling my cables and arranging the electronics gear neatly in my carry-on bag.  The number of times it got searched went from almost every time to maybe one out of every twenty.  Possibly even less, it happens so infrequently that it’s hard to remember.  But when it does, I remember to smile and not get upset about it.

Just one week after I got it, I left my brand new iPad on the floor of the plane, next to my seat.  Instead of it going into the black hole that expensive electronics left on airplanes go, I was called by Delta on my way home from the airport and told it was being kept safely (literally in a safe) for me in their office.  To this day I am convinced this is because I was nice to the flight attendant sitting in the jump seat facing me.  We chatted and I asked her where a safe place to put my iPad was, since I didn’t have a seat pocket in front of me.  It was she who recommended putting it next to the seat against the wall of the plane (an unusual place, and likely why I forgot it), and I’m sure it was she that took the time to get my name from the manifest to get it back to me.

Another TSA moment- I realized I still had my Leatherman multi-tool on my belt as I stood in the security line, almost at the front.  I looked around and saw a TSA agent standing nearby.  I put on a *Big Smile* and waved to him with a questioning look.  He came over and I apologized profusely for being so dumb as to forget to put my trusty belt tool in my checked luggage.  Rather than just confiscating it on the spot, he pointed out that a nearby money exchange kiosk was now offering “mail home” services for small items at a reasonable rate.  I thanked him profusely, left the line, and mailed it home for $10.  Much cheaper than a replacement!

I returned to the security checkpoint and got in line, happy to have saved my trusty Leatherman from certain doom, and fully prepared to go through the whole line again.  I saw the agent and gave him a “thumbs up” sign to let him know it had worked.  To my shock and surprise, he waived me over to him and let me into the First Class and Über Status line, which had only about 5 people in it.  Wow.  I mean... just... wow...

Things were working so well, I started applying this bizarre concept (being nice to people) to the good folks who worked for the hotels I was staying at.  Wouldn’t you know it?  I started getting better service and nicer rooms- higher floors, beautiful views.  I even got comped for no apparent reason to the “Executive Level” at a beautiful resort in California, with a private lobby and a fully stocked and staffed complimentary lobby bar that served breakfast and appetizers most of the day.

You see, faithful obvious truth-seekers, these people in the airline and hotel industry have to deal with hundreds and hundreds, sometimes thousands of people a day.  Most of them don’t stand out- they’re just anonymous faces marching by.  Which leaves only two types of people that do stand out: Those that are kind, pleasant, and brighten your day, and... assholes.  And I realized that I used to be one of the latter.

I mean really.  What flight attendant on an international flight with hundreds of passengers to take care of wants to be lectured by some smart-ass kid about the legal intricacies of state-based drinking age limits while over international waters?  C’mon, son...

Put simply, I hated traveling, so traveling hated me.  I started making the extra effort to be nice, and the whole experience was lifted up to not only tolerable, but down right enjoyable most of the time.

And there’s the key- it takes effort.  The kind of effort that most of us can’t spare as we move through our busy lives.  I’m not perfect at this, and believe me, if I could apply this sunshine and roses way of dealing with the world to the rest of my life 24-7, I would.  I have good days and bad days like everyone.  I have however chosen to try and make that extra effort in this particular area of my life, and it has paid back over and over.

Enjoy...

In fact, I believe it was a flight attendant who finally suggested the cure for my painful eardrum issues.  Sudafed.  That’s right, the decongestant.  Pseudoephedrine.  Take it about an hour before the flight and my ears pop and equalize perfectly normally.  No more earplugs.  I can actually wear headphones, or I can carry on a conversation, just like everyone else.  Though sometimes I do miss the quiet...

So there you have it.  The Great Secret of Enjoying Travel:  “Be nice to people.”  Wow.  Who’d have thought?  I know.  Crazy talk.

Studies have shown over and over again that even “fake smiling” can improve a person’s overall mood.  It also might just get you a bulkhead seat with extra legroom.  That can definitely improve your mood.  So sit back and enjoy the ride!

On Recording Meetings - Avoid Post Event Trauma and Save Money by Asking a Few Questions

An image of a DV-HDV DeckI'm noticing a trend in the meetings industry:Easily 5 out of the last 6 shows I've worked on have requested the recorded video of their meeting.

While that's not all that unusual in and of itself, what's different is that they're requesting it almost immediately after the program, and are wanting it in a digital format so that they can edit it and get it up on either their internal or external websites.

What does this mean for meeting planners?  You might think, "Nothing" or "No big deal" or even "Duh."  With the proliferation of high bandwidth internet connections, smart phones, and the ubiquitous YouTube videos (and their ease of creation), clients are naturally expecting to be able to get bits and pieces of their event onto the Internet in short order.

What it does is add one more conversation that needs to happen before the event, and preferably before the equipment budget is finalized.  There are many different "levels" of recording a show, varying from "goes in a box somewhere" to "going to be sold as a Blu-Ray DVD", and that level not only has a direct impact on the equipment needed for the meeting, but also can affect the out of pocket expenses of the client before, during, and after the show.  Put simply? Planning ahead can save everyone involved headaches and money- most of which are caused by having the wrong level of record, or one that doesn't meet the clients expectations even if they aren't sure what those expectations are themselves.

Here's the low down on the various types of meeting and event records:

Level 0: "No recording." Frankly, this rarely if ever happens when there's a camera in play, but it never hurts to ask your AV provider if recording is included in the price.

Level 1: "Goes in a box somewhere." For this level we usually see one of two types of record strategies.  First, there is the on-camera record.  Only the video taken by the camera is put on the tape.  On slightly older cameras these are usually DVCAM tapes, and on newer "pro-sumer" HD models the video is recorded on what's called HDV tapes.  The cost increase from level one is the cost of tapes, which aren't cheap. Almost $35 per 184 minute tape.

The second option is a "program feed" record.  A separate record deck is inserted into the video rig, and whatever's being sent to the screen is recorded.  Be careful- there's a terminology trap here. Some AV vendors (and myself, before being bitten in the rear one too many times) use the terms "Line Cut" and "Program Feed" interchangeably, however... "Line Cut" is a term derived from Television production, and refers to a particular edit that just contains camera angle switches.  A "Program Feed" should include anything that's being shown on the screen.  Make sure you know which you're getting!  Most vendors are capable of doing this kind of record, but you have to ask for it.  The cost goes up by not only the price of the tapes, but also the cost of the deck.

When the show is over, your AV vendor gives you or your clients the tapes, and they go in a box somewhere.

Level 2: "There's a chance we might use it someday," or "We might want to at least watch it." Basically you're looking at the same as above, but you need to keep a couple things in mind.  If you just hand your clients the tapes, they probably can't watch them.  Most people don't have a DVCAM or HDV (or BETACAM, which still rears its ugly head from time to time) deck lying around the office.  Your AV vendor or production company obviously does, as you just used one on your event.  See if they'll include a basic video transfer to DVD so that at least you can give the client those, which should be watchable on any consumer DVD player or computer.  If they can't, there's usually at least one company in every major city that specializes in media format changes- VHS->DVD for example.  They can usually do this for a moderate fee.  For our part, metroConnections usually includes this transfer of the program feed to DVD in the price of production.

Level 3: "We're definitely going to use it at some point." Either of the previous two options will work for some clients.  Hopefully you've handed them the tapes along with a DVD copy.  They can watch the DVD, decide what they like, hand the tapes over to a video editing company and have their footage professionally edited and put together.  If the client knows this is going to happen, though, you might throw one more option at them- the combination of both the "on camera" record (also sometimes known as ISO) as well as the program feed.  This is especially helpful when PowerPoints or other PC/Mac-based presentations are involved.  The client can provide the video editors both sets of tapes, and the editor can use the program feed as a reference to add the PowerPoints back into the final edit.  By having the ISOs as well as the original PowerPoint materials, the editor can precisely edit when the speaker is on the screen and when the slide is- something that doesn't always come out perfectly with the on-site switching that gets sent to the program feed.

Level 4: "We're definitely going to use it next week." One of the biggest problems with the above scenarios are that they're all tape-based.  That means that when it comes time to get that information off the tape, it has to happen in real time- just like all those VHS tapes you have in your basement somewhere.  If your conference was three days long, eight hours a day, guess how long it will take just to get the footage into an editable form? Yup. Ouch.  This is probably the biggest "gotcha" point." Video houses are probably going to charge you or your client wicked rush charges to turn around that much footage in a short amount of time, or simply won't have time to do it.  If your client knows they're going to use the footage, try and get a reasonable understanding of when they intend to do so, and set their expectations accordingly.

Another option is to use a hard drive recorder.  This is basically the same as the tape decks of old, but records the video directly to either an internal or external hard drive.  These are definitely going to be more expensive than DVCAM or HDV decks, but you can turn around the footage much faster.  Usually they write to a format that can be edited almost right away in Final Cut.

If you get the right cameras, you can record them on hard drives there as well.   Then you're able to get the benefits mentioned in "Level 3".  Again it's more expensive on the front end, but theoretically you or the client is saving money on rush charges and editing time.  If you don't have ISO records, the editor has to guess where the PPT slides go, and this usually involves watching the program from start to finish.  If you have both the program feeds and the ISOs, you can skim around and look for the changes.

It's important to note that all of the options above involve some kind of specialty equipment at some point in the process before the client gets the footage in their hands.  DVCAM Tapes require tape decks that can read DVCAM tapes, HDV decks the same, and even when recording to hard disk, chances are you're going to need a Mac (most of the formats I've seen are QuickTime variations that don't play nice with Windows).

There's a bunch of levels in between the ones I've laid out here, but these are the most common ones I've run into.  I mentioned the "Going to be put out on Blu-Ray" level- if that's the case, you need to have a very serious talk about expectations, because in most cases that's going to involve an entirely separate record crew from the normal production crew, essentially doubling your costs.

Hopefully though, this is enough to get the conversation started, and enough to give you an informed viewpoint in that conversation.  Ultimately you should be able to guide your client into the right fit for what they want balanced with what they can afford to pay.