Collocated PCMA Convening Leaders and Virtual Edge Summit - Ready or Not Planners, Technology and the Future are Going to Kick Your ... Assumptions

January 15, 2012

There was no greater proof that meeting planners are irreversibly, indisputably and uncontrollably being dragged into the future - whether their boards or bosses buy into it or not - than last week’s Convening Leaders and Virtual Edge Summit collocated conference in San Diego.

Between the major tech company announcements, shifts in presentation architecture and futuristic keynotes, it was obvious that technology in all of its manifestations (social, mobile, virtual, biotech, or cloud) is propelling planners into a future where the traditional competencies (and assumptions) will no longer be adequate for the job.

Besides blanketing the conference (and the free pedicabs) with QR codes and serving as both sponsor and technology partner for the event, the Active Network, a San Diego-based “provider of organization-based cloud computing applications,” announced the launch of its Business Solutions division and its acquisition of StarCite.

Under the umbrella of the new division, which now includes StarCite’s strategic meetings management solutions and its online marketplace of hotels, venues and destinations, the Active Network has created an end-to-end solution for meetings of all sizes that includes registration, CEU tracking, social networking, mobile event navigation and other components of the meeting planning and attendee engagement process.

Bxb Online, a marketing agency specializing in hybrid and online event strategies, was front and center during the combined event. The agency kicked off its conference participation with a pledge of $100,000 toward the Virtual Edge Institute’s Digital Event Strategist (DES) certification program - great news for meeting planners tasked with executing virtual extensions for their face-to-face meetings.

The donation announcement was followed up by news that bxb Online is also developing an online Industry Network - a central repository of content complemented by vertical networking communities and organized by industry channels. The network will initially feature live and archived content (culled primarily from face-to-face events) from the network’s charter organizations, including IAEE, ASAE and PCMA. The network, which could bring premium content out from behind the walled gardens of associations, is scheduled to launch in the fall of 2012.

The Learning Lounge concept introduced at Convening Leaders in 2011 was expanded in 2012. Half of the lounge was dedicated to advanced learning concepts and technology - not the typical man or woman on stage talking at the crowd. The Big Ideas Pavilion featured short 15-minute TED-like presentations followed by audience Q & A. The Really Live Chat area was an open forum for peer-to-peer discussion on topics introduced via video by thought leaders. APP4THAT was an always-packed area of the lounge dedicated to the hands-on learning and sharing of Smartphone and iPad applications.

The Virtual Edge Summit occupied the other half of the Learning Lounge real estate with Digital U, a combination live streaming studio, demo area (flat screens and comfy seating manned by virtual platform providers) and a stage for 30-minute educational presentations on virtual and hybrid event technologies.

Two keynotes in particular, Juan Enriquez’s presentation on how bio-science is beginning to affect the way we live, work, and do business and David Brooks’ look at how the unconscious mind affects decision-making should have opened planners’ eyes to the gravitational pull of the future.

Several things are evident from the Convening Leaders and Virtual Edge Summit conference:

Corporate, association and third-party meeting leadership must finally and without hesitation accept that technology is both the catalyst and the conduit to meetings of the future. Without a mandate from the top, planners will have (and continue to use) an excuse to dodge the bullet.

Planners must change their thinking about technology (especially the virtual extensions of face-to-face meetings) and equip themselves with the skills required to meet the challenges of a changing meeting environment. Executing meetings that are digitally viable, consumable on mobile devices, engaging and shareable will require a new mindset and new training.

PCMA has deliberately placed itself in the eye of the hurricane for leading-edge content and ideas. The question is whether planners will join them in the calm place or blow around in the gale-force winds until a reality check knocks them to their senses.

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