Over the past five years, meeting planners have faced a serious challenge within the events they coordinate: Nearly every attendee has a smartphone or tablet, and is not hesitant to use it at any time — even during meeting sessions.
The discussion among planners regarding this situation usually focuses on how to keep attendees' attention from being siphoned off by their email, LinkedIn, Facebook and other online options. But does any planner dare attempt to ban smartphones or tablets in meeting rooms? That seems to be a hopeless proposition, and one that could actually trigger aggravation among attendees. Of course, this would not be a good thing for the meeting's effectiveness.
There is, however, another way to go about handling this problem — a way that would actually benefit the attendee, the meeting planner and the organization hosting the meeting. That would be to embrace the technology rather than fight it, by connecting major elements of the meeting to attendees' smartphones and tablets, then promoting the use of those tools to make the meeting more vibrant and useful to attendees.
Meeting-specific apps are one option. They can be either off-the-shelf or customized to an organization's unique event needs, although the higher-priced customized apps only make sense for organizations whey they are used for multiple meetings over time. But these apps do a lot: from event registration to personalized session scheduling to meeting-content storage to hosting icebreaker games that take place during an in-person networking event, these apps have evolved in the past few years to make planners' logistical and content-related tasks much easier.
Then there are Internet-based outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and many others, which can be used to enhance the quality of a meeting. This is done not just by preparing attendees beforehand and then letting them continue their interactions afterwards, but also by affecting the meeting as it's happening.
For instance, encouraging attendees to make comments and post photos to event-specific pages or promoting hashtags about the topics being discussed in meeting sessions — even while the sessions are still in progress — allows attendees to learn from each other, not just from the presenter. What's more, this real-time communication gives the planner instant feedback that can be used to adapt the meeting's content. By moving the discussion in the direction attendees want on a moment's notice, attendees learn more about their desired topics and thus are more satisfied with the meeting.
At Kiawah Island Golf Resort (KIGR), an oceanfront meetings property set just outside Charleston, SC, veteran conference services manager Terry Treuting sees an emerging technological trend among meetings taking place at her facility, The Sanctuary. A 255-room luxury hotel with sweeping ocean views, The Sanctuary hosts upscale meetings ranging from 10 to 200 attendees.
Treuting finds that attendees are increasingly bringing into meetings not only smartphones, but also 10-inch tablets as well as 7-inch mini-tablets. In fact, some organizations are purchasing tablets or mini-tablets en masse and distributing them to attendees for use in meetings.
"I assume that the issue revolves around the desire for a larger screen, and we have seen a few groups in recent months come into the meeting space with tablets for everyone," Treuting says. "The phone screen does not seem big enough to be of use for more than a few minutes in a meeting, but the tablets are also small enough to be easy to carry. So the tablets are a natural choice when the meeting's host wants attendees to use a personal digital device during part of a conference."
For instance, Treuting recalls two incentive groups — each with about 25 attendees — that came in with tablets for everyone and then conducted some of the educational portion of their agenda by using the tablets as the presentation medium. In each case, an executive in the company's home office conducted a presentation that leveraged proprietary information from the firm's internal servers, moving it through an encrypted Internet connection to each tablet.
This also allowed the physical set-up of the meeting room to be nontraditional — after all, it was not necessary for attendees to face a common projection screen or LCD panel. As a result, the comfort and interaction of attendees was enhanced, while AV costs were actually less than previous meetings. "The AV budget usually is the first to get squeezed during the meeting-planning process. Purchasing tablets for seminars can be a cost-effective — and environmentally friendly — solution," Treuting says. Another benefit: These incentive participants got to take the tablets home as part of their gift package. Then again, an organization could collect the tablets at the end of a meeting for reuse at the next one, enhancing the ROI of the purchase.
With the flexibility that this technology offers, Treuting envisions that more groups will opt to go to the tablet option, not just at The Sanctuary but also at KIGR's other meeting facilities: The 7,000-square-foot East Beach Conference Center, plus the sizable meeting spaces at several golf clubhouses across the island.
Given that KIGR presently offers at least 40 Mbps of bandwidth for meetings — enough for roughly 100 people to be connected to a streamed presentation via personal digital devices — the option for tablet use is now top of mind among Treuting and the entire KIGR conference services team as they partner with group clients to build the most productive meeting possible.