What smartphone technology can teach (and remind) us about meeting design.
The message being debated about MPI’s future of meetings within groups, surveys and expert interviews is emphatic: don’t use technology for technology’s sake. There is a growing concern that technology is becoming ever more human and meetings are racing in the opposite direction—toward technology at the expense of that human connection. There are many examples of meetings using technology to enhance interaction and deepen delegate engagement. But when pressure is on to wow the delegates, the ‘lure of the new’ might lose your participants.
It is understandable to see how high-tech obsession as innovation accelerates way beyond our processing speed. Interest in technology is healthy, as is making the right choices on how we use it. One way I would suggest using technology is by looking at what it is trying to do and how it does it. It might remind us of what it is to be human.
A good candidate might be the smartphone, which has outpaced all previous technological growths and adoptions. But what drives this growth, what makes the smartphone so attractive, so widely adopted and loved? Are there lessons the smartphone can teach us about meeting design
Intuitive design is a key factor in the successful adoption of smartphones. Babies on YouTube demonstrate remarkable talent when navigating a touch screen. Everything is at their fingertips and works with a logic that seems inherently simple. Simplicity is a trend that continues in the future. In spite of that, navigating a meeting program or venue seems remarkably complicated. Signage in venues can be complex and incorrectly positioned way above heads. Maybe we should ask ourselves, “Could a two-year-old navigate my meeting?” Technology could help, but our design could improve. How would a smartphone developer design an exhibition? Doubtless they would consider how humans find places where they live. The design would resemble the places we inhabit. In towns and cities we navigate by street names, street signs, blocks and landmarks, not by numerical and color codes.
As individuals, we like to customize and personalize our smartphones. We choose a cover depending on our taste, mood and budget or, in my case, our propensity to drop them. We add a photo to our home screen, adjust our icons to a size we can read and tailor our screen so we can get to what we use with ease. Because of this, my smartphone becomes part of me and feels indispensable. In contrast, at meetings, everyone wears the same badge, lanyard, program or app. But what can we do to make our meetings more personal? Can we do more to help delegates to customize their experiences, or even personalize what we ask them to wear
Smartphone developers know that they cannot come up with all the best ideas. App stores open up opportunities to innovators worldwide to come up with new ideas to enhance the functionality of smartphones. Imagine that involvement in a meeting...a call out for ideas on how to enhance your event could provide an opportunity for an innovator to develop and showcase a new product. The app store is successful because the outside is invited in. In the app store environment, developers take most of the risk, it is their ideas that they develop and test in the smartphone context. An app store approach could bring new thinking to your roundtable—and new products and experiences to your events—all you have to do is open up to new ideas.
The smartphone has blurred the line between offline and online so much so that the terms now seem redundant. For meeting planners, this means that connectivity between virtual and real-time is a fundamental part of meeting design. Meetings will work increasingly in hybrid form—environments increasingly ‘seamless’ and blurring. But it is more than this. The smartphone extends our world and enables us to be in multiple places at once in real time. Do our meetings achieve this by bringing multiple worlds and experiences together in one space? Do our meetings do enough to make us feel connected?
Meetings, like smartphones, should be responsive. My smartphone responds to me in the way that I seek. If I swipe my finger across the screen, the objects move. I can use touch or, as it is on the iPhone, I can use voice commands and Siri will get me what I seek. These phones understand my language. In the future our meetings will need to respond to an ever-widening variety of delegates and speak their language, too. Meeting planners will need to respond to delegate demands in real time. To do this, like the phone designers, meeting planners need to anticipate the changes and adapt formats and content to suit new delegates in advance and during meetings.
All in a Name
These phones have earned their name. They achieve greatness and allow us to be great in a very small, well-defined space. They exceed expectation because they are constantly improving through the inputs and engagement of outside thinking and because their designers have a deep understanding of their human consumers. They succeed because they understand the needs of their market and their market understands exactly what they do. In short, they deliver specific objectives simply. Now a meeting designed like that…smart. One+
future of meetings,
One+ August 2012,