With more than 20 years of experience as a corporate event manager, Ed Simeone, CMP, Meeting Professionals International's 1999-2000 chairman of the board, has a broad perspective on the meeting industry. He's also accustomed to change, having recently taken a new position as executive producer of meetings and events for Fusion Productions, based in Webster, N.Y., and having become a telecommuter. ICP Executive Editor Regina Baraban caught up with him in New York, while he was on the road for MPI.

ICP: How has the meeting executive's job changed over the past decade?

ES: Managing meetings isn't just about logistics anymore, it's about strategic planning. We have to consider things like learning theories, meeting ROI, how to bring an event to new creative levels. The environment has become very competitive, and we have to ask ourselves what educational techniques we can use when communicating to attendees who are being entertained by so many other things.

We have to understand how people learn best. Do we plant a speaker on a podium and have him or her talk to the audience assembled in theater seating? Do we create a case-study discussion that demands audience interaction? We also need to recognize that people need to spend less time at meetings but accomplish more.

ICP: How is technology changing meeting planning?

ES: First, it's providing tools to cut down planning time and make the whole process more efficient. Software and Web-based applications for online housing, online RFPs, budget planning, flight reservations, etc., will all become the norm. It's difficult to predict when this will happen, but I think that within the next five years we're going to see far more meeting managers working online. Second, we're learning to integrate technology into the meeting itself to reach our objectives. When people can't attend in person, we can bring the meeting to them. And videoconferencing can give us access to bigger and better speakers.

ICP: Why aren't existing technological innovations being more widely used by meeting managers?

ES: There's still a lot of technophobia. Even at some technology companies, there are executives who refuse to communicate electronically. And technology has moved faster than the meeting manager's ability to use it. We can't keep up, because we're inundated with work. I was sent a copy of PlanSoft six months ago, but haven't yet had time to invest in learning how it works.

ICP: What changes do you see in incentive meetings?

ES: What's changed are the audiences. Baby boomers like me are still interested in traditional incentive destinations and all-inclusive resorts. But Generation Xers are looking for something bigger, better, and different. They need to start having an experience from the minute they walk out the door. The biggest challenge is to figure out how to give the incentive attendee something unexpected. The competition is fierce. You have to come up with something different from what everyone else is doing.

ICP: Describe the meeting manager of the year 2000.

ES: A meeting manager who knows how to create experiences that are bigger and better than the competition, a marketing specialist with an expertise in communications, and a strategic problem-solver.

This means being able to recommend different courses of action as opposed to just knowing how to hold a face-to-face event. It requires knowledge of learning theories and nonverbal communication. So many of our challenges are not about logistics, but about communication. Will attendees be better persuaded by a logical speaker, an emotional appeal, or a famous person? In fact, meeting management should be placed within corporate communications departments, along with advertising, direct mail, and public relations, because all of these tools are part of the meeting management function.