The go-go dot-com era produced a glut of hype about the potential of new technologies to redefine the meetings industry, but amid all that chaff are kernels of genuine value that, in the wake of September 11, seem particularly important.

Videoconferencing, teleconferencing, webcasting, and online events suddenly look much more appealing to a wide range of meeting organizers and attendees. The declining economy was already forcing companies to look for travel and meeting alternatives, says Jim Lewendowski, vice president of business and enterprise services at Yahoo! Broadcast in Dallas. But since September 11, he has seen a “noticeable upsurge” in business inquiries about the company's virtual meetings products.

Chris Reed, vice president of corporate strategy for Centra Software, Lexington, Mass., says his company has seen a 20 percent increase in customer inquiries about services, such as their Blended E-Learning Conference, since the attacks, and the inquiries show a much greater level of interest and seriousness. One potential customer told Reed, “Your technology has just gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have.”

Mark Altenberg, product manager of San Jose, Calif.-based WebEx, says his customers are working far more diligently with WebEx personnel to understand the nuances of online meetings, to surmount the learning curve, and to integrate the technology into their standard communications process. Altenberg says, however, that WebEx is not necessarily forecasting a permanent increase in online meetings, but it is focused on gearing up to meet the sudden increase in demand.