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 free-form 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, 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. “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 life cycle of a meeting. Panelist Steve Mahaley believes, 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 in determining the content of a meeting, is becoming increasingly common.
Once attendees are physically together, noted Mark Greiner, senior vice president and 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. “Just as you deal with the content side you must deal with the physical side.” The more stimulating and inspirational the meeting environment, the more thoroughly the learning that takes place there will be remembered.
Panelists agreed that meeting evaluations andmeasurements haven't caught up to the technology. The questions after the meeting should focus on how engaged the attendees were, said Paul Leguillon, technical support director, Q Center, St. Charles, Ill. Leguillon has had clients who use Twitter as a way of getting feedback after the meeting.