Ed Simeone, CMP, is Meeting Professionals International's 1999-2000 chairman of the board. In September, after more than 20 years of experience in corporate event management (most recently at EMC Corporation, a computerized storage manufacturer in Hopkinton, Mass.), he accepted a new position as executive producer of meetings and events for Fusion Productions LLC--and became a telecommuter. Who better to ask about the changing role of meeting executives in the new millennium? We caught up with him in New York, while he was on the road for MPI.

Q: Does today's meeting executive have a different job than he or she did 20 years ago?

A: Absolutely. 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 also should recognize that people need to spend less time at meetings but accomplish more.

Q: What about the impact of globalization?

A: We have to develop a new level of sensitivity and an understanding of how business is done in different parts of the world long before we get to the details of planning an international meeting. The first time I did a meeting in Japan, I took a course on the meaning of silence in Japanese culture.

Q: How is technology changing the way meeting planners will do business in the new millennium?

A: 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. Second, we're learning to integrate technology into the meeting itself to obtain our objectives. When people can't attend conferences in person, we can bring the meeting to them through distance learning. Satellite or videoconferencing gives us access to bigger and better speakers. Technology gives us techniques to communicate with people.

Q: What's the biggest obstacle to using technology?

A: There's still a lot of technophobia. Even at technology companies like EMC, 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.

Q: What changes do you foresee for meetings?

A: People pay money to attend association meetings, and they expect a return on their investment. Meeting managers have to make sure that the association meeting gives people what they want, but this can be challenging.

I'm dealing right now with a conservative medical association that has always relied on overhead projectors and theater-style seating for very clinical presentations. We know that we can enhance the meeting by using the Web and alternative learning techniques, but these doctors are afraid of technology. They need to integrate computer education as well as medical education into their programming.

Q: Will Web-based medical meetings become more popular?

A: In some instances. Medical meetings often have to take place over the weekend because physicians can't take time away from their practices during the week. But how long will they want to spend weekends away from their families? In this case, Web-based continuing education makes a lot of sense.

Q: How would you summarize the role of the meeting planner in 2000 and beyond?

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