At Electro-Media Design, we study presentation technologies from the perspective of meeting planners, attendees, and presenters. We have led workshops and focus groups on the use of presentation technologies in our quest to anticipate and accommodate the technology and infrastructure needs in corporate boardrooms, classrooms, courtrooms, hotels, and conference centers. The discussions reveal several trends.

Low-Tech Spontaneity. The need for low-tech tools such as flip charts, white boards, and overhead projectors continues to be strong across all types of venues. These basic tools are still used by 75 percent of all meetings, even if only to back up a higher-tech approach. Many trainers and presenters (myself included) want the ability to respond spontaneously to a group's needs and interests by using flip charts and white boards to collect sketches, "parking lot" issues, questions, and so on as the session progresses.

Jack Be Nimble, Jack Be Quick. Another trend we see across all facilities, large and small, is that attendees have a very high need to connect laptop computers to the Internet, both in guest rooms and public areas. Power outlets and data jacks placed in easily accessible locations are greatly appreciated. This need will only become greater in the future.

High-Tech for Two-Way Talking. The distinction between collaborative-style meetings and presentation-style meetings is another trend we see. Collaborative meetings involve smaller, higher-level groups and are typically held in conference centers, executive retreats, and corporate boardrooms. Presentation-style meetings are usually held in hotels and convention centers. Collaborative meetings use a higher level of technology, and more of it, to equip and empower the audience as well as the presenter and facilitator. Presentation-style meetings, on the other hand, usually involve larger groups, and the majority of information flows from the presenter to the audience. Less technology is involved. (For a more detailed discussion of this distinction, see TM, July/August 1999, p. 102.)

Technology Trickle-Down The highest level of meeting is usually held in the corporate boardroom, where participants have healthy budgets for the latest laptops, assistants who are trained in PowerPoint, and access to the corporate creative services department. Presenters are also quite competitive and embrace communication technology to advance their programs and agendas. These folks typically go to a conference center or executive retreat for their "re-engineering" meetings.

The results of these meetings are then reworked at the corporate level, and a few spokespeople for upper management and many middle managers meet at a hotel or convention center to present the outcomes to the rest of the company's management.

But where did these "gee-whiz" technologies come from? I'd say Hollywood. Long before the research labs of Sony, Fujitsu, and JBL got into the act, George Jetson had a flat picture on the wall that would light up with his boss's image and voice.

Wasn't this the forerunner of videoconferencing? Doesn't it look a lot like the new plasma displays? And how about Dick Tracy's wrist radio? SkyTel now makes pager wristwatches, and NexTel phones provide instant two-way communication.

For a glimpse into the future, just save a seat in your living room, pick up a science fiction novel, or watch some Hollywood fantasies. If you can dream it, eventually we'll live it.