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Will technology change the way we have meetings in future?

Remember when you had just the one telephone, and it was in the house? Well according to recent reports we have an average of three phones now, and some people don’t even have one of their three in the house at all! With the number of mobiles and the average mobile phone bill both now exceeding household phones, this is another example of how one technology doesn’t necessarily replace something, it grows it.


A recent report indicated that within 5 years 20% of all meetings will be virtual. On first reading many venues and event agencies might be worried, but in my view they should rejoice and welcome this news. The virtual meetings debate isn’t black and white. One will never replace the other and in fact may well lead to an overall increase in meetings. The way we use technology for business and meetings has, is and constantly will evolve. Just look at the growth of the internet and email in the last 20 years and its influence on business, and then remember the myth about the paperless office - people simply print emails! Video conferencing, phone, internet, fax and WebEx, were all supposed to reduce the number of meetings at one point – and yet look at the growth of business travel, Regus offices, training venues and corporate focused hotel rooms in the last ten years and yet again we see that all that technology has done is enhance the market it has affected.


 If you can live with the very large broad brush statements that conference calls are not virtual meetings, (even though they are,) and that there are only two types of virtual events, webinars and virtual conferences, then we can debate whether virtual conferences are going to replace live meetings? With half the world’s population having been born in the internet age we will experience different attitudes to online meetings. Six years ago a teenager on You Tube or My Space is now a marketing manager. Android technology is making being connected, easier, sexier, more efficient and more widely accepted. At the moment, less than two per cent of meetings are done in the virtual arena. Surely this generation will spread virtual meetings like a contagion through the “real” meetings sector?


Actually I’m not sure it’s worth the debate as they simply won’t. Yes some “real” meetings may become virtual, but perhaps they should not have been meetings in the first place, and other “real” meetings will take their place. The meaningful question for me is “how quickly will virtual technology grow the “real” meetings world.  According to research virtual meetings are set to rise to 20 per cent but not any higher, why? Just look at the media industry.  Online was supposed to have killed print dead by now, but someone just launched a new Sunday newspaper, and new magazines spring up every month. Even more interesting my own 18 year old son armed with Blackberry, Iphone and Ipad likes to pick up a newspaper – ok so he does only look at the back pages, but that is like a vegetarian eating their first bacon sandwich – you sort of know it will happen again someday! 


Virtual meetings technology, like all the new mediums they will simply add value to mix and be utilised to when and where appropriate to replace but also enhance and create new opportunities for meetings.


How do you know what sort of event should be virtual? The question should be, what do you need your event to do?  If it’s to motivate, communicate, demonstrate, indoctrinate, invigorate, celebrate, commiserate, or in fact virtually any “ate” then in “reality” it’s probably more feasible to achieve your objectives with a live experience than by email. But if the message is the same in an email, it must be something about the delivery which is important in making the difference.


Sometimes a virtual meeting will be more relevant, sometime you will need to be face to face and sometimes a combination of the two will be the best solution based on the content, logistics, value and objectives. Virtual or real, live communication requires you to apply the same elements of content, interactivity, motivation and engagement.  We recently held “semi virtual” conference by organizing 26 “real” conferences in smaller venues across Europe and connecting them together live. The time and cost saving on the transport and was incredible. The event’s budget was halved. In previous years this event was held in one location and might have been cancelled this year due to the cost, but going semi virtual made it possible for the same number of delegates to attend at the same time, just not all in the same place. Of course you might say we organized 26 events not one, just like I have 3 phones

Nigel Cooper, executive director, P&MM Events & Communications