If you are one of my readers (thank you) or if you are one of the many people in the rental industry that I am constantly calling for advice, you know that I have spent most of the last 18 months designing and implementing an “experience center” for a global manufacturer. The experience center type of facility is currently exploding in the audiovisual industry, as more and more large players understand that the delivery of information using audiovisual methods is no longer enough in today’s multimedia world. Today, we must create an “experience.”
This is not a new thought in the staging portion of our industry. The very definition of staging is to convert an empty space into an environment that engages the mind, the senses and the client’s collective “wow!” However, in looking back over the year we are about to close, the very title of this publication reminds me that staging is only part of our business. The other side of the business, rentals, is responsible for a huge chunk of our revenue and keeps our staff employed.
Although there are a lot of definitions, for the purpose of this column, let’s consider “rentals” to be supplying services and equipment to smaller meetings, either in public or hotel meeting rooms, or in smaller meeting rooms within facilities belonging directly to organizations or corporations. This part of the business has gone through many changes in the past few years, with many environmental and societal factors playing a part in the change. From an economic point of view, organizations have looked to reduce costs of travel for such meetings and to reduce the carbon footprint created by the meetings. From a technical point of view, such meetings have been connected over distance through the use of teleconferencing, especially PC-based programs like Zoom or Skype for Business. When conducted in this manner, meetings naturally require less equipment than more traditional forms of on-site meetings.
So, these factors combine to create what I consider the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for the rentals portion of our industry, namely, in small meetings using current technology, how do we help our clients create an “experience?”
For some time, our answer to these types of challenges have been “huddle” systems. These types of systems seem to me to be a bridge between traditional meetings and the use of Zoom or Skype-style distance communications technologies. In other words, since these types of technologies will be used anyway, let’s just equip the meeting rooms for them. However, as the distance technologies themselves improve and as people are encouraged to use them more and more, leaving their desk to use them seems less and less likely. There are increasingly fewer reasons to travel for a small meeting when all you need to do to attend is dial in from your desk. So, in order to continue our traditionally lucrative business of supplying equipment for smaller meetings as well as staging events, how do we create an experience?
One of the prime functions of the rentals industry has always been to introduce clients to new technologies for use in their meetings. So let’s look at the horizon for the technologies that we will introduce next.
One of the truisms of today’s meetings is that they are more participative than ever. One of the strengths of the “experience center” or “collaboration center” is that they emphasize participation by the attendee. There are many ways that we can bring interactivity to the small meeting. There are even ways to make PowerPoint interactive, although few people put them to use. On top of this, there are a number of audience polling packages that do not require additional hardware, but rely on the attendees’ personal devices. This approach is popular with attendees, since they both love to use their devices, and will often be looking at them anyway as they pretend to not be reading their email.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI, as I have mentioned in previous columns, essentially adds a new electronic “participant” to meetings. With enormous preparation, we use AI in large staged events, but these electronic participants can bring a new level of interest to small meetings as well. Even the use of off-the-shelf AI products like Alexa, Siri or the Google assistant during meetings can create interest among participants and cause them to look up from their email. In a recent meeting, we simply started asking Alexa for competitive numbers and information about competitor manufacturing facilities, and surprisingly she was able to find it. Many new huddle and control systems are using Alexa, but many alternative AI applications are available for smartphones, digital tablets and PCs.
Alternative Imaging Technologies
Nothing is more boring than a basic PowerPoint presentation. Luckily, with today’s inexpensive imaging capabilities, there are other ways to present information, including 3D and virtual reality displays. These alternatives are less expensive and easier to use than ever before. In fact, one of the clearest indicators of this trend is the success of the experience center that I’ve been “experiencing” for the past year and a half. Open since July, this facility is in demand not just for the important client meetings it was designed for, but also for internal meetings, because of the availability of 3D and virtual imaging technologies. These imaging solutions may not be completely necessary for some of the internal meetings, but they create visual and participatory interest.
Bear in mind that introducing our customers to many of these technologies will require an investment both in training for our employees and the amount of time that they spend with the client, but as with previous eras in our business, these efforts pay off in the long run with an increased run of equipment rentals.
I don’t necessarily have all the answers to the methods that we will use to turn the small meeting into an “experience.” But I’m wearing my thinking cap. Stay tuned for my next column in the January edition of this publication, where it is customary to introduce predictions for the new year. Maybe some of the predictions for 2020 will help us with this conundrum.