Looking into the future of meetings with experts inside the meetings industry is a useful pursuit. However, recognizing that larger forces at work in society, technology, and business will affect the way we meet and connect, the Meeting Professionals International Foundation launched a major research effort with experts outside the industry. Specifically, interviews were conducted with authorities in the fields of science, population, technology, digital media, business, policy, and tourism, as well as economists and others with a future focus.

The initial findings of this Future of Meetings project were released in October at the IMEX America event in Las Vegas. Researchers at the International Centre for Research in Events, Tourism and Hospitality at Leeds Metropolitan University in the U.K. wrote the report, which covers a range of issues and includes insights on coming demographic shifts and other drivers of change, including the impact of virtual and online connections on in-person events.

 

First Up: Technology and Design

Phase II of the project is the release of five topic papers. The first, “Meeting Design: Technology,” came out November 2, and looked at a range of current and future technologies, from Twitter to 3D printers to “ambient intelligence.”

An overarching theme is that meeting professionals need to be aware of what’s out there, and even—or maybe especially—attuned to technologies not specifically oriented to events. As Dr. Nick Cope, associate dean, arts, environment, and technology at Leeds Metropolitan University, puts it, “You need people on the team who scout technology, bring it back, and translate it into language for the business,” spotting connections and uses that may be different from the technology’s originally intended purpose.

Here are some ideas from the paper to get you thinking about future meeting design:

 

7 Things to Think About

1. Gen Y resents being asked to disconnect.
From teachers using mobile phones in classrooms to speakers having to adjust to audiences looking down at tweets, social media already has changed how people interact. The key is to set rules that meet the expectations of multiple generations.

2. Attendee expectations will continue to grow.
As people become more tech-savvy, the paper notes, they will expect more from events. Near-field communications and radio-frequency identification are two technologies that will make their in-person event experiences richer and will come to be seen as baseline requirements for events. Current applications using near-field communications, which is a set of standards for smartphones and similar devices to establish radio communication with each other by bringing them very near to each other, include “contactless” payment (as in “Google Wallet”) and other data exchange.

3. Virtual collaboration will push virtual events.
When major projects have participants in multiple countries, virtual collaboration can offer a huge boost to efficiency, cost-savings, and creativity. With desktop sharing and Web conferencing now commonplace, their use as enhancements to live events is increasing, too. Chris Sanderson, co-founder of The Future Laboratory, says organizations can’t be either online or offline anymore. “You have to be able to create seamless experiences that work both online and offline. You have to offer both physical space and virtual space.”

Meeting professionals shouldn’t limit their responsibilities and competence to live events, says Paul Flatters, CEO of social and consumer trends firm Trajectory. Rather, he says, “See the skills you have got, in terms of understanding people and how they want to communicate, and see them as transferable to the virtual space.”

4. Apps are a given.
According to statistics cited by MPI, smartphone users will represent 58 percent of cellphone users in 2015. “Event apps will become as expected as Wi-Fi…the desired way to deliver content and navigation and record attendance at meetings,” the paper states.

5. Be careful with gamification.
Take the techniques and structures of games and find out how to apply them in ways that are appropriate to your audience and your goals. Don’t just start awarding badges and points—it gets old fast, says Nicholas Lovell, a technology, media, and finance consultant. “There are some people who are easily excited by the process of collecting badges and points and everything else. For quite a lot of people, once they’ve done it at two conferences, the desire to do it again at another one is close to zero.”

Instead, he says, look into what the gaming industry has learned about making things fun and apply them to things that are less fun but that you need attendees to do.

6. Print gifts on site.
3-D printing is here. Companies could print products right in their trade-show booths for attendees to carry away.

7. Ambient intelligence will know what you want.
As described by the International Journal of Ambient Computing and Intelligence, “in an ambient intelligence world, devices work in concert to support people in carrying out everyday life activities and tasks in a natural way using information and intelligence that is hidden in the network connecting these devices. Ambient intelligence emphasizes people and user experience and ensuring ultimately that the technology disappears into our surroundings until only the user interface remains visible to users.” Essential elements of such embedded technology systems is that they are “context aware,” recognizing an individual and his or her situational context, and “adaptive,”  changing in response to the individual.

Imagine a meeting where the actual “computers” have disappeared but the technology is integrated into the environment, sensing and adjusting to attendees’ needs. These will become hot topics for venue managers and meeting professionals.

The MPI Foundation will release four more topic papers in the coming weeks:

• Meeting Design: Individual Needs

• Meeting Content

• Meeting Communication

• Meeting Distribution

Find more at the Meeting Professionals International Web site.