The second annual Meetings Visions conference, held December 6 to 10 in Wailea, Maui, brought senior event planners together with technology experts for an intensive look at new technologies. The bottom line: Virtual meetings — whether via video or the Web — are getting a major push after the attacks of September 11; meeting management software is finally coming into its own; and wireless technologies will have an effect on the way planners do business.

The event was close enough in time to the events of September 11 for them to still be fresh in the minds of participants. A special session on meeting security was added, at which panelists led a vigorous discussion of post-9/11 security practices. These ranged from such straightforward ideas as insisting on seeing a convention center's security plans to the far frontiers of security technology, including a discussion of face-recognition technologies being developed by a Maui-based firm, Trex Enterprises.

Security issues notwithstanding, Meeting Visions 2001 offered many perspectives on the very latest in meeting management and meeting presentation technology. There were sessions on knowledge management, online registration, online site selection, and a comprehensive presentation on the automation of the meeting planning process by Corbin Ball. No fewer than five presentations addressed the application of wireless technology to meeting planning, ranging from updates on new products to discussions of the implications (and likelihood) of the convergence of voice and data into single wireless appliances. The consensus seemed to be that these new wireless appliances would be great, but they were not yet available in workable form — at least not in the United States.

In the interest of fostering greater attendee participation, audience polling devices were used in several sessions, and MS-Interactive Systems, a polling device vendor, gave a walk-through on getting the most out of these systems.

Although attendance was flat compared to a year ago (understandable given the timing), several presenters remarked on the quality of participants: Present were senior-level event managers from Nortel Networks, Cisco Systems, Oracle, and Mitsubishi Digital Electronics, to name a few.

As was the case last year, a highlight of the three-day event was the opening keynote by Stewart Cheifet, host of the PBS television series “Computer Chronicles.” Cheifet enumerated a series of trends that he believes are driving an increased need for companies to communicate — and hence to meet, either face-to-face or virtually. These include greater internationalization of business; increased rates of change in technologies and economies; the need to spread knowledge across corporate divisions; and the need to present a unified message to far-flung employees.

Cheifet also cited an MPI survey that said that 63 percent of meetings were held to promote corporate objectives, and challenged planners to find ways to measure return on objective, rather than return on investment. Finally, he reminded participants that meetings require a judicious mix of information and entertainment to be truly successful.