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Simplicity Rocks

A technology mixing guide

Suzan BeattieBy Suzan Beattie

Technology is an ever-increasing aspect of a meeting planner’s professional life. Effectiveness means helping clients discover the right level of technology for their long-term meeting strategy. As a framework to assist clients considering whether and what level of technology to use, meeting planners can ask the following questions:

Will technology maximize the meeting participants’ return on engagement and return on expectations?

Using technology in meetings is a mixed blessing. In the right hands, technology can make meetings more effective, efficient and powerful. Technology is also an option when meeting participants cannot attend in person. Live streaming sites such as LiveStream.com provide an easy mechanism to stream conference video to remote attendees. As well, event hashtags can be used to allow remote attendees to comment and ask questions during a presentation.

When considering the participants’ return on engagement and expectations, it is also appropriate to remember that technology can put a layer between the presenter and the participants. This layer can make it more difficult to connect and form a relationship.

As Angela Sealy, CEO of Westcoast Facilitators Group and Dialogue Centre, points out, an alternative to technology is the “brain rub.” A brain rub is defined by Sealy as participants sitting together, thinking together and questioning together while reading all the important non-verbal signals among them. From her perspective, “The overall gratification from a good intense brain rub is not possible with technology.”

Immediate past national president of CAPS, speaker and facilitator, David Gouthro, CSP, generates his version of a brain rub by using 8.5×11 tri-fold cards. Participants fold the cards so either the green (agree), the red (disagree) or the yellow (let’s have a conversation) side is prominent. Cards are held up in response to Gouthro’s questions, comments or statements.

This simple, low-tech tool allows a facilitator (as well as the participants) to view the collective response. In the hands of an experienced facilitator such as Gouthro, the results in the room are electric. Conversations are started and perspectives are woven in as Gouthro orchestrates the dialogue. This allows an additional level of communication that is more engaging than generally possible with audience response systems (ARS) or polling devices.

Whether you use technology, or not, the key is to find the best approach to provide a rich, targeted and focused learning experience that builds relationships among participants.

What effect will the demographic mix of meeting participants have on the use of technology?

It is important for meeting planners to understand the demographic mix of their audience. The use of technology in an event can create the perception of winners and losers. The question for the clients is to consider which of their meeting participants will specifically benefit from the use of technology. Alternatively, who would be harmed? As Sieglinde Malmberg, speaker and human resource management professional warns‚ “Harm includes embarrassment from being unfamiliar with technology. If there is a choice between participants who can or cannot participate due to the technology, the choice is simple – use no technology at all.”

Elaine Allison, CSP, customer service expert and speaker comments: “A speaker has to remember that in most cases, the audience will not all be on the same page in their technology learning curve.” She cautions that expecting participants to keep up on their mobile devices or smart phones may be a misnomer. “As speakers, our craft is the spoken word. Using too much technology from the stage can distract instead of compel the audience,” she says.

Digital Darwinism is alive and well. According to research from Gartner, a leading information technology research and advisory company (Gartner.com), in 2013, more people will access the Web via their mobile devices than with their laptops. It is predicted that over the next 10 years, mobile devices will become the primary way we consume media.

However, while most people have smartphones these days, meeting planners must remember that not everyone uses this technology. The Silent Generation (those born before 1946) was raised without modern technology. They approach technology differently than Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Generation X-ers (1964-1980). Those born after 1980, the Net Generation, grew up with computers, video games and the Internet.

The Net Generation, who grew up with fast-paced media and technology, have shorter attention spans and demand that meetings get to the point. Other generations may find that technology can make them nervous, self-conscious and, as a result, they take their mind off the meeting agenda.

As the demographic mix of participants differs in the way they use technology, meetings need to use technology in a way that will connect with all generations.

What message is the use of technology sending the participants?

Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” In today’s world, every use of technology impacts how participants use their minds and their emotions. The key for effective meeting planners is to determine what category of technological tools their clients need. One of the simplest technologies for participants that use smartphones is a mobile application or a software program that lets the smartphone act like a computer.  Some versions of this software allow clients to provide real-time distribution of conference information and material. Participants can use a mobile app to perform tasks on their smartphone such as finding the meeting room or completing a session evaluation. Mobile apps also speed up the distribution of conference recordings both during and after the event.

Another way to enhance participant experience is to use social media technology to engage both face-to-face and virtual participants before, during and after an event. Other blogging tools can be used to create event blogs. Speakers willingly volunteer to add comments about their sessions to increase attendance. LinkedIn is another technology to raise awareness before a meeting event. Twitter, with its 140-character limitation, is a natural for mobile use before and during meetings.

Near field communication (NFC) technology is a short-range wireless connectivity standard that enables communication between two devices when they are touched together. During in person meetings, this technology is a fast, secure and simplified means of electronic business card exchange. As well, the mobile app along with hashtags can be used to upload event photos so all participants, in person and virtual, can share the experience during the event.

After the event, a video can be used to promote future and upcoming events. LinkedIn is also used to review the meeting and to continue networking opportunities among the participants. Using technology before, during and after meetings should not be an issue. Not using even the simplest technology could become a big issue.

Does the use of meeting technology add value?

When a participant enters a meeting space, they have certain expectations based on their previous experience. They want a stimulating and welcoming environment that will provide continuous access to their social networking sites. One way to add value is to ensure that the Wi-Fi has sufficient access points and bandwidth to meet participants’ needs.

Another way to add value is to use technology to expand a meeting beyond the four walls of a room. Hybrid meetings that combine both face-to-face and virtual experience for local and remote participants are becoming commonplace. Developers of holographic displays are perfecting a technology that lets speakers and performers deliver speeches and entertain audiences without physically being present.

The question for meeting planners is whether extending beyond the four walls of a meeting room will add impact for the clients and the participants. Meeting planners also need to ask their clients what problems hybrid meetings solve, whether this technology will meet their goals and whether the technology is within their budget. Most clients use hybrid meetings to build and serve participants’ communities of interest.

The next question is whether this meeting technology does in fact enhance the participants’ experience. Simple methods such as the use of a facilitator between the face-to-face and virtual participants can encourage questions and create a collaborative and cooperative experience for participants.

Ultimately the question becomes what happens when (not if) technology crashes? Technology, even the simple slide projector, has always crashed. The nature of the meeting industry requires contingency planning at all levels. The most noticeable technological malfunctions occur at the front of the room. A skillful, experienced speaker, one who knows their material so well they do not need technology, will hold the participants attention and add value to the meeting.

Whether or not the hybrid or virtual meeting technology is used, the aim of the meeting planner is to provide the clients with an efficient and effective meeting process while ensuring the participants have an engaging experience.

What impact will technology have on the participants’ return on investment?

Today’s participants come from a world alive with online interactive experiences. They are immersed in a culture that speaks in rapid, flashy, succinct, interactive moments. Their access to information is astounding. As a result, they do not want monologue presentations with boring visuals.

Technology can assist meeting planners and clients to analyse the effectiveness of meeting content and delivery. MyROI, a post-event, online, questionnaire which allows participants to track their personal return on investment from meetings is available from MeetingMetrics (www.meetingmetrix.com).

The efficient and wise use of technology can make meetings measurable and effective. It can also improve the participants’ experience. While technology is always changing, it is not going away. Tech-savvy meeting planners are encouraging collaboration, cooperation and engagement of participants by using simple, effective technology options.

As more technology is incorporated into meetings, technology itself will become the simplest approach to effective, efficient and engaging meetings for participants.

Suzan Beattie is a lawyer, credentialed coach, speaker and 2013 President of CAPS Vancouver Chapter who speaks on professional and personal development. www.suzanbeattie.com

Appeared in Speaking of Impact, Spring 2013 Edition

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