Smart Speakers, like Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple HomePod, are now mainstream in our lives. We use them to get directions, find out if it will rain tomorrow, play music, and even control our thermostat and lighting.
Now, event organizers are placing these Intelligent virtual assistants on-site to help attendees stay organized, learn new things, and even find out where the best cup of coffee can be found.
What many organizers are realizing, however, is that optimizing virtual assistants at events is a bit more complex than simply plugging them in and asking questions.
After a year's worth of experience managing virtual assistant activations at events, we’ve summarized a few of the lessons we've learned along the way. As it turns out, successfully implementing a program with this new tech takes strategy, solid planning and really good voice recognition development.
Here are the top five things we’ve learned that can help you navigate this new responsive activation:
1. For customization, hire a reputable developer
Virtual assistants can be programmed to provide customized answers to questions your attendees are likely to ask. These devices can provide attendees with all the information they need when in a hurry and looking for answers to questions such as:
“What time is Joe Smith speaking?”
“Where’s the Acme booth?”
"Where is the general session?"
“Where can I get coffee?!”
If your need is very basic and there will be little variability in how your attendees will interact with your virtual assistant, you may not need a developer. Companies such as Amazon offer Blueprint skills (specialized features and apps within the device), which can be used for very basic applications.
However, we’ve found that most events require more customization — and true customization requires a good developer. Enabling these devices so attendees can ask questions in many different ways ensures a great experience. These experts can program the assistants for that flexibility. Also, remember to build-in intelligence that can interpret what an attendee wants even when the question is stated in an unexpected or unusual way.
2. Build a strong plan
Virtual assistants can do just about anything. But to get them to perform the way you want, figure out your vision and strategy first. To make the most of the smart speaker's capabilities, ask these questions before the programming stage:
- What are your goals? What end result do you want from this initiative?
- What are attendees likely to ask? What are the use cases?
- Where will you position your virtual assistants? How will you get your audience to see/use it without subjecting the assistant to a large volume of background noise?
- What will you name your experience? This may sound basic, but you need to pick a name that’s easy for the virtual assistant to understand and for people to pronounce. Consider having different people access and test the device in the early testing period to ensure the device recognizes the name reliably.
- How will you test it? Can you test it in the same type of environment/crowd volume in which it will be used?
3. Choose the best tools for the job
Virtual assistants come in multiple sizes and form factors, so you need to look at where the assistant will be located and what kind of job it will be doing. A larger unit has rich sound, but obviously, takes up more room. Small units are great for signage, but can sound tinny. Units with screens are fantastic for helping attendees with things like floor plans and directions.
Determining how your virtual assistants will be used is the first step to deciding what type of device to choose.
4. Make time for testing (A LOT of time!)
It’s better to have no virtual assistant at all than one that frustrates your attendees. To prevent failure (and frustration!), give yourself plenty of time — more than you think you need — for testing. Include these essential elements in your testing:
- Pronunciation: Make sure your virtual assistant pronounces important terms and names correctly. If your industry uses acronyms and words not commonly used otherwise, it’s likely that you’ll need time to adjust the phonetics of your content library so that your virtual assistant knows how to pronounce these terms correctly.
- Fallbacks: The intelligence of virtual assistants is growing by leaps and bounds every day. But it is still possible to stump them. In many cases, the assistant can determine intent, and will be able to provide the right answer even if the question isn’t identical to the one it was programmed to answer. However, when the assistant is completely at a loss, a “fallback” is how the assistant handles an unknown question. To avoid attendee frustration, program your fallback to provide guidance (“I don’t understand, can you please be more specific?” instead of a blank refusal such as “I don’t understand your question.”). Perhaps your virtual assistant goes into a help mode where it guides your attendees to finding what they need.
- On-site WiFi: Virtual assistants don’t require much network bandwidth to work properly. However, they do require a network connection to be present when it’s needed. Depending on your venue, it’s likely that you'll need to provide a dedicated Wifi SSID (service set identifier) for the virtual assistants. Depending on attendee volume, you may also include dedicated Access Points (APs). Work closely with the venue to ensure the virtual assistants have the network connectivity required to work properly.
5. Consider sponsorships
Virtual assistants provide a wide range of sponsorship opportunities.
They can be simple, like branded signage near the virtual assistant or sponsored branding on the device itself. With your developer’s help, you can offer some amazing sponsorship opportunities.
For example, if an attendee asks for the location of an exhibitor, the virtual assistant can steer them toward a nearby sponsor: “While you’re there, you should also stop by and see our sponsor, the Acme Company. Say that I sent you, and you’ll get a 10% discount off your first order.”
Virtual assistants are a fascinating new technology. What's even more fascinating is that this technology wasn’t invented for events. And yet, event organizers are adapting this tech, discovering what it can do, and exploring new possibilities to enhance the attendee experience. We’ve been using virtual assistants for over a year and have still just scratched the surface of the potential.
By giving yourself plenty of time to dream up new possibilities and then bringing your events to life with this new tech, you’ll soon find a multitude of amazing ways for virtual assistants to make your events memorable for all.