Friday, August 13, 2010

The Evolution of Meetings

A few months ago I was sorting through some old files that I had stuffed away from when I was a Marketing Director for a large Insurance firm. I used to do a great deal of public speaking on the subject of changing demographics and how we need to tailor our message to market to various audiences. I stumbled across a print out of an old email that referenced an article dated April 1998. In the email it stated that “internet commerce should top $300 billion by 2002”. This got me thinking…..what did Internet Commerce actually reach in 2002? Well I googled around for a bit and finally uncovered that it actually hit 2.929 TRILLION (and in 2009 it was over six trillion). I also looked into internet numbers while I was at it and surprisingly found that internet devices were around 1,000 in number in 1984 and moved to 1 million in 1992 and then to one billion in 2008. What does all of this mean? It means that the only thing about our changing world we can predict is that the RATE of change is moving at parabolic speed!

Asked to address the role of meetings in today’s environment, I gave some thought to where we have been and where we are headed. Remember the days of registering for a conference by mail or maybe even fax? Remember overhead projectors and transparencies? Your worst technology nightmare was to have a light bulb burn out during your presentation rendering your slides useless. Then we graduated to the overhead LCD projector that sat on top of the overhead so you could show your computer screen on the stand up screen at the front of the room. Then the handouts for the session, usually in a big bulky 3-ring binder which had to be shipped out in advance, or worse yet, photocopied and assembled on-site at the business center. This not only ate up staff time but was expensive to produce. Ok, so I am dating myself here, but really, that was not very long ago!

Now let’s talk about today. We have flash drives, small data projectors that can hook wirelessly to laptops, virtual meeting technology, online registration and electronic meeting materials. We are also on the brink of combined or stand-alone virtual meetings and teleconferences. The latest technology is the hologram meeting. You are literally face-to-face with your counterparts while they conference in from another part of the world. To get a look at the newest advances in meeting technology you need only search for “Hologram Meetings” on YouTube. It reminds me a bit of a corporate episode of Star Trek… beam me up Scotty! But those sci-fi fantasies are becoming a very real reality. Hemisphere Expo Services predicts 49,000 telepresence suites will be in use by 2014 and full hologram suites will follow closely behind. Bank of America is investing tens of millions in this type of technology and they fully expect to realize the economic benefit in less than 18 months. Starwood is also making big investments in the Cisco technology. The technology is quite expensive now but as larger firms start to employ them, you can count on costs going down and further adoption taking place.

So, what does all of this mean for the meetings world? While nothing can quite replace the face-to-face meeting, I do expect more hybrids of teleconferences, virtual and holographic meetings are likely to emerge. This technology wave in the meeting arena will allow companies, in the long run, to be more efficient and effective. Most important though is the need to stay relevant. Companies who ignore these new technologies and stick with only traditional meetings will be left behind. Traditional meetings will (and should) always be a part of how businesses run but the face of meetings is certainly changing. Businesses and meetings planners will have to work together to navigate this brave new technological world or all will be left in the dust.

Resources you may want to explore:, (meeting deliver),, ,,

- Sandi Daniel, President and CEO, FIRE Light Group