You'll find attendees online, predicts social-media strategy consultant B.L. Ochman, and operate, according to futurist Devin Fidler, in a borderless work environment. You will play games, promises educator Sandra Strick, Ph.D., and you will know your end users, says consultant Joanne L. Smikle.
You Will Find Your Attendees Online
What general business skills will any professional need to develop over the next few years? You need to use social and mobile media in order to understand the sea change they have brought about in communication. Unfortunately, people who've had corporate jobs for the past many years have almost always failed to keep up with the changing media environment. You need to use tablets, smart-phones, and the other tools your customers use. There are ample numbers of seminars and books — and yes, conferences — that aim to teach these skills. But the most important way to learn about new media is to use it in an immersive way. Get a Twitter account, learn to run Google+ Hangouts, learn to use video, become active on LinkedIn.
How do you see meetings, conferences, and other live professional-development events evolving? Five years from now, as many as 95 percent of these kinds of events will take place online, on platforms like Google+ Hangouts (or whatever that evolves into over time).
Will in-person/face-to-face continue to be the dominant mode for meetings? I seriously doubt that face-to-face is dominant even now. Travel is expensive and ridiculously time-consuming. Face-to-face has its place and always will, but 99 percent of all business travel is wasteful and unnecessary. That kind of spending can't continue, and it won't.
Sorry to say that I don't anticipate increased demand for meetings and conferwences. I see increased demand for online interactions with more personal engagement.
Digital, social, and mobile media have already changed conferences and meetings. Every conference is now live-streamed. The fact is, nobody really goes to conferences for the content. We go to schmooze. So networking opportunities will always be needed, but they increasingly can be done online in smaller groups in which people can interact on a meaningful level.
You Will Cross Boundaries
Research Director, Technology Horizons Institute for the Future
What every professional should know The backdrop of the work environment over the next decade or so is shifting toward greater computation, greater automation, and greater what we've been thinking about as outsourcing, but it's becoming much more important than that. It's possible for me to, for example, contract somebody to work for me in, say, Russia, and get a project from them by the end of the day. That kind of truly borderless work arrangement. When you take that as the starting point, a lot of the work skills that really jump out as critical moving forward are more soft skills, more interpersonal-relationship-based. The other side of that is, for the computational shift, if you're being deluged with all of this information, the ability to just manage what it is you're thinking about without getting distracted — that is also privileged.
Job 1 for planners: helping curate that info It’ s figuring out the right information to present and the most striking way to present that. From the meetings space, it’ s no coincidence that the last decade is really seeing the rise of graphic facilitators and graphic recorders. That’ s a great way to take a lot of information that's thrown at people and to put it in a form that’ s more intuitive in many cases, more fully digested. It's a great example of applying cognitive load management directly to a meeting setting.
Be prepared for virtual content There's no question that some of the function of live meetings can be virtualized. The pure content is easy to deliver over a data line, so anything that's based on just pure content, the delivery is being commoditized. You have to think not in terms of [the technology] we have today. It's getting good, but it's still buggy. If you Skype, for example, it still will lag and we're still looking at a little 13-inch screen or something. We're not engaging with an actual media form that's anywhere near similar to talking to somebody face-to-face. But that'll be extended out, so if you go 10,15 years from now, display technologies are in the works for much bigger, much cheaper [systems]. We're well on that curve.
Be prepared for live meetings There are all these other things that aren't the content that meetings also provide. It's difficult to have that serendipitous networking in any kind of virtual stage; it's difficult to establish that initial rapport. We use all of our senses when we meet somebody. You're getting the whole feeling for somebody when you form real professional bonds, so if the emphasis is on creating these connections, is on experiences to the degree that you're not a content platform but a stage for experience, then it's difficult to replicate that online.
Where to look for opportunities If the real value of meetings going forward is the experience and the interconnection, then [industries] where there is discord — say, in emerging areas where they don't have these legacy associations that have been around for two, three generations, [so] they don't have the social system in place yet — then meetings are going to be how that's built. The good news is there's still very much a place for meetings, it's just not as content-centric.
You Will Play Games
Sandra Strick, Ph.D.
Director of Graduate Studies, School of Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management, University of South Carolina
It takes all kinds Every part of the meeting design, the way we communicate, the way we market, is affected by this whole idea that there's so many generations in the workforce. We have more generations in the workforce simultaneously than ever before in history. We have older people staying in the job longer, we've got young people attending meetings, so all the way in between, how do we get to all of them? That's a challenge. I think that the idea of diversity, sensitivity to that, is a really important part.
More reasons to play I think we're going to do more and more of [gamification], to keep people interested. I think to a certain extent, it's real easy to get distracted or try to do many things at one time, so I think one of the ways we're going to keep people focused is to give them this challenge, if you will, or make it fun, or make it to compete with themselves, or make it to compete with other people, but we're going to have to keep them engaged, and this is going to help do that.
From the comfort of your own home I was just talking to my grad assistant and we were talking about this whole area of risk, in light of the Boston Marathon. I think it's really scaring people, enough that maybe that means they're going to take more to heart when it comes to virtual meetings. Now we've got risk on one end, and the idea of traveling, making it even harder, on the other end, and I think that points more and more to this idea of virtual and hybrid and staying home and trying to connect the best you can and being a little safer.
How to develop new skills They can join their associations and go to all the presentations and workshops and seminars and online training that I think all of the professional associations do. There's the Digital Event Strategist certification [from Virtual Edge Institute] that gives planners certification in this area, which is a whole new thing for us. There are so many necessary skills in the area of technology, and just more and more all the time, to the point that you almost gotta think like an IT person. We've got to get people more engaged.
You Will Know Your End Users
Joanne L. Smikle
Principal Consultant, Smikle Training Services
Know who you are as a leader The first thing that you have to be willing to do is assess your leadership style and know what it really is. A lot of people kind of operate from a fantasy of who they think they are as leaders. And when they take something like a 360 assessment, what they find out is that the way they perceive themselves is not the way that the rest of the team is perceiving them. Step one is doing the work of assessing your leadership style and then going from there — not just operating on “Well, I think I do this well,” when in fact you may not do this so well.
Look at more than just attendance I think meeting planners need to pay more attention to what people actually say in the text of their evaluations, because they give you a lot of information that is ignored and overlooked. You can't just be driven by the [attendance] numbers. You've got to be looking at some other things, in terms of the quality of the sessions, what people are saying about the sessions, whether or not you're offering what people want. As flattering as it is as a speaker to be used repeatedly by an association, what I know 22 years into this business is that it's not always a good thing. You need to be introducing new people, new concepts, repeatedly. Or it really does get to be old hat.
Build bridges with your end users If you have good relationships with your end users, you can get them to advocate for you. Let's say you have a meeting that really does add a lot of value to people's bottom line, to their lives, to whatever. They should be your spokesperson — with your CEO, with your senior team — saying, “This is what we got from this meeting. We don't want to see this meeting go away, because we are able to learn X, Y, and Z from it.” But if you are almost just a commodity that just puts together meetings and really hasn't done a good job of building bridges with those people, they're never going to be your advocates.
Understand the generational divide We get confused and think that the style differences are all generationally based. And they're not. I think that the same skills that are required to work with... younger people and older people are required to work with, say, introverts and extroverts. The first thing we've got to be able to do is pay attention to the styles that people demonstrate. Pay attention to more than just the part that gets on your nerves. What are the skills that these different people bring to the workplace? How do they enhance what we do? And having conversations with people about what it is that they need — what I'm seeing time and time again as a consultant is, for some reason, we're reluctant to have those direct conversations about what people need. We're reluctant to really ask people, “What are the things that you really want to get from this experience here?” Some of the reluctance is because, once it's asked, we as leaders are now held to a much higher standard. We've got to deliver.