Meetings that focus on technology education are "the most difficult meetings to produce," says William J. Myers, CAE, CMP, and COO of the Professional Convention Management Association in Birmingham, Ala. As a member of the team that plans METCON (Meetings & Exhibitions Technology Conference), the two-year-old meeting jointly presented by PCMA and the Washington, D.C.-based American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), Myers has had an up-close look at those difficulties.
The main reason tech meetings are tough to produce is the expense, Myers says. "You show technology; you have to use technology." Sounds obvious, but planners need to budget for rising costs. "My AV budget has tripled in the last two years," says another METCON team member, Gary A. LaBranche, CAE, CMC, vice president, education and convention services, ASAE.
Planners also need to be extra vigilant when checking facilities' technological capabilities, stresses LaBranche. That means first assessing the sales staff's expertise--which can be deceptive. He notes an improvement in the last 18 to 24 months in salespeople's understanding of the capabilities of their properties. "However, it is an uneven playing field at best," he says. "Some salespeople are very knowledgeable; others pretend to be knowledgeable, while others don't have a clue."
To prevent surprises, LaBranche suggests that planners ask lots of questions. "If [a rep] says, 'Sure, we can do T-1 lines,' don't take it at face value." Ask who the service provider is, then follow up. Always have backup systems in place, adds Myers, who recalls a general session where the speaker's only computer went down. "We now suggest [speakers] bring two computers, just like you always have an extra bulb for an overhead projector."
The complexities of technology meet- ings not only mean higher costs, but they also take more time and expertise to plan, says Myers. "Meeting managers involved in producing technology offerings have to become fairly conversant with technology themselves."