Of MICE and Mean­ing

Tech­nol­ogy, so­cial me­dia and mo­bile com­mu­ni­ca­tions are chang­ing the way we meet

Business Traveler (USA) - - TALKING POINT - — Dan Booth Edi­to­rial Di­rec­tor

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.

BT

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