In part one of a two-part article, tech guru Doug Fox analyzes five of the top ten technology trends affecting meetings and trade shows.
* Meetings Still the Ultimate Chat Room 1. Meetings are not yet under complete attack from the Internet or any other technology, yet there are countless ways that people can bypass face-to-face meetings. We are all familiar with them: Web-based meetings, instant messaging, chat rooms, videoconferencing, and other related tools continue to grow in popularity. But no technology can serve as a complete substitute for the networking, camaraderie, and interaction that takes place at group gatherings. The important question to consider is not whether people will participate in meetings, but what changes will take place in how participants evaluate the types of meetings they do attend:
- Since Internet users have quick and ready access to information and contacts, there will be a tendency to attend more local and regional meetings and fewer national and international meetings. Why travel long distances when you are a mouse click away from many of the resources that you need?
- Many companies will continue to constrain the growth in their travel budgets both to reduce expenditures and in reaction to their belief that many forms of communication can successfully take place online. For example, some companies are eliminating product road shows and opting for Web-based sales seminars instead.
- Web-based training programs will improve in quality in the coming year, which will motivate many companies to have their employees take introductory courses online and more advanced classes in a face-to-face setting.
* Meetings Get Interactive and Chaotic 2. The hallmarks of meetings in the Internet age are collaboration, interaction, and participation. It simply will become impossible to create meetings of any type that do not completely engage participants in the proceedings.
Just consider how the Internet is used today. E-mail is the most popular application and there are a range of community tools, including product review sites, opinion surveys, and discussion lists that allow all users to share their thoughts and reactions. Even more important, consider online presentation tools. With just about any of these slide show applications, any meeting participant can take over the slide controls at any time and lead the meeting. It is very difficult for people to have incredible freedom online and then enter a meeting room and become passive robots shackled to a chair.
To respond to this changing mind-set, meetings will be designed in a looser, less structured manner so that participants can play a greater role in determining the design, structure, and focus of each gathering.
* Technology Costs Go Down 3. On the budget side, the cost of renting computers and establishing high-speed Internet connections on site will go down. Renting lots of computers, loading them up with software, and ordering T1 or faster connections can be an expensive proposition. Plus, there are some glaring incongruities today. You can get T1 access in a hotel guest room for $10 a day, and then pay $500 for the same Internet access in a meeting room.
The good news is that, starting this year, a number of helpful developments will take place. First, dedicated Internet appliances will make it a snap to either purchase inexpensive, stripped-down computers for the purpose of delivering on-site Internet access, or you can rent these same machines at a very low cost. In addition, more attendees than ever will be traveling with super-lightweight notebooks, so you won't even have to provide any type of computer equipment for them. And, as many users start taking advantage of faster wireless Internet access, you won't have to provide as many network connections to the Web.
Next, the growth in broadband wireless Internet connectivity options will mean that hotels will charge less for their high-speed Internet access. Venues will simply face more competition.
* Bluetooth Devices Increase in Popularity 4. Bluetooth is an emerging standard for the wireless exchange of data among different types of devices that are within close proximity. By many estimates, Bluetooth-enabled gadgets will become popular next year. For example, you will be able to print a document stored in your hand-held computer on a nearby printer without having to use any cables.
The broad acceptance of Bluetooth is important to the meetings industry. Participants at events are very mobile and interact with a range of people during educational programs, networking sessions, and on thefloor. In other words, attendees have an extensive need to share information with others via a range of devices such as cell phones, PDAs (personal digital assistant), computers, projectors, printers, lead-retrieval systems, and other tools.
As more vendors add Bluetooth connectivity options to different types of devices, it will become significantly easier for all attendees to share information. Here is an example: You are sitting in a seminar. You have a PowerPoint presentation stored on your PDA. With the proper Bluetooth-enabled devices, you will be able to transmit each slide via a wireless connection to the data projector and instantly display the images for all to see.
* Haphazard-Free Trade Shows 5. Many buyers do come to trade shows with an organized game plan regarding which exhibitors they intend to meet during a show. But, in essence, trade shows represent a fairly haphazard environment. There are hundreds - or thousands - of random interactions that take place throughout the life of a one- or multiple-day event. There is nothing wrong with these random or accidental interactions, it's just that some shows would be more efficient if each person had sufficient time to meet with exactly the right people while at an event.
The Internet already serves as a worthwhile enhancement for taming some of the unpredictability of shows through what are called personal scheduling tools. By using these online applications, attendees can determine before an event how they can best spend their time on site. Most of these applications allow users to create a schedule of exhibitors they want to meet during the show.
In the end, however, scheduling tools don't address the random, inefficient nature of some trade shows. While buyers can schedule their time on site, it does not mean that they will be able to spend a suitable amount of time with the right people once they get there.
In 2001, there will be movement toward creating a more organized series of encounters on site. Instead of personalized scheduling tools that help attendees figure out who they want to meet, we will see a move toward one-on-one scheduling tools that will allow buyers and sellers, developers and partners, and manufacturers and suppliers to schedule private meetings on site.
To accommodate these meetings, the traditional trade show environment will be converted into a series of small, private meeting spaces where these one-on-one meetings can take place.