Category Archives: Technology

Mashed Potatoes

I was listening to the radio on the way into work the other morning and there was a discussion on the release or rather re-release of the classic Nokia 3310 mobile phone. There is a very valid question of why in this world of lightning fast connections and social media would anyone want a phone that just… phones?

After a minute or two of discussing the retro look, and how cool it was to be so last decade, the conversation moved on to how sometimes it’s nice to have less technology.

Here, at Crystal Interactive Meetings, we offer a wide range of engagement tech. At the top end there’s the full package of pre event consultation with all singing all dancing event apps on iPads delivered with fully installed WiFi and our tech specialists on site. Or, perhaps, a “Bring Your Own Device” option with our partners at Meetoo. Alternatively, a client may find our world leading handsets are perfect for the job.

These handsets that look a bit like, well, old mobile phones. The IML Communicator, now around 15 years old and still regularly used across the globe for its rock solid voting set the bar high for event tech and looks a bit like an old Nokia 3210.

The IML Connector, the most sophisticated dedicated audience engagement tool ever made, looks a bit like an old Blackberry. Our hardware is completely bespoke, it could have been made to any design but it’s about engagement, in this case not between people, but between people and technology. Time after time when I’m showing clients around our equipment store they’ll hold a handset, pause, smile and say “It’s like my old Nokia” or laugh and say “It’s a Blackberry!”. Instantly familiar, instantly at ease, instantly engaged.

This is perhaps why so many conversations with new clients start with an expectation to use iPads, they’re looking for a solution that will be cutting edge and look the part but be familiar to their delegates. Technology is a tool, just like a car, looking flash is great but you can’t get 3 kids and a weekly shop into a Ferrari.

That’s why we offer such a wide range of solutions for big meetings, small meetings, public meetings, secret meetings, WiFi, no WiFi, all delivered with the appropriate amount of technology. Too much tech and people become distracted and confused, too little and the spark to trigger a lively debate may be missed or an audience may become disengaged.

Like seasoning mashed potato, you need just the right amount to bring out the full flavour. We are the UK’s largest event technology specialist, we have vast experience and we’ve been doing this for a long time. Our technology specialists will guide you to choosing the perfect event technology to ignite a moment, to inspire a debate, to really bring out the flavour of your event.

So, you heard it here first, event technology is like mashed potato.

My Pride In The Connector

My name is Harry and I’m the equipment manager for Crystal Interactive Meetings. In 2005 when I started, the company was called IML and we pioneered the technology of electronic voting and brought digital interactivity to delegates.

I’m currently packing 5,500 of our Connector handsets that will be used at multiple meetings during a symposium in Copenhagen. The Connectors are stored in an intelligent dock that contains 50 handsets, the dock manages the charging and the deployment of settings to each handset such as client branding, speaker bios and power settings. Each dock lives in a bespoke flight case designed to stack and interlock with other cases during shipping.

Connectors Charging

To deploy these handsets, I turn on the Connector base station which broadcasts a bespoke and secure radio network. Thousands of handsets connect to the base station within seconds. Every handset is then ready to send votes, text messages or live delegate speech via the impressive line-level microphone.

This is a system that has been designed to function flawlessly in every aspect of its use and handling.

I have tools to monitor the battery level remotely on every single handset. I have a record of the total capacity and projected run time of the battery on every single handset. The team who designed these handsets have 25 years experience and have used every ounce of that know how to create a powerful, reliable and feature rich audience engagement device. I am proud to manage, maintain and deploy these unique devices to hundreds of events per year, they are like the swiss army knife of audience response.

Our clients come to us when they need to make good decisions, decisions that are too important for a handful of people to make. Our handset ensures every thought and opinion can be shared live or considered later using the data captured. Our clients come to us when it’s really important to get event technology right.

When I dig a hole I use a spade. Since I own a fat Labrador and my daughter plays the cello I drive a Volvo estate. When you want 100% of your audience to respond, use a Connector handset.

Innovative Fintech Pitch Engagement

At a recent Fintech investment seminar Crystal Interactive delivered an innovative and exciting new way to run pitches.

Our client wanted to make the seminar and pitch process competitive as well as exciting and fun. It also needed to support the trusted, collaborative environment of the programme. Developing the client concept Crystal provided technology to deliver the latest in innovative iPad bidding.

As part of a mentoring programme, Fintech entrepreneurs were invited to deliver their elevator pitches to senior IT executives from one of the world’s leading banks. The entrepreneurs tested out their propositions on these execs to find out if potential investors would believe they have what it takes to succeed.

At the Canary Wharf seminar, each table of execs was provided with an iPad and a branded interactive app running the Bid Now button. Each table was only allowed to ‘invest’ once during the eight pitches.

The eight Fintech entrepreneurs were each allowed two minutes to pitch. One minute into the pitch, the Bid Now button was enabled. At this point, the entrepreneur delivering the pitch is available to be ‘invested in’ by any of the table groups.

The table group that presses the Bid Now button first wins the company. And when that happens, the Bid Now button stops working so no other tables are able to bid. The winning investors table number is shown on the main screen and all the iPads. The winning table is then prevented from bidding on any subsequent pitches. This all happens instantly and in real time.

The delegates were hugely engaged in both the pitches and by the technology, the energy in the room was electric and the mood excited.

The client was delighted by the outcome saying,

“… it [Bid Now] really added another dimension to the evening and definitely gave it a truly unique feel.

It was a pleasure to work with Stephen and he was definitely a real asset on site.

We would certainly look to use Crystal again in the future as I was very impressed with the service you provided both before and during the event.” Joel Orme, Account Manager

No WiFi

Why Oh WiFi

I’m frequently asked “Will my (BYOD) event app work at my venue?”.

The easy answer is “yes” – in most venues your app will work. The difficult question to answer is “Will my delegates have a trouble free event app experience?” This is harder to answer because it depends on a combination of factors.

I want to highlight some of the issues by describing a difficult travel journey for a group of delegates returning home from an international event. At the end, I provide an essential checklist for anyone planning to use an app at their next event.

Venue WiFi

The journey home begins at the airport. The experience is poor because there aren’t enough check-in desks and there are other flights checking in at the same time. The check-in desks represent the wireless network at the venue as the delegates arrive which is also being shared with other people! Each check in desk represents a WiFi access point. Clearly there’s a capacity issue.

Connecting to WiFi

The next step in the journey is getting through customs. The delegates were exhausted and didn’t have their documents in order. They had a few suspicious items in their bags and didn’t know what to expect or do. In event app terms this happens when a delegate first attempts to access the event app on their own device. Barriers to connecting include complicated WiFi registration, unknown or complex Wifi passwords, restrictions on their devices such as Private Browsing, or simply that their device is old.

Venue Internet Connection

There was a beaten up bus to get the delegates, as well as other people (we knew nothing about) and all their luggage onto the the plane. The bus had to make several trips adding to delegates delay. The bus represents the capacity (bandwidth) of the connection between the venue WiFi and the internet. A bottleneck here caused by a lack of capacity leads to a slow app. Remember all those bags at check-in? That’s people streaming video and nothing to do with the event app! Unfortunately, the bus breaks down and as it is the weekend the mechanic is not at work.

The Internet

The flight is usually the best part of the journey but there can be delays and on rare occasions there are disasters. This is also true of the internet. Delays can be caused by poor internet capacity between countries, malicious activity or something else going wrong, for example the BT UK internet outage in January.

The Event App

So you’ve landed and want to get home. A friend has been asked to collect a group of delegates but he’s not showed up. They should’ve booked a taxi! The final part of the journey highlights the importance of the event app experience once you’ve travelled through the various networks. Just like the internet, apps can fail. In January, Twitter failed worldwide and both Google and Microsoft (Azure app hosting) went down in 2015, the latter causing me all sorts of problems.

Essential WiFi and Network Checklist

1. Ensure there are sufficient WiFi access points (aka “radios”) for all the delegates in all the areas that need to be covered. Pay particular attention to areas like registration, coffee, plenary and any breakouts where interaction is required.

2. Make the process of getting started with the app as simple as possible for the delegates. This includes getting onto the WiFi, having support available to help with device issues and having spare devices if all else fails.

3. The connection between the venue and the internet is a single point of failure. Make sure that you have technical support on hand to fix problems and check that there is sufficient bandwidth. A good guideline is 1 megabit per second (Mb/s) for every 10 delegates for low intensity app browsing. Check also whether the venue internet connection is shared between other guests.

4. Find out whether there’s any traffic management technology available that can prevent bandwidth hogs. It’s not just downloading video that can cause problems, take a look at the size of your app updates on your phone. A few days ago the updates on my phone would have taken 45 minutes to download on a 1 mb/s link. Imagine if all your delegates’ phones updated at the same time!

5. Check the local internet speed particularly if your event is abroad.

I’ve only really scratched the surface here. Do drop me a line if you’d like to discuss your specific event. We work hard to ensure that technology enhances engagement and the delegate experience.

Quiz Master

Quiz Masters

STOP PRESS: Crystal makes you the Quiz Master at your next event – let our iPad event technology keep score.

Make your event even more memorable with a quiz. A quiz helps you engage, inform and entertain your guests and delegates. Quizzes are brilliant for testing knowledge, reinforcing key messages and having some competitive fun. Over the years, we’ve run technology supported quizzes many corporate and charity event organisers.

Crystal Interactive’s leading conference app now comes complete with full quiz and scoring capabilities. Run your quiz with many more choices than with traditional quiz methods. Don’t worry about marking, our quiz engine manages everything from different question types, scoring and leaderboards at the touch of a button. Our operator will be on site to ensure you and your guests have a smooth running quiz and any last minute changes or additions are implemented.

Crystal Quiz on iPad

At a recent London event, we supported an evening charity gala dinner where the quiz was the main activity. The 400 or so guests sat at 40 tables, and each table worked together as a table team – each team personalised their experience with their own team name. From the stage, the quiz master presented each question with PowerPoint support on the main screen (usually showing the question and choices, but sometimes the additional multimedia elements such as pictures, video and/ or audio playback). There was a tremendous buzz and excitement in the room throughout.

The Crystal Quiz presented the question and choices on each team’s iPad mini. The teams selected their answer or answers and submitted their response, our quiz engine automatically marked the quiz and updated the leaderboards.

The 72 question quiz was formatted into 6 rounds, with short breaks after each round in order to replenish drinks and review answers and the reveal the current round winner and overall winner. The total points possible to score during this quiz were 95. The winning team achieved a total of 70 points. A guest said,

“We loved using the iPads and quiz app, it made the night even more special and fun.”

How the great Crystal Quiz works

Play with teams or individuals: one iPad mini per team or individual.

Up to 6 rounds with up to 12 questions per round.

Multiple choice question types: select one, select two, select three, true or false.

Variable automatic scoring: 1 point per right answer, 2 points per right answer and even accommodating variable scoring for fringe answers.

Leaderboards: after each round and cumulative Leaderboard.

The Crystal Quiz works live in room or virtually online. No need for PowerPoint or mainscreen, put the entire question and choices on the iPad screen.

iOS 8

iOS 8 And Interactive Events

Apple’s annual release of it’s mobile operating system, the software which powers the iPad and iPhone, always presents us with new and exciting opportunities. The launch of iOS 8 is no different.

In this post, I explain what the introduction of iOS 8 means for Crystal and the delegates using our conference app.

Apple have completely overhauled their old apps and launched new native apps. The redesign offers a new flat look to improve the overall user experience. So let’s take a look at how these new features will benefit our delegates.

Tighter integration with Wearables – the Apple Watch and other wearable devices will integrate perfectly with iOS 8. The adoption of wearable technology is a hot topic for 2015 as the technology improves and becomes more accepted.

Continuity – connect and sync up your data and content across multiple Apple devices in real time. Creativity is not constrained to a device, update your content wherever you like.

More effective iBeacons* – beacons offer real time positioning indoors which will enable information delivered to your device relevant to where you are and who you are near to. Find out more about iBeacons here.

There’s tonnes of stuff under the iOS 8 bonnet that has really whet the appetite of the tech experts at Crystal including:

Battery Usage Indicator will definitely help the onsite team monitor power usage to ensure the tech lasts a long show day!

Quicktype makes a considerable attempt at predicting contextuality more accurately. People needn’t fear for your Grandma.

Another feature that caught my eye is the Health app which promises to game us into improving health & fitness. Apple are also attempting to crack mobile payments with Apple Pay.

With every new iOS release, there’s always reports of a few teething troubles. Crystal devices are only updated when we can ensure the operating system is stable and able to run our apps.

Find out more about interactive event apps and technology, please contact Mark Robertson in sales on 020 3176 2000 or by email

* Research conducted by inMarket concluded app usage increases 16.5 times for users who receive notifications triggered by nearby beacons, if that’s not a reason for your clients to embrace the technology, I’m not sure what is!

Google Glass

Google Glass Is Not For Glassholes

Google Glass is a bold attempt to embrace wearable technology.

It’s the result of an ambitious, but not original, idea from Project X.

With wearable technology comes concerns about privacy, copyright, intellectual property and social norms.

Developing social conventions while wearing Glass (never Glasses) has already led to some over enthusiastic early adopters being labelled Glassholes.

Google Glass Hype

There’s a lot of interest in Google Glass from the event industry. The hype is undeniable but does Glass live up to expectations? And how will it impact events? I took the chance to experience Glass at a recent Guardian Masterclass.

Glass is voice and head movement activated with the odd button press. It’s good for taking photos and video and making simple voice activated searches. Since Glass is hands free and the image is equivalent to an excellent 27″ flat screen, the potential for Augmented Reality becoming useful is huge.

However, the current hardware and software performance is limited. The battery is weak with only an hours use on a single charge. At the moment, Glass won’t help you tackle messages, email, make a call or create content.

But many disruptive technologies, from the first printing press to the web itself, suffered from significant early weaknesses.

Wearable technology is still in nappies. (Seriously, don’t bet against smart diapers.)

Event Glass

How will Google Glass impact events?

1. Facilitator Glass – Glass Head Up Display is the perfect tool to provide feedback to a facilitator or table host. Glass will provide timely audience feedback, content and information. Augmented Reality with facial recognition will identify delegates showing their name and biog along with what they have asked, shared, liked or are interested in. Event journal C&IT Magazine has covered the potential for Glass to ’empower moderators’.

2. Participant Glass – until the technical limitations of battery life are resolved, I don’t think the delegate experience will be much affected beyond eye catching gimmick.

Longer term, consider the impact on the delegate of a combination of voice activation, augmented reality, facial recognition, indoor location positioning and social media built in to a Glass-like device. There is incredible potential for wearable tech like Glass to transform the delegate experience even further than the iPad.

3. Live Streaming – delegates participating in table activities, breakouts, discussions, Q&As, interviews and will be live streamed to main screen by the Glass camera. Any activity can be streamed or recorded for plenary playback or posterity. Glass will make film directors of all event attendees, enabling delegate generated content.

4. Registration Glass – with the power of facial recognition, welcome desk hosts will use Glass to banish registration queues.

Embrace Wearables

One day, we will all wear technology. Just don’t be a Glasshole!

Read more about Glass at Google and at Wikipedia.

Disruptive Technology

Disruptive Technology That Shaped Crystal

Disruptive technology is a game changer.

Disrupting the status quo offers massive performance improvements, huge cost reductions, or unique new capabilities that traditional approaches simply cannot compete with. Like snakes and ladders, disruptive technology can accelerate your progress or set you back a few squares.

In the first of a two part blog, I recall how Crystal have embraced and adapted to disruptive technology innovations over the past 15 years.

Disruptive Facilitation

Crystal was founded by facilitators with a passion to make the meeting experience more engaging. They were inspired by revolutionary software that allowed meeting attendees to brainstorm ideas, theme, discuss and vote anonymously using networked computers, all in real time.

The desire was to overcome “Death By PowerPoint” at events by changing them from monologues into engaging conversations. This seems pretty obvious today.

Boardroom Meeting

A board meeting with early collaborative technology

Our earliest meetings used laptops running Windows 3.1 connected to a wired network and were limited to meetings with fewer than 30 laptops.

Vadem Clios and WiFi

30 laptops became 30 tables cabaret style for conferences. Have you ever tried cabling 30 temporary conference tables? It’s difficult, error fraught work, it takes a long time and a lot of gaffer tape.

Cabaret Style

A conference with laptops and a wired network

Fortunately, what we now know as WiFi arrived. Wireless networking then required expensive PC Card additions and offered comparatively slow speeds. WiFi was breakthrough technology which removed the pain of networking conference tables together.

Another breakthrough was the launch of a device called the Vadem Clio in 1999. The Clio was a touch screen mini laptop running Windows CE offering instant on. At that time, touch screens were a novelty but for delegates it meant greater ease of use.

The Clio was also lightweight with a battery of considerable stamina. It’s effective 3 hour battery life was just enough to keep them going between breaks before swapping them for another charged set. That’s three swaps a day but no more table to table cabling. 1,000 person conferences with 100+ devices were now a reality.

Electronic Meetings with Vadem Clios

A conference with wireless Vadem Clios running collaborative meeting software

For it’s time, the Clio was the ideal conference companion and, incredibly, still in use right up to 2011.

Portable Power

With business people demanding all day power for their devices, external batteries became available. The triple swap of charged Clios finally became a memory once I uncovered an external battery, on sale in the USA, with the power to charge a Clio for half a day. We found that swapping batteries over was quicker and simpler than swapping the laptops, the shipping charges reduced as well.

The introduction of the external battery doubled our capacity to support events overnight.

Netbooks, Remember Them?

We do. We spent many years looking for the perfect replacement for the venerable but ageing Clio.

Samsung NB30 Netbook

The short-lived Samsung Netbook

Netbooks arrived offering cheap performance, sometimes with a touch screen. Netbooks appeared to be the new disruptive technology.

We flirted with Samsung NB30s but they didn’t offer the breakthrough in performance we needed. The battery was limited, the OS needed time to boot up and the touch screen performance was poor. Overall, the experience did not improve enough from the Clio and, in some respects, it got worse.

The Breakthrough Tablet – iPad

iPad Event Technology

An iPad mini with custom Event App, the latest collaborative Event Technology

I distinctly remember seeing senior staff turn up at conferences with their stylish personal iPads. They looked so pleased with themselves!

I think that senior staff are the catalyst for the rise of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon.

iPads have caught on big time and, almost overnight, revolutionised event technology possibilities. The beautifully crafted Apple tablet with responsive touch screen, intuitive and stable OS, the stamina of an all day battery, effortless connectivity and an app store meant every event worth attending was now planning to use iPads as a tool for engagement.

Arguably, the iPad is the most disruptive technology we have embraced.

We ditched our netbooks and Clios for what is the largest fleet of event iPad minis anywhere in captivity.

Next Time: Disruptive Software

Desirable iPads are nothing without desirable apps and Crystal didn’t have any yet. In the second part of my blog I take a look at how Disruptive Software combined with iPads has lead to Event Apps.

I also take a peek into my Crystal ball…

Event Technology

5 More Reasons Our Event Technology Is The Best (Part 2)

In the second part of my two part post, I identify another 5 key reasons why Crystal Event Technology is the best available for event owners and their delegates.

In this post, I focus mainly on our engineering and server performance and scalability.

1. Continuous Improvement

We strive to offer our clients the latest and greatest new Event Technology features.

So when we find a feature or process that really works at an event we package it and include it as a module or enhancement in the next release.

We aim to do major releases every 4 weeks, but in the fast paced world of events, it’s been known to be every 2 weeks!

2. Capacity for 30+ online events and 30+ local servers at the same time

Our Event Apps run on our own online and offline servers, supported directly by our team of engineers. And just in case of any problems, we have their mobile numbers on speed dial!

3. Apps hosted all year round and inside our clients’ networks

An Event App is not just for the event.

A growing trend is for our clients’ apps to be hosted all year round. Our Deploy Anywhere Event Technology allows us to support private apps hosted within our customers organisations and behind external firewalls allowing the highest security and governance of our clients’ data.

4. Our Event Technology Servers are Virtual Event Appliances (VEAPs)

Every Event App needs a server that acts as a hub for all of the connected devices to exchange data and content.

Each Crystal event is created as a virtual appliance meaning that the event app server is completely dedicated to the client and event. The key advantage of the Virtual Event Appliance (VEAP) is that an Event App is built on our very latest, pre-tested environment.

The benefits of this approach are that we can reliably construct amazing, high performance Event Apps that are secure and keep all data private to that client.

5. Reliable deployment of changes right up to the event

Virtual Event Appliances (VEAPs) allow us to host an Event App online and then transfer the entire Event App efficiently and reliably to a local server for the actual event. This is one of the reasons why Crystal are best placed to accommodate client reviews and change requests right up to the event itself.

Use The Best

To find out more about our scalable, robust and best ever Event App technology please get in touch with me on 020 3176 2000 or drop me a line by email.

Read Part 1 of my blog post here.

Crystal Event App Technology - Conference App

5 Reasons Crystal Event App Technology Is The Best (Part 1)

It’s easy to spot the great interface design and powerful features in our Event Apps but there’s also a lot of clever technology under the bonnet. In the first of a two part post, I explain some of the key reasons why Crystal Event App Technology is best in breed.

1. Designed for Vote Now

Over the years we have found that one of the biggest challenges for interactive software is handling the Vote Now scenario where hundreds of people all push the Submit button at once.

Our Event App Technology has been designed from the ground up to handle Vote Now scenarios for several thousand devices.

2. Great Team of Engineers

Apart from our excellent graphic designers and app developers we have a team of 5 highly skilled software engineers working on the core technology constantly improving Crystal Event App features, performance and security.

3. Enterprise Security

Unnecessary security can often be at odds with a great delegate experience and not all events require it. But security isn’t an afterthought for us.

Our Event App Technology is built to enterprise security standards and has been designed to conform to the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) 2013 standard for unauthenticated web threats, plus we offer a multitude of options that determine how users securely authenticate through the login process.

4. High Performance Event App Technology

Our apps push the design and performance limits of our iPads and network and are built using the same real-time communication technology proven by Facebook and Twitter.

Unfortunately real world public and mobile networks, firewall filters, plus a zoo of legacy smart phones and desktop browsers conspire to break apps (and not just ours). That’s why we like to use our own kit wherever possible.

Fortunately for Bring Your Own Device events and tricky network conditions we can quickly tune the app to ensure that all the features keep working at the optimum performance for the environment.

5. Works Offline

It can be difficult and costly to network large spaces reliably so we have developed an offline capability that allows our web apps to operate in areas where there is no WiFi coverage. This allows us, for example, to capture surveys and feedback when offline then synchronising the inputs when the delegates return online (usually in plenary).

Use the Best

We work hard to ensure that our Event App Technology provided to our clients is the best as well as tried and tested. You can trust us to make sure you and your delegates have an amazing Event App experience.

Read Part 2 of my blog post here.