I Set Up a Site First of all, I have created a Web site, bellwether group.com, where potential clients can enter their upcoming meeting requirements. Companies can do this either on the Internet or--even better--on their own intranets.
At the Bellwether site, I've set up several fields to gather information such as meeting dates, number of sleeping rooms, expected attendance, amount of meeting space, usual audiovisual setups needed, and the like. I've also included a field for additional details.
So let's consider the global sales strategy meeting of Sticky Wickets, Inc., a hypothetical company based in England. Its vice president of sales visits my Web page and fills out his meeting specifications. He also sends me an e-mail explaining that the company has several holdings in the U.S. and wants a location near its largest manufacturing plant, in Tennessee. With this information, I can go to work immediately.
I Start My Search In the old days (a mere six months ago!), I would have to wade through a huge directory of facilities to research a new area for possible meeting sites. Today, with Web sites like www.meetingsnet.com, www.all-hotels. com/, www.traveler.net/htio, eventsource. com, and the seemingly endless number of convention and visitor bureau (CVB) Web sites, finding information on hotels and destinations is much more streamlined and efficient.
For the Sticky Wickets sales meeting, I surfed to the Site Select database, which is part of www.meetingsnet.com (the Web site of Adams/Laux Publishing, publisher of Corporate Meetings & Incentives), where I entered "Nashville" in the city field and clicked on "hotel." (This site and others allow you to narrow the search much more than I did. You can ask for a conference center of 100 rooms with tennis and golf in the U.S., for example, or you can search for all those same property specs but only in Cleveland.) For our hypothetical meeting, I wanted all possible Nashville hotels. A dozen matches instantly appeared after I clicked the search button.
As it happened, all of the hotels listed had Web sites linked to the Site Select database. I could click on any one of them and be transported to the site, where all my facility questions would be answered.
However, I also happened to have a CD-ROM from ITT Sheraton. Taking note that the Sheraton Music City Hotel, one of the Nashville hotels that came up in my search, had "hot dates" in late July, I chose to pop in the CD-ROM to access specs and visuals. I found that the hotel would suit the VP's needs.
Once you've found the right hotel, you can surf the Web to find out whether or not other companies that have used your hotel were satisfied with the service. Sites such as The Meeting Guide, at www.mma web.com, and MPINet, a CompuServe subscriber service, have electronic forums where meeting executives can network electronically.
I Negotiate Digitally During this stage of the meeting-planning process, you will have to talk to a "live attendant" (the buzz phrase for a real person). Someday soon, video phone calls between you and your suppliers will allow you to see each other's facial expressions while you negotiate.
During the meeting I was facilitating, the sales manager and I were able to correspond via e-mail on several points of the proposal andin question. We were able to adjust the cut-off date, because the meeting was only four weeks away; we negotiated an extended group rate for the European travelers who wanted to visit the Grand Ole Opry or other sites; and we were able to lower the airport transfer charges, since the hotel provided this service with its own buses. All this without any paper changing hands or fax machines endlessly tied up.
I Make Time and DistanceWork for Me Sticky Wickets is based in the U.K., six hours ahead of us in the Central Time zone. That time difference and the cost of long-distance telephone calls in the past created a cumbersome communication flow.
With e-mail, time is irrelevant. And as for phone bills, I've cut those costs by using the chat room we created when we launched our Web site.
In this case, I e-mailed Sticky Wickets with a rendezvous time. We met in the chat room to go through questions and answers, contract updates, and additional meeting requirements of the group. My client asked if I knew of a humorous keynote speaker who was well versed in European culture. To find one, I searched several speaker-related Web sites: The Professional Speaker's List at www.swiftsite.com/retail _specialist/speakerlist.html; The Greater Talent Network, at www.greatertalent. com; and the National Speakers Association, at www.nsaspeaker.org.
I Link the Attendees The attendees for this meeting were scattered all over Europe and the U.S. We decided that the best way to provide them with meeting information was via the Web. With all of the Web-authoring software packages available, creating a Web site has become almost as easy as typing a letter.
In this case, I used Microsoft Publisher 97 to create the site and then "hung it" (the techie's term for placing a site on the Web) as a subsite of my company's site. The address looked something like bell wethergroup.com/wicketsmtg.
As soon as all the meeting arrangements had been finalized, we sent an e-mail to the attendees asking them to visit the Web site, which included the location and dates of the meeting, a schedule of events, optional activities, a map to the property, important phone numbers, and a link to the local CVB.
We also requested that they make their hotel reservations through the Web site. For this function, there are emerging software packages available that allow a planner to receive the housing information via the Web and then transfer it to the hotel electronically. The system is being tested right now by a few major hotel chains.
In the Future The technology I used to plan this event is only the tip of the iceberg. Virtual site visits are already a cost-cutting tool for planners. Rooming list management will become much more streamlined with emerging technologies. And when the transmission of video and voice over the Internet becomes commonplace, meetings can take place electronically with participants from around the world. There are many exciting developments on the horizon. Stay tuned--and wired!*