The Future of Meeting Places

July 1, 2001 · by James P. Cramer

When it comes to meetings, the possible synergy of collaborative brain power frequently does not reach its full potential for a variety of reasons. Why? Setting and content. The following survey results provide a better picture of the problem.

The way we work is rapidly changing. Alternative officing, technological advancements and telecommuting are just a few workplace trends that are changing the daily routine. Yet, when it comes to meetings, the possible synergy of collaborative brain power (and billable hours) frequently does not reach its full potential for a variety of reasons. Why? Setting and content. The following survey results provide a better picture of the problem.

1. Describe the state of meetings today: Respondents used descriptive terms like disconnected and unfulfilled. When invited to a “meeting,” the majority of people enter the situation with a feeling that that they will be a part of “something.” Be it a decision, a recommendation or to be given a task to accomplish, people want to feel that their participation in a meeting will be important. These expectations usually fall short in three important areas:

Type of Meeting: most people conduct meetings in the best way they feel comfortable, but that method may not be the best for achieving the meeting’s goals. Learning what “type” of meeting to conduct for the situation will help connect the meeting’s goals to the people.

Type of Tools: matching the tools used to the meeting type is critical to the success of any meeting. Using a PowerPoint presentation for a two-person get-together can be overkill, much as using a flip chart for a 300 person corporate sales presentation can be underwhelming. Disconnecting the tools from the meeting type can lead to a poor meeting.

Type of Message: By not stating the goals, objectives or setting an agenda, the message of the meeting becomes lost. Great storytellers always have a beginning, middle and an end to their tales. It is no different in conducting a meeting. If you do not have a beginning, middle and an end to your message, your meeting will be unfulfilled.

2. What are the major challenges facing organizations as they look to improve meeting effectiveness? Connecting disparate people across the organization is the greatest challenge facing companies as we move into the new millennium. “Project Teams,” consisting of traditional employees, contract workers, alternative workforce, outsourced solution providers, and traditional vendors are taking a more important role in the success of Net Economy organizations. This use of integrated “project teams” is increasing the need for meetings. The problems occur when more than one of the participants cannot physically be at the meetings. The use of teleconferencing, video conferencing and Web-based meetings is rising due to this situation. Bringing geographically dispersed people together by connecting them through the “environment of the mind” can succeed if the proper mix of the type of meeting, tools, and message can be achieved.

3. If you could change one thing about the meetings you attend, what would it be? Meeting rooms and the lack of schedule coordination. In my line of work, I estimate that I am in meetings at least 2-3 times day. This results in my participation in about 750 meetings a year. Phone/video/web conferences account for 1/3, formal presentations account for 1/3, and face-to-face meetings account for 1/3. The most successful are the ones that do not “feel” like meetings. Having a meeting space that “feels” formal when you need a working session meeting leads to an unpleasant experience. Meetings that match their surroundings lead to a feeling of being connected and fulfilled.

4. What should be considered when designing a meeting space?
Change. A meeting space should be able to change its look, feel and functionality at a moment’s notice. Lighting, furniture, and meeting tools should be able to change to accommodate the users of the space. Meetings are theatre. Business is entertainment. Meeting room designers should take their cue from stage designers who understand the essence of creating an image to match the desired need. One day a theatre is hosting a drama, the next day a symphony orchestra. All within the same physical space, but two different environments. New technologies, like full size plasma screens and Bluetooth (www.bluetooth.com) wireless standards will assist designers in reaching the goals of special differentiation and flexibility.

5. Do you believe technology helps improve the effectiveness of meetings? Technology can improve a meeting when the correct mix of tools and message are utilized. Technology tools like PowerPoint will not make you a better speaker, but they can make a good speaker worse. Some other points about technology, and in particular Microsoft PowerPoint, the number one business meeting tool in the world today (sometimes called the number one business crutch in history):

6. Identify some of the barriers preventing organizations from using more technology products in the meeting room. How should they be overcome?From the meetings that use technology, it seems that most people look like they are hiding behind the technology they use and are afraid to just be themselves and get to the point. This becomes a barrier in adoption of any new technology in a meeting space. The rule is if you cannot give your presentation without the technology, then you shouldn’t be presenting in the first place. Meeting technologies should be enhancement tools, not “Use this tool and you will be a better presenter” tools. If anything, new technologies will highlight all qualities of your presentation and meeting skills, warts and all.

Due to these perceptions, many people are asking themselves, ‘is technology really necessary?’ The answer is a certain yes. The question is, ‘what is the right mixing of technology and message to enhance the type of meeting I am running?’ These issues and questions can be overcome through education, testing of the newer technologies, and practice, practice, practice. Why is it that some people when conducting a meeting or giving a presentation look at ease and comfortable with technology tools while others look like they are struggling with it? People in business today were not born into technology; they learn and practice with it. John Perry Barlow has said, “We are all immigrants in this new land of technology. The only natives are the children who have been born into this time.” With this thought in mind, it’s OK to feel lost at times. What we really need is a good immigration guide.

7. What will meetings be like five years from now? Ten years from now? Within five years, meetings will be better connected. People, technology, information, and the meeting place will be better integrated. The integration of wireless technology into the physical place of meetings will provide seamless and effortless links back into knowledge bases of information. No more waiting for photocopies to be made or setting another meeting until data can be pulled together. With standards like Bluetooth being integrated into mobile devices, people will not have to physically be at their computer/workstation/laptop in order to use, access or manipulate their information. Bluetooth, being radio wave based, does not require line-of-site in order to transfer information. This means you will be able to walk into your meeting space and synchronize the projection device from your personal Digital Assistant (PDA), like a Palm organizer, to set up your PowerPoint presentation as soon as you enter. The physical spaces will accommodate all types of meetings (one-on-one, formal, work session) with an increased reliance on technology.

The ability to be connected to anyone, anytime, and to anything worldwide will increase the need for schedule coordination. The next 5 years will see an increased value for meeting schedule coordinators as an important organizational asset. This is a natural outgrowth of meeting planners. Due to the nature of organizations having many meeting rooms, a meeting schedule coordinator will be required to coordinate everyone’s schedule, inform the participants of the meeting’s nature, location, tools needed, and remote alternatives to join the meeting, and then manage the entire endeavor. With people like myself who may have 2-3 meetings a day, this person becomes a necessity in a more connected world.

Within 10 years, meeting spaces will become the most used (and widely available) spaces in any facility. Facilities will become more of a series of meeting places with fewer cubicles. Although most people will work from where ever they want (home, executive life resort, etc.) people will still need to commune, thus the need for meeting places. These meeting places resemble more of an entertainment facility than what we now call “corporate facilities.” The ability to have a holographic-type image of a person, who is not “physically” there will provide the essence of that person being there. There will be a huge demand for enhanced imaging of your holographic image for representation at these “virtual” meetings. Want to be seen in that $5,000.00 Armani suit? Just click the icon. The video transmission will be of the quality that you will not be able to decipher if the person is real or “virtual”, providing the environment for greater communication, coordination and collaboration. Holographic-type images will be produced for people to interact with the visual representation of business data, thus leading to more of a sense of involvement and fulfillment.

As we move forward in the Net Economy, meetings, tools and the spaces that enhance them will be challenged to become more versatile, entertaining, and connected in order to fulfill their role in future of business.

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