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The Future of Meetings: Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother?The Future of Meetings was a hot topic at the MPI World Education Conference this week. While there was a lot of discussion around the topic – the answer was not so easy to pin down. At times, I felt like the baby bird searching for his mother in P.D. Eastman’s Story “Are You My Mother.”

Is “Technology” the Future of Meetings?

The topic of the future of meetings sends some people flying toward technology. This was evidenced by the thousands of attendees that flocked to the many technology sessions to learn about the latest whizbangs and strategies. This was evidenced by the paperless program, the Mobile apps and the Pathable community.

So, it’s technology right? Smartphones and that kind of stuff. Um, not exactly.

Is “Environment” the Future of Meetings?

The topic of the future of meetings sends others into the “better room layout” and “environment” corner. Joan Eisenstodt, for example, wants pictures on the walls, natural light and flexible space. When she says that many in the crowd nod with approval. Some cheer. Venue Executives mumble profanities. While others would just be happy if the room setup would match the session. “Rounds in the general session room? What’s that all about,” asks one attendee.

So, it’s environment right? Redesign the conference centers OR match the room setup to the needs. That must be the future of meetings. Um, not exactly.

Is “Content” the Future of Meetings?

The topic of the future of meetings sends others into the “content” corner. These people are talking about content delivery, interactive formats, learning styles, objectives, discovery, etc. They say less time listening to boring speakers and more time interacting in an informal learning environment. When someone says more collaboration and interaction – groups of people start whooping and hollering Texas style. Speakers scratch their heads and ask if better hand gestures would help.

So, it’s content right? Use more collaborative formats. Get people out of chairs and writing on white boards. Um, not exactly.

Is “Attendee Experience” the Future of Meetings?

The topic of the future of meetings gets others talking about attendee experience. It’s about putting the attendee at the center of the event. Ruud Janssen says that we need to think about it like “100 events for 100 people.” Another person talks about interviewing “professional attendees” – the conference road warriors – and using their needs as the model for how these experiences could work.

So, it’s attendee experience right? Design events with the attendee in mind. Um, not exactly.

Is “Storytelling” the Future of Meetings?

The topic of the future of meetings gets others talking about storytelling. It’s about narrative and personas they say. They talk about the strong characters in movies and books that we identify with. They talk about the dilemmas created in good vs. evil situations. They continue on with more stuff that is over our heads – but sounds good. Many nod in approval.

So, it’s storytelling right? We just hire a scriptwriter create good characters, put Bruce MacMillan in a flying harness and get Stephen Spielberg to show us how to produce the stuff. Um, not exactly.

Is “Inspiration” the Future of Meetings?

The keynote speakers from the Opening General Session will tell you that the future of meetings is about passion and inspiring people to become part of something greater than themselves. They will site examples of people coming from remarkable circumstances that you couldn’t ever imagine to do something extraordinary. Since, we are all amazed – we nod with approval and donate $20.

So, it’s inspiration right? We find someone or something that inspires us – like Bruce Willis or the A-team. Then we book them for our next event. That’s the ticket! Um, not exactly.

Is “Outside the Industry” the Future of Meetings?

The topic of the future of events gets others to talk about looking outside our industry for the answer. Looking for inspiration in art, in movies, in design, in Farmville, in nature and in space. Or was it in Oldspice? Regardless, asking ourselves what the Future of Meetings looks like – doesn’t help – because we all have the similar answers. As we hear this point of view, we nod again.

So, it’s looking outside ourselves right? We watch a few OldSpice commercials, play Farmville and “friend” that Zuckerberg dude who created Facebook – then we will know the future of events. Right? Um, not exactly.

So what is the Future of Meetings?

Well, if the future of meetings is not technology or space or content or attendee experience or inspiration or outside factors – then what is it?

I have no idea. I just can tell you that it is not ONE of those factors – it is all of them. As far as I can tell that is the conclusion drawn from the MPI World Education Conference.

What do you think our future meetings and events will look like? or what do they need to look like?

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Note: I did receive partial registration reduction for agreeing to participate in the Social Media Guru program at MPI’s World Education Conference.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Joan Eisenstodt #

    It’s all of the above and it’s individualizable ((did I make that up? – think of it as diff. than “customizable”) by whomever wants to participate and it can be done session by session (at 1 meeting) or broadly by selecting from meetings where you can go to “taste” a bit of it but not buy the whole. (OY I just realized that was my gelato experience! — it really had an impact!)

    What I mean by that is what if there were wonderfully comfortable chair on wheels (that locked down when I were seated, as an example) that I could take to some sessions or just use in a hallway or exhibit hall when I wanted to sit and have a conversation – one of what Maarten calls a “campfire chat”? The chair could be designed to also hold my stuff – a back-pack like device so it would be useful. Then wherever I was I’d have my personalized comfortable seating.

    What if I had w/ me a replica of a painting that made me feel good – in one case it might be “Water lilies” – in another case, a DeKooning or in another one I’d created at a creativity area and brought along and it could hang on the back of a chair in front of or near me so I could always view it. Or for those who are using tech w/ a device that can do all things at once, on it?

    What if, as Sue Pelletier suggested, outside the room there were a sensory dipping area where I could pick up a container of what I wanted to touch – smell – taste – see and it were with me.

    And if I were participating virtually while there or not there .. well, this could go on for pages.

    It’s all doable — scalable — we just have to try and bring everyone to the table who wants to join this convo. starting w/ convention authorities and chiefs of police and fire marshals and designers of furniture and .. stuff.

    July 27, 2010
  2. Sam, great post! It’s about mass customization…designing and enabling personalized attendee experiences.

    Also, you left off one common attendee desire off your list – “connections”. They want to leave with more of them and add depth to the ones that they already have. Attendees don’t want to feel like a number either.

    Looking forward to reading the comments!

    July 27, 2010
  3. This is a great post and I’m in agreement, the future of meetings could be a combination of these factors, or something completely unique to the group and not mentioned here.

    I think all of these topics have merit and are worth discussing during meeting planning and it’s truly the group dynamics, the goals for the meeting, and a combination of unique factors that creates a great meeting for your organization.

    Having a technology background myself, I think technology will continue to play a role in meetings that will grow, but it is not the future in and of itself. I love watching my Twitter stream when I can’t attend a meeting, as it works well to get the word out, but it’s no substitute for actually going. I’ve been to “online” conferences but they are a pale version of the real thing.



    July 27, 2010
  4. Sam:

    Great post about the variety of options available for meeting and event professionals when planning their meetings. We have a lot of choices and that’s why I think meeting professionals need to become like well established chefs that know the right amount of spices and ingredients to mix into the recipe for a great dish.

    I do believe that technology will continue to drive some changes. And I think attendees will continue to demand high-touch, highly customized experiences and engagement with each other and the content.

    Thanks for capturing this information and the challenge that each meeting professional must face.

    July 27, 2010
  5. @Joan: First, thanks for reading the blog and contributing. Second, thanks for sharing so many of your ideas. They make me wonder when are we going to go out and try these things? It seems like we should be able to create some proto-type environments where we can test out some of these things.

    @Dave: Thanks for your comment here. You are so right about the connections. They were missing from the conversation and not discussed much. It was like the “connections” piece was either assumed or the discussions didn’t offer any specific strategies for generating them. Great catch.

    @Garry: Thanks for reading and your contribution. I agree with you about the Twitter stream – it’s a great way to stay connected to an event when you cannot attend.

    @Jeff: Thanks for your comment, Jeff. The chef analogy is a great one – and I think you could take it further and challenge people to assemble new creations from these ingredients as well.

    July 28, 2010
  6. Joan Eisenstodt #

    @Sam – it IS being tried! 7 years ago, I created a prototype with a group of women in the industry who desperately wanted different. We’ve kept it small and by invitation only – and only women for personal reasons – and we are doing some amazing work yearly at a gathering.

    It IS being tried by John Nawn and a few others of us who hope to launch a prototype soon where it will be broadened to bring to the table .. the fire chiefs, the architects and designers, the furniture makers and more – and be a think-tank that does it and plays with it.

    It SHOULD be done at the MPIs, PCMAs, ASAEs — where failure is a positive word bec. you tried and analyzed it.

    And it needs to be affordable — to participate. My airline ticket alone for Vancouver was a bank-breaker! People have great ideas and too many people just can’t afford to attend.

    Years ago, I woulda said that if it’s impt. to you, you’d find a way to do it. I no longer believe that bec. when one has to choose a roof over one’s head and food on the table and healthcare v. exploring ideas .. well, the intellect says one thing until reality sets in.

    So now what?

    July 29, 2010
  7. A very interesting post – and comments. I like the idea of ‘mass customization’ mentioned by Dave Lutz. It seems to me that the post and the comments are addressing the large scale, pay to attend, conference type meetings. I think that the more routine types of meetings that occur at a company or in an organization could benefit from addressing many of the ideas as well. Is it possible, perhaps even easier to begin work at a ‘micro’ level, say at a company’s biannual sales meeting, for example, where interaction, information sharing, efficiency, productivity, satisfaction and tangible results are critical to all of the stake holders?

    August 3, 2010

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