As meeting design progresses, the line between extraordinary and ordinary begins to blur.
Our future trends experts believe boundaries are blurring—personal and professional lives, business and leisure (‘Bleisure,’ according to The Future Laboratory)—and offline and online environments are disappearing. Technology is the cause some say, as it gives us connectivity, while others believe technology is the symptom of a human desire to be connected.
Whatever the cause, the balance, whether work and life, virtual or live, is not easy to strike…Seamless: an adjective, means 1) having no seams; 2a) having no awkward transitions, interruptions or indications of disparity and 2b) perfect, flawless, smooth.
Seamless is uninterrupted, there are no seams, no bumps, no disparities…but is this good in our meetings? Can a meeting be too smooth? Seamless environments in meeting contexts are often said to describe the bringing together of offline and online communications within events.
Recently I contributed to the C2-MTL business conference Knitterstream, a woolen Twitter feed asking people how they would describe their creative mantra—it was hard to resist. I was not at the event, had no interest in attending it, but my tweet was duly stitched into the conference conversation. But even though my words became part of the event, did I really deserve to be included? And did my contribution add any value?
Whether it did or not, the Knitterstream seemed to fit the concept of the conference as it centered on commerce and creativity—collaboration and ‘outside thinking’ in new forms, even knitted ones. But seamlessness may not always be a solution and may not suit all meetings. Indeed, sometimes we need to be reminded why we might have those seams in the first place.
Seams indicate boundaries showing us that I am here and you are not here. Within the boundaries of a meeting, we may need to focus more of our attention on our live (and paying) audiences as well as our virtual ones and perhaps the passers-by in the Twitterverse.
Alongside seamless environments, experts from all kinds of industries identify "specialness" and "superior experiences" as critical to the success of face-to-face meetings in the future. Does seamlessness really enable us to deliver specialness? Doubtless it can in some types of meetings, but the definition of "seamless" could be a double-edged sword.
Recently, Silverstream TV announced a new video for Twitter service—high tech to bring offline content to online audiences at the speed of a tweet—ideal for events that benefit greatly from instant communication. More events will doubtlessly head toward this seamless technology as the live events are communicated in word and moving image instantly. Such video content can without a doubt add specialness. After all, we feel special when the events we attend are broadcast. But if the majority of events are broadcast, the lines between extraordinary and ordinary, like everything else, might blur.
When this happens, we might need to be a little more cautious about how we treat our diverse "attendees." There is a crucial difference. Our live attendee wants to feel special; our virtual attendee needs to feel that the event is special. Some events are made for broadcast—witness the Olympics opening ceremonies where the spectacle is made for TV (it is no coincidence that film director Danny Boyle directed London 2012). The Beijing Olympics famously used computer graphics to enhance the event for TV. The specialness for the Olympics audience is arguably more centered on being there, rather than experiencing the ceremony live. But for most face-to-face meetings, priority should be on the live experience.
The trend toward broadcast and digitization of content—from lectures, shows, concerts, to our meetings—is rapid. Digitization is creating open access and a growing proliferation of free resources. So persuading people to pay for content reduces. To persuade them effectively, live meetings have to be superior to digitized experiences. To exceed digital hyperactivity, our events need to be hyper-real.
The specialness at a meeting in the future will not emerge from the live tweeting and broadcasting of content—that will provide crucial and commonplace evidence, it will not be what makes it "superior."
The superiority of live events might well be the bumps, disparities and interruptions of being in an exclusive environment rather than a seamless one. The specialness at meetings comes from the ideas and experiences that your delegates get from being at your event. The specialness that you design, that may not cost big bucks.
One of the experts in the future of meetings study, games industry specialist Nicholas Lovell, described an event he attended where the program was printed on a chocolate bar—the memories of this event lasted longer than the subsequent flurry of tweets.
Online is critical to meetings, but there is a dividing line. When I see a Twitter feed, I want to feel like something good is going on. More importantly, I need to feel that I am missing out by not being there. If instead I can see it all, read it all and more than that, I can actually participate, maybe there is no need to be there. For the meeting industry that seems more like a stitch-up to me.
So let’s remember balance is key in this world of seamless communication. Seams help hold things together and sometimes it is very good to see them do just that. Otherwise our seamless meetings might simply seem less. One+
face to face,
future of meetings,
One+ September 2012,