In a recent interview with freelance writer Bob Andelman, Elliott Masie--founder of The Masie Center, a Saratoga, N.Y., think tank that focuses on learning, technology, business, and workplace productivity--buttressed the idea that “Web 2.0” concepts have clear application for the meetings industry. Following are edited excerpts of his comments.
Taking the randomness out of networking: Imagine it’s the opening session of a conference, and before going in you get a card that says you’re sitting at table 16. Further, it says you’re at table 16 because you are matched with others by certain characteristics relating to why you had said you wanted go to the conference. They could be very specific characteristics--you’re in the same field, you have the same interests, you all have a kid going to college right now, you all work for companies that others at the table might some day want to work for.
At most meetings today, that happens randomly. A lot of people will say things like, “The best conversation I had was with this guy I met on the shuttle from the airport, and we connected. We sat together at the general session. We went out. And you know what? His company actually has a product I want to buy.” Random connections like that are great, but why do they have to be random?
Why shouldn’t I be able to say, “I’d like to go to dinner with people who like Greek food and expensive wine,” and be put together with a group of nine who like Greek food and expensive wine, and have a reservation made at a Greek restaurant with a town car to pick us up?
Now, if you really want to get interesting, the conference could sell that group’s presence to Greek restaurants: “Who wants to bid on this dinner business?”
Customizing content delivery: Years ago, at a conference I was running, I asked the hotel to put our morning keynote speeches on TV in the guest rooms. We found that 400 people ordered room service and watched the keynotes from their room while doing e-mail. There are some people who don’t like getting up early. The flip side is what I call midnight crawler events--seminars that start at midnight. That sounds crazy, but I will tell you there might be 50 people who can’t sleep, don’t want to sleep, or are just night owls. Some of the best sessions happen around midnight.
Personalizing content opportunities: Meeting planners are still sending out these brochures that show 600 sessions. A lot of people look at that and get exhausted thinking about going to the meeting. What they really want is an efficient way to get context about the stuff that is really important to them.
An accountant might say, “I know what rule 957 of the IRS code is, so I don’t need to go to a session to find out about it. What I really want is to have a drink with somebody and ask, ‘What are you doing when your clients ignore that rule?’” That’s context. People are getting more interested in that than in the content being delivered.
People are increasingly going to be more interested in the meeting process than the meeting content. And I must say that part of the challenge is that the meetings industry doesn’t have a tremendous amount of expertise or even interest around the process side.
Collaboration in real time. In the old days, we handed people a binder of handouts from the PowerPoint presentations of 200 sessions, produced by a select number of subject matter experts. But let’s imagine a different model. Let’s say I was running a meeting of physicians on cardiology, where they participated in sessions, then interviewed each other. The result could be a book called “Issues in Non-invasive Cardiology: The Wisdom of 1000 Physicians.” The meeting shifts from being a pure transmission time to where we’re USING the content at another level, in another context--something that we really can’t do other than face-to-face--AND achieving a very rich set of interaction that leads to a different form of content.