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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