Dell World's App Puts Control Of Conferences In Audiences' Hands

The best part of any conference usually takes place in the halls—where you can network, of course, but also where you can find the answers you were looking for and have the kind of conversations you wanted when you came to the conference in the first place.

A new app that Dell is pioneering at its first-ever Dell World conference this week will attempt to simulate that experience at least somewhat and, say Dell executives, vastly improve the overall conference experience.

Most conference apps are just digital versions of the paper program. But Dell will use the app, created by Austin-based RED Method, to solicit real-time feedback from conference attendees and use that feedback to re-jigger programs on the fly so they do a better job of hitting the points the audience is interested in most hearing about.

One of the most interesting features of the app, which is sponsored by Windows 7 and will be available on Android devices, iPhones, Windows 7 phones, and BlackBerrys, is a virtual joystick (pictured, right) that attendees can use to rate how interested they are in the things a particular speaker is talking about at the time they're speaking about them.

Matt Walton, CEO of RED Method, which builds mobile apps for large enterprise companies, tells Fast Company that conference organizers can then use that feedback to fine-tune later sessions and ensure they focus on attendees’ particular areas of interest.

"The audience is now controlling and changing the conference in real-time, based on their feedback," he says.

The app also includes a survey feature, that speakers can use to pre-program questions to ask the audience at certain times during their talks. For example, a speaker could use a survey to gauge their audience's familiarity with a certain topic, or to decide whether to dive deeper into a particular subject or move on to another one.

"Dell has always been about that direct conversation with customers," Rishi Dave, Dell’s executive director of online marketing for public and large enterprise business units, tells Fast Company. "This is the logical next step."

The app includes other features that will help Dell improve future products and marketing materials. For example, attendees can tweet directly from within the app. By capturing that feedback (anonymously) and correlating it with the tweeter's segment profile (IT directors vs. CFOs, for example), Dell will be able to see what issues its various customer segments care about and what they think of various products—becoming a kind of real-time, social-media-enabled focus group.

Similarly, the app integrates with QR codes that allow attendees to check in at over 300 points around the conference, like official sessions and exhibit booths. The QR codes will provide attendees with more information. But tracking who checked in where will give Dell’s marketing staff a sense of what parts of the conference appealed to which segments.

Other features include virtual business cards that attendees can exchange via scanning QR codes on each other’s phones; a Concierge feature that lets you get help directly from a Dell World staffer; and real-time event notifications.

While the Dell conference was the impetus for creating the app, Walton says the app itself belongs to RED Method and will be rolled out to other customers for use at other conferences.

[Images: Flickr user smitty42, RED Method]

E.B. Boyd is FastCompany.com's Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter | Google+ | Email

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