Can’t Touch This! Solutions for the Touch-Free Event Experience

July 8, 2021

Kevin Padden

As an Executive Creative Director at Impact XM, a global event and experiential marketing agency, Kevin Padden develops creative insights and guidance for design teams focused on events, meetings and exhibits, as well as immersive online experiences and hybrid events. Kevin has been instrumental in the company’s growth in experiential marketing and message integration in live environments, including meeting venues, tours, conferences and conventions around the world.

One of my few joys of lockdown began when my state allowed limited re-opening of our local health club, and with it, the pool where I can swim laps in the morning. I had not been a regular visitor to the lap pool back in the “before times,” but I knew that the virus couldn’t thrive in chlorinated water, so it seemed safe to return. 

There were a number of changes to my routine visit. I now scheduled my swim times in advance, and upon arrival, I had to hold my forehead in front of a digital thermometer, and then scan my membership key tag to record my visit. I have gone through this process every morning for over nine months now. It runs smoothly and is all properly distanced and “touch-free.”

As a creative director with a background in interactive tech, I have long been challenged to come up with new fun engagements on the show floor, or to create “self-service” methods for people to interact with information. And now, as we return from a period of isolation, where even indirect contact has been limited for our very safety, we can add the challenge that many attendees may not want to use touchscreens. 

But every challenge is also an opportunity. And there are a number of opportunities out there to provide touch-free interaction.

Gesture Control keeps hands off screens. There is a variety of hardware that recognizes attendee movements in physical 3D space. Some are very broad, and recognize and respond only to body gestures, like swiping with your arms to control a screen interaction. Others, like Leap Motion, allows for full multi-finger dexterity, permitting accurate “air touch” control of an on-screen keyboard, without ever making actual contact with the screen. Haptic technology can also provide an air-touch interaction that allows your fingers to feel like they are pushing buttons on a screen, adding tangible feedback to the experience. 

Object/Facial Recognition provides stopping power. Object Recognition can be as simple as proximity sensors, which determine that someone has stopped in front of your interactive program, and respond accordingly. Facial Recognition features (primarily the eyes) and builds a response around that positioning.  

Voice Activation is everywhere. About a third of American homes have smart speakers, and about 30% of all web searches are reported to be voice-activated. Additionally, almost 60% of consumers polled prefer using voice-based interfaces in public places. Yet the possibilities for voice-control integration at events are just beginning to be created. 

BYOD to take control. Systems exist to allow users to employ their own mobile devices to control an interactive screen at a trade show or other public event, enabling an attendee to “Bring Your Own Device.”  This integration of the public presentation with personal interaction is being experimented with as attendees use their own devices to participate in “game show” engagements, but a world of additional engagements is also in the works. 

Seamless Integrations are the future of engagements. In the same way that I described my swim routine as involving pre-use engagements, the next generation of live engagements could combine multiple technologies, all touch-free. Imagine a system that recognizes your arrival, talks to you, takes your picture, provides gesture-control over a brief interaction, and provides a QR code so you can pull information onto your smartphone for more exploration.  

Technology-wise, everything is in place today for these experiences to be created and deployed in the soon-to-reopen world of live events. And people will be ready, too. Americans have all spent the past year engaging through devices and scanning QR codes to look at menus and fill out forms.  

As I said, every challenge is also an opportunity.

Tomorrow, my health facility is permitted to return to full occupancy, and some of the protocols surrounding my daily swim will be relaxed, but others, the scanning in particular, will likely remain in place, as part of the “new normal.” In the same way, our new normal in trade shows and events will include different tools and approaches, all designed and built to support the goal of getting us all back to live engagement with the wider world. I, for one, am ready to take the plunge!

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.