What do you need to know about tech in meetings?

If you take only one thing away from this post, I’d like it to be this: question everything you’re told about technology in meetings.

There’s nothing new about that idea: after all, if you’re buying a new car and a salesman tells you that this is the most amazing car that’s ever been seen and it will revolutionise your life, you’ll probably want to check out his claims. So why not do the same with tech for meetings?

You need to do it because, if you decide to use any technology in your next event, you want to be sure that it’s right for your attendees, your event and you. And the fact is that there is no tech that is right for every event. Some of it is right for some meetings . Some of it’s right for other meetings. None of it’s right for all meetings.

Some of it isn’t right for any meetings. Social media is an obvious case. It’s undoubtedly a powerful tool in the right context: if you’re running President Obama’s re-election campaign, it’s going to be invaluable for raising campaign funds. If you run a hotel, you can’t afford to ignore TripAdvisor. But if you’re running a medical congress in Amsterdam or Financial services conference in Birmingham, it’s not going to help to make the conference more successful.

Some technology is of very limited appeal. For example, radio frequency identification (RFID) and near field communications (NFC) might be useful if you’ve got the budget and you want to be seen to be using that sort of technology, but it’s not a ‘must have’.

Interactivity is another technology that worries me. I don’t believe that you can take an ineffective session done by a speaker with poor presentation skills using poor speaker support and make it compelling just by adding interactivity. All you’ll get will be an ineffective session delivered by a speaker with poor presentation skills using poor speaker support and with poorly executed interactive elements. The speaker needs to be trained, first to be a competent speaker and then to use the interactive skills effectively.

The problem with much of this technology is that it’s diverting attention from the most important element of any meeting: the content. The content has got to be right for the attendees. Once you have the right content delivered by competent speakers, then you can start thinking about adding the technology.

Until you get to that point, you have to ask many, many questions about technology in meetings starting with what will it do for me? And how will it do it? And then, what will be the benefit?

That’s why I am so certain that, if you’re a meeting planner, you have to question everything you’re told about technology in meetings.

(This posting is adapted from a presentation made at the Fresh 2013 conference in Copenhagen on 15 January 2013.)

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