Of MICE and Meaning
Technology, social media and mobile communications are changing the way we meet
Whether by horsecart or jetliner, steamship or electric train, from the earliest days of commerce, one of the main motivators for business travel has been to meet someone. And not just anyone – someone with whom you expect to do business. In fact, I don’t know anybody who travels to avoid meeting someone, unless they’re in the witness protection program.
Since meetings are so central to the entire raison d’être of business travel, it would make sense to find out more about whatever tools are available to get them organized. With that in mind, I took off for Orlando recently to uncover the latest news surrounding Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events, which in the land of clever acronyms works out to MICE.
The Orlando conference was hosted by Cvent, one of the leading purveyors of meetings technology. As you might expect, then, technology – and especially mobile solutions – played a big role in how this event was coordinated, planned and executed. After all, what better place to showcase meetings technology than a conference about meetings technology?
First, some general observations: Gone are the days when attendees crowd the registration desk to get pre-printed Hi, My Name Is tags pulled from laboriously alphabetized boxes of plastic badge holders. In fact, nearly gone are the registration desk crowds; instead we walk up, type our names onto a touch screen, and, viola, our tags almost immediately materialize.
Next, I’m handed a canvas bag with the event name silkscreened on it and a few high-tech tschotkes – and three single sheets of printed material. No more totes bulging with multi-fold schedules, agendas, handouts, printed PowerPoint decks, and so on. Instead, my smartphone gets loaded up with a surprisingly easy-to-use event-specific app that contains all the information I need to make it through the conference.
During one keynote, the speaker asked for a show of hands from everyone in the room who had a connected mobile device – and sure enough, everyone in the room had a connected mobile device. At one point in the presentation (yes, there were still presentations), I looked around the darkened room and was surprised to see about 10 percent of the faces lit up by their mobile phones and tablets. Is this rude? Or is this just the new way of engaging at an event? Are those texts and e-mails really that important? Or are those individuals somehow multi-tasking, staying productive while assimilating all that knowledge?
When I looked again, I saw different folks were on their devices – but still about 10 percent of the room. As I watched this phenomenon, it was interesting to see some people stayed on the whole time, but most divided their attention between the speaker and some quick glances at their devices. About then, I felt an overwhelming urge to check my own smartphone.
Apparently, checking messages is contagious, like yawning – when you see somebody else do it, you feel compelled to do it yourself. The power of suggestion rules.
Getting connected is inherently part of the human condition. We want to reach out, and be reached out to. In some way it validates us, makes us feel part of the larger whole. That, to me, is the magic of today’s technology – that we are instantly and universally joined, individuals still, but somehow drawn together.
In this month’s cover story, Ramsey Qubein explores what it means to be on The Connected Journey. (page 30) At every step in his travels, Ramsey finds a way to connect through technology. But this is no mere exercise in how to download an app; what we experience in this story is a new way to think about travel, where connectivity forms the core around which journeys are built.
In some ways, these days if connectivity is not second nature to you, you’re like the Man from Mars – beaming into a strange world where everybody but you seems be on the same wavelength.
But in parting, one final observation from Orlando: People talked. Face-to-face, earnestly and at great length. Everywhere we went, conversations were going on, information was being exchanged, ideas were born. In some ways, the technology was an enabler of all this personal connection, not a substitute for it. So maybe checking your phone in the middle of a presentation isn’t rude at all – maybe it’s a sign that what you have to say is so important, I want to clear the decks of all my other distractions.
And now, I need to – yawn – check my messages.