Meetings: Incorporating Technology - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Meetings: Incorporating Technology
Bring on the Tech: At today's meetings, technology needs to be more than a tool. It should be part of the experience.


Pharmaceutical Executive


Bonni Skepcowski
To a meeting planner, technology is all about functionality. Computers make it easier to track attendees, generate materials, print up badges, and of course, create the PowerPoint slides that have become ubiquitous in the past decade. From the audience's perspective, though, technology looks different. It's part of the experience and texture of a meeting. It helps determine whether the proceedings are fast or slow, visually exciting or text-heavy and dull, engaging or boring.

That's especially true if the audience includes members of today's gamer generation—the young (and not-all-that-young) people who came of age with video games, instant messaging, and anytime-anywhere telephone access. They were nurtured by stunning graphics, digital surround sound, and fast-paced action. Technology is part of their daily lives; they're accustomed to swimming in a multi-media sea of information and being electronically tied almost continuously to a network of people.

They expect stimulation, multi-channel communication, multitasking, and multi-partner communication. Take it away from them by putting them in a room with a single speaker reading from text-only PowerPoint slides, and they're likely to tune out, open their PDA or laptop, or worse yet, duck out in search of connectivity.

Enhancing Presentation Quality


Got Game?
Fortunately, new technology is making it easier to produce engaging, technology-enhanced materials for live presentation. MacroMedia's Flash, the technology behind some of the best Web-based animation, can be married with PowerPoint (subject to some limitations). DigiDesign's Pro Tools, a digital audio-recording technology, allows users to record directly onto a hard drive and make edits quickly, making it far easier to create presentations with enriched audio—and to record and document meetings. (Using ProTools, it is practical to record and edit conference sessions, remove annoying background noise or dead spots, and have it ready to present before attendees even leave the conference.) Similar tools make it easier to work with video and video conferencing.

Yet, some meeting planners have yet to fully incorporate technology into meetings. Many have limited their applications to such basic functions as registration, budget management, and attendee status. It's time to raise the ante and start using technology to create the kind of high-energy, information-rich environment young Americans crave—a 21st century environment for learning.

Benefits For All

Technology presents benefits and challenges in many areas of meeting planning. Here are some key areas to focus on:

Serving the presenter Presenters understand their subject matter, but they often are inexperienced in the best applications of technology to enhance their presentations and engage their audiences. One interesting new technique involves changing information on slides even after the presenter has started the presentation, using a pair of computers, one with the original presentation and the other available for editing or Internet access. In a recent application of this technique, the speaker began his presentation by asking the audience to answer questions using hand-held response units. As he continued his presentation, the responses were collected and developed into slides showing the results. The slides then were integrated into the presentation.

Failure proofing Every meeting host and attendee has experienced a technology failure. This can undercut the credibility of the presenter and the program. Perhaps most worrisome is the lack of IT and production expertise needed to keep systems online and operating smoothly. Technology is not foolproof, but actions should be taken to provide protection from failure. The best protection is a support system that includes full desktop support within the meeting space and the adjacent war room, with state-of-the-art software, hardware, and sound system.

Audience retention and Internet access Attendees can't receive information if they aren't at the presentations. Increasingly, an obsession with the access provided by personal technologies, such as cell phones and PDAs, runs headlong into the mission of planners to prevent attendees from leaving the conference environment. Internet cafes located directly outside the meeting room provide attendees with high-speed Internet access between conference sessions, often minimizing attendee loss during sessions and serving as a draw to trade show or marketing exhibits stationed nearby. The setup also can function as a marketing tool by featuring the sponsor's Web site or a specially designed advertising program.

Filling that goody bag With the PhRMA Code establishing the final word on the appropriate standard for meetings and conferences, the days of expensive take-away and follow-up gifts are over. Meeting hosts have been left scrambling for unique products that serve their marketing and customer-appreciation goals while staying within the limits of the Code. Among the options is a USB flash drive that can be attached to a keychain. Information about the conference and host can be downloaded onto the drive, which carries the host's name and logo. Attendees cantransfer this information to their computers easily, and are able to reuse the drive for other purposes.

Adding value Many technologies can deliver added value from the meeting professional to the sponsor. Digital photography and non-linear video-editing software can be used to manage images from the conference. It also can be used to produce screen-savers or short films on the computers in the Internet cafe, online updates of the conference proceedings on the host's Web site, or information to be downloaded onto a flash drive.

Pushing the Envelope

As attendees become more accustomed to the results of effective technology, they will demand far more sophisticated applications. Noted Heath Miller, vice president of media and production of Stellar Meetings and Events, "Technologies become outdated almost as soon as they are popularized. The only way to keep their use fresh and innovative is to push the envelope."

Launches

Marathon Multimedia Companies and Astute Technology are partenering to improve meeting webcasting. • Barcelo Hotels and Resorts will open two new resorts in the Cancun area on December 1: Barcelo Maya Colonial Beach hotel and the Barcelo Maya Tropical Beach hotel.

Awards

Las Vegas' New York-New York hotel and casino won the Nevada State Psychological Association's Healthy Workplace award.

People

Crestline Hotels and Resorts named Jack Burkam general manager at Maryland's Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort.

Bonni Skepcowski is president of Stellar Meetings and Events. She can be reached at

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