Technology trends present challenges for the industry, but also present opportunities to enhance and extend meetings beyond face value.
Technology is the most significant area of change facing the industry. In fact, 18 percent of meeting professionals have already encountered the move to virtual and/or hybrid meetings—one reason that our industry places technology alongside politics, competing values, CSR and social flux as key to the future of events. So says Phase I MPI research into that latter topic (sponsored by PSAV, Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts, Omni Hotels and the MPI Foundation).
Converging technologies, virtual meetings, information overload, remote conferencing, gamification, app development, 3-D printing, calm technologies, open source and cloud computing, augmented reality and speech recognition will all change the way companies do business and plan and host their meetings. And, while some of the trends present challenges for the industry—in particular around delivering content in-person—they also present opportunities to enhance and extend meetings beyond face value.
Rise of Virtual Virtual meeting content will lead to more Citrix (desktop sharing), webcasting, 3-D environments and multiday events with trade shows (ON24). The most popular virtual reality presentations will be followed by internal meetings and training to reinforce learning and outcomes. Delegates will become more familiar with virtual environments and games as the average time spent in virtual worlds grows (currently 22 hours per week). Live events will need to exceed what virtual events deliver due to costs on both ends.
"This is the paradox of communications technology," said T.S. Hu, author of the 2010 article "A Hurting Society," published in the World Future Review. "Although its goal is to encourage communication and interaction among individuals, it is actually hindering the most effective means of communication by rendering the need for human contact largely unnecessary."
Virtual meetings are often necessary as rapidity of information transforms attendee expectations.
The desire to receive information quickly and easily will result in shorter, more strategic, targeted and content-rich meetings. And while rapidity may shorten meetings, information overload could provide opportunity for meeting planners to deliver content more effectively over time. Structuring information might be the unique selling proposition that will help meetings differentiate themselves from other sources.
Respondents point to advances in remote conferencing, technology and audiovisual, which support other studies that say a combination of high-tech presentations and remote conferencing will enhance content over time. This trend will accelerate as attendees become more used to new media.
Converging Games Gamification—the adoption of gaming within content—is already here. Planners use games as learning tools to enhance collective activity and to push participants to meet challenges within events.
Linked to gamification: the growth of tablet and smartphone apps. By 2015, there will be 148.6 million smartphone users in the U.S. alone (up from 90.1 million in 2011), representing 58 percent of mobile phone users (up from 38 percent in 2011). As more people adopt content on these devices, access to information, the Internet and podcasts will become easier and more accessible. Event apps will become as expected as Wi-Fi bandwidth, no longer the novelty, but the way to deliver content and the way for attendees to navigate, prompt and record their attendance at meeting programs, exhibitions and seminars.
New Dimensions Respondents mention 3-D in terms of screens. In other studies, "technologies that stimulate all our senses" come in just under 50 percent—ahead of 3-D TV, 3-D hologram delegates, 3-D conference capture, collaborative decision-making, virtual reality and the use of virtual event avatars. 3-D printing was not identified in the survey.
Dimension presentation and product technology will have a fundamental impact on the meeting industry. New product sampling is a key industry trend, and further collaboration will likely produce new products. 3-D printing is already used in conferences due to its open source nature. Look for rapid developments, which will drive costs down and open up opportunities for build on-demand services, product prototypes and customization.
Everywhere, Everything, Everyone Calm technology is portrayed in sci-fi movies as embedded into the surroundings. It marks the disappearance of computers; they are no longer perceived as devices but as embedded elements of augmented artifacts in the environment. Embedding meeting technology will provide new opportunities for content delivered in new formats. In the further future, embedding unobtrusive, second nature technological enhancements within the fabric of venues and their facilities will be the norm.
Technology development trends can provide new perspective on the future. The use of open sourcing to rapidly create, drive, improve and access technology creates expectations for increased collaboration and the realization that alliances can occur in geographically dispersed communities.
"A lot of innovation today is being created around open-source software," said Paul Daugherty, managing director of advanced systems and technology/technology growth platform for Accenture, in a discussion last year on RedHat’s Open Advantage business and technology site. "Open-source software communities are driving innovations in cloud, social networking and mobile, which bodes well for its further adoption in the enterprise space."
Recent research from the Enterprise Council on Small Business, an advisory organization outside of the meeting sector, points to the information gap that exists in small businesses, in particular as regards the adoption of cloud computing. The report explained, "The benefits of cloud computing aren’t fully understood by the small business community. …Research shows that 49 percent of owners aren’t aware of cloud computing. For those who are aware but haven’t adopted, the leading barrier is, ‘I don’t know enough about it.’"
Augmented Reality AR (augmented reality) software mixes real and virtual worlds. Emanating from technical domains such as maintenance and complex machine training, AR has become mainstream due to small, capable devices, which have cameras and location sensors and provide simple touch-screen interaction. Head displays for hands-free AR aren’t universally available, but handheld devices (tablet computers, smartphones) provide some initial glimpses into what AR may provide in the future. It can, for example, highlight print (such as posters) with an additional layer of website links, visualizations and other relevant information. AR can provide material related to meeting theme/topic and maps to meeting facilities. It can also increase the capabilities of collaborative video conferencing.
Speech and Voice Recognition Speech recognition technology has been available on consumer-computing systems for years. The SIRI voice recognition on the Apple 4S mobile phone was a breakthrough in general availability and usability, and similar systems are available on other mobile systems such as Android. There are still technical challenges to be overcome, of course. Two different applications of this technology:
Speech-to-text transcription allows for immediate tagging of keywords (also possible automatically), making the distribution of presentations and talks rapid and providing almost-instant written notes. Delegates no longer need to take notes. Implementation in meetings is not far away.
New voice recognition technology can identify speakers and distinguish among them, which means panel discussions no longer present issues.
Conclusion and Considerations The complete version of the report from which the above has been excerpted is available at www.mpiweb.org/Portal/Research/FutureofMeetings. It aggregates research, recent studies, news and online sources and academic literature along with responses gathered in Phase I of the MPI Future of Meetings research—all of which highlight the need for strategic planning as trends emerge.
By creating specific strategies, businesses can activate early warning systems and the industry can prepare and even construct the future. The complete report provides an overview of key trends, which will be further dissected in Phase II through interviews with outside experts, social media specialists, Gen Y focus groups and meeting industry innovators.
Phase I demonstrates that myopic perceptions of the future will hamper the meeting sector and that a wider view of global trends—both central and periphery—is critical for long-term survival. While new technology is essential in all business, it needs to be better understood in terms of communication, learning, connection, construction, design, interaction, exchange and growth. Technology overshadows the horizon for meeting planners as both a trend and a symptom of other trends. One+
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