A panel of eight experts in conference technology, meeting design, and adult learning took part in the 2nd International Association of Conference Centers Thought Leaders Panel March 24 at the Workspring Conference Center in Chicago. Extending its audience by streaming live over the Internet, the three-hour freeform discussion covered everything from brain function to predictions for future conference facilities, all based on the theme of “Incorporating Advancing Technology into the Meeting Experience.”
One of the more quotable lines of the day came from Greg Van Dyke, senior vice president, marketing, at PSAV Presentation Services, who quipped, “One person’s distraction is another person’s stimulation.”
That’s one of the sticky wickets of addingto face-to-face events. When attendees can tweet during a keynote, is it adding to the richness of the content or detracting from the focus of the topic at hand? Different generations may have different answers.
“Our new learning diversity,” said Andrea Sullivan, president, BrainStrength Systems, Inc. “has to do with differences in brain structure and information processing.” Sullivan pointed out that new technologies are actually changing our brains: The generation raised on print media reads left to right; the generation raised on computers reads boxes and colors. This should influence meeting design. “People don’t learn well when they don’t feel safe,” she said. Older generations may not feel safe when half the audience seems to be checked out because they are texting or tweeting. Younger generations may not feel safe if that technology is taken away from them. So you end up with a mutually exclusive situation. “You may need to create different habitats or tracks, and then get everyone together again at the end,” Sullivan suggested.
Outside the meeting dates, social networks extend the lifecycle of a meeting. Panelist Steve Mahaley believes it’s important to note, however, that when you do connect attendees ahead of time you are shifting the purpose of your meeting.
“Part of technology’s impact is that it changes what the meeting is about,” said Mahaley, director of learning technology, Duke Corporate Education. “When you engage participants at a distance before a meeting and you bring people up to a certain level of knowledge and allow them to network before they physically get together, then the nature of the meeting turns from a conference to a workshop. The meeting is no longer the whole deal. It is a step along a path. Attendees are bringing a lot of data to the party—they’re not starting from square one.”
Mike McCurry, CMP, strategic account manager, Experient, says “crowdsourcing,” the term for the process of involving attendees’ input into the content of a meeting, is becoming increasingly common. “It also gets people excited to attend long before the meeting starts.” He’s doing that for the Professional Convention Management Association Education Conference in June.
Thinking About Space
Once attendees are physically together, noted Mark Greiner, senior vice president & chief experience officer at Steelcase, Inc., the environment must be appropriate to the task at hand, whether it is to communicate, evaluate, collaborate, or co-create. “Co-creating is when people need to come up with new knowledge or new results,” Greiner explained. “Just as you deal with the content side you must deal with the physical side.” Steelcase owns and operates the Workspring Conference Center, site of the Thought Leaders event.
In fact, Greiner explained, research into the way the brain remembers things showcases the critical role of place in memory. Therefore, the more stimulating and inspirational the meeting environment, the more thoroughly the learning that takes place there will be remembered.
Facilities need to be flexible in the way they design their facilities, he said, so that they can adjust to different customers’ technological needs. It’s also important for centers to be able to show clients different examples of how other meetings have used technology in a space. “There aren’t enough examples out there.”
Panelists agreed that meeting evaluations and Q Center, St. Charles, Ill. Instead, ROI questions still focus on the quality of the PowerPoint presentations or the speakers. Leguillon has had clients who use Twitter as a way of getting honest, freeform attendee feedback after the meeting, then have someone pull all that feedback together into a usable form. Other ideas from panelists:measurements haven’t caught up to the technology. For example, “The questions after the meeting should focus on how engaged the attendees were, how many people they kept in touch with after the conference, and if and how they used the technology offered before and after the meeting,” said Paul Leguillon, technical support director,
- Mike McCurry, CMP, Experient: “Twitter is great in the right context and distracting in the wrong context. You must first understand who your attendees are and what your objectives are and then tailor social networking to your needs.”
- Greg Van Dyke, PSAV Presentation Services: “I’d like to extend social media into face-to-face meetings through things such as poll questions during a break that attendees answer via Twitter or an audience response system. Or how about interactive badges? We’ve all had the experience of looking for that one person and not being able to find him or her. What if your badge started to vibrate when the person enters the room?”
- Paul Leguillon, Q Center: “We have combined our IT and AV teams to help clients create greater interactivity. We have a lot of technology, such as audience response systems, that allows them to do competitive programs in the style of American Idol or Family Feud.”
- Andrea Sullivan, BrainStrength Systems, Inc.: “Video games are increasing our ability to pay attention and to respond quickly. And they’re fun, and when it’s fun, you bring in those neurotransmitters that help with learning.”
- Mike Dickersbach, vice president, information systems & technology, Thayer Lodging Group: “We do breaks with mind-stimulating activities such as showing classic cartoons, having a Wii available, and including information with food options showing how the brain and body will be affected when that food is eaten. We include things that completely separate attendees from the reason they are at the meeting.”