The Future of Meetings
By Daniel Burrus
gas prices, airline cutbacks, canceled and delayed flights,
skyrocketing travel costs…these are just a few of the challenges
facing businesses today. As a result, more and more companies are
looking for ways to eliminate or at least greatly reduce travel
expenses, and they’re re-examining how they’ll conduct meetings in
to eliminate meeting expenses is not a new concept for business.
After 9/11, the airlines temporarily shut down. When the airports
reopened, many people were afraid to fly. In response, companies
rushed to try virtual meetings—namely video conferencing and Web
conferencing—in an attempt to save time and money. But the tools
available had limitations. On a personal PC, video conferencing was
slow due to low bandwidth speeds that made the video fuzzy.
High-quality systems were confined to a few video conferencing
rooms, which were always booked. Web conferencing, using a
combination of audio, text messaging, and PowerPoint, was useful but
Additionally, people tended to overreact and do all meetings
virtually. Since no one had “meeting guidelines” in place, companies
learned some hard lessons—that there are times when you actually
need to see someone face to face, there are times when an audio
conference will do, and there are times when an email is perfectly
fine. With greatly diminished meeting outcomes due to the lack of
guidelines, video conferencing and Web conferencing went back to
playing a minor role as companies reverted to traveling for their
Fortunately, people didn’t completely abandon video and Web
conferencing. Companies use video and Web conferencing today more
than ever before because they discovered the technology. Now it’s
time for corporate America to step it up a notch and use the new
meeting technology to not only save costs, but also to build
Future of Relationships: The challenge today is that many
companies are going into crisis mode. Because air travel and gas
costs are high, they’re using video and Web conferencing, as well as
the new high-end videoconferencing called telepresence offered by
Cisco and HP, to save travel money. However, if their only
motivation is to save money on travel, rather than the more
important goal of enhancing communication and collaboration
throughout the enterprise, then they’re simply creating another fad.
Video conferencing has evolved tremendously over the past few years,
and companies need to use the technology of today to pave the path
to future profits, all of which hinge on relationships.
fuel to the fire is the fact that rising gas prices and travel costs
are not cyclical this time; they’re permanent. Major social changes
are taking place worldwide in such places as China and India, and
the increased global energy consumption affects everyone. In other
words, fuel costs will fluctuate but will not go back to the low
levels we once enjoyed. Therefore, smart companies are changing how
they think about meetings and the new video conferencing technology,
and they’re realizing that it offers business something more
powerful than they’ve had in the past. These companies are thinking
in terms of “visual communications” rather than simply video and Web
communications heighten the bond you have with someone when you
cannot see them face to face. It’s about adding dimension to the
communication. There’s a reason why you shake someone’s hand when
you meet them: The more senses you involve, the higher the
connection. Those companies that can enhance their communication,
both internally and externally, are the ones who can cause change
faster and stay competitive longer.
to Make Visual Communications Work: Before you mandate that
video conferencing be the only way of conducing meetings, consider
the following principles of visual communications.
First, realize that the need to meet, establish relationships,
and share information, knowledge, and wisdom is not going away.
No amount of high-tech gadgetry is going to change that in a
fundamental way. That’s why face-to-face meetings are still the
dominant form of meeting and extremely relevant, because there
is no better way to build trust. In our increasingly global
marketplace, trust is the glue that creates strong, successful,
and enduring business relationships. Those who believe video
conferencing will end face-to-face meetings are using
“either/or” thinking, which often occurs when dazzling new
technologies first appear. They view the new thing as destined
to totally supplant the old thing, except that rarely happens.
Companies that make visual communications work will have the new
and the old coexisting by allowing each to do what it does best.
Video conferencing is a superb tool for saving travel time and
expense, focusing on a structured agenda, obtaining senior-level
points of view in real-time, building consensus, and making
announcements. It’s not so good at smoothing out contentious
give-and-take or handling emotional or sensitive issues.
Fortunately, both virtual meetings and face-to-face meetings are
readily available. It’s not either/or anymore. “Both/and”
thinking is the new paradigm.
the past, video conferencing required a big fancy room with
expensive equipment. That’s not the only option for video
anymore. Many new computers come with a built-in video camera.
That means you can do video conferencing on a personal laptop
from your desk, your home, or anywhere in the world. The
software is free and comes with your system. And with some
computers, you can have multiple people on at the same time and
video conference with them all at once.
the Meeting Goal Determine the Role of Technology: The future of
business includes an interdependent world that generates increasing
quantities of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom that
companies need to communicate. The key is to develop guidelines for
determining what type of meeting to have. To do this, you must look
at the meeting’s goal.
the traps people fall into when planning a meeting is looking at
business goals instead of human/emotional goals. Therefore, before
you plan any meeting, ask yourself, “What is this meeting’s goal? Is
it to inform, motivate, inspire, persuade, influence, sell, gain
trust, negotiate, gain respect, establish new relationships,
strengthen existing relationships, share information, share
knowledge and experiences, gain credibility, change how people
think, solve a problem, determine a strategy, or simply create
dialog?” Thinking about the goal for the meeting in this way makes
it easier to decide what type of meeting will be best and
what technology is most appropriate.
know your meeting’s goal, use the following guidelines:
If the goal is primarily to inform by sharing data and
information, then a meeting may not even be necessary. It might
be far better to use email, groupware, a wiki, a blog, or an
Intranet or Extranet and let people collect and absorb the
information at their own rate and in their own time.
If you determine that sharing the information at the same time
with everyone would be best, then consider audio conferencing
and/or web-conferencing as an alternative to a face-to-face
If the information delivery will primarily be one-way, then an
e-conference would serve the purpose. If, however, informing
involves hands-on demonstrations and/or high levels of
interactivity, then a face-to-face meeting is definitely in
If the goal is to influence, build on existing relationships,
share knowledge and experiences, gain credibility, solve a
problem, or determine a strategy, then a face-to-face meeting is
best, but it is no longer the only option. Technologies such as
high-end videoconferencing telepresence systems and
satellite-broadcast services that use full-motion video could
help you accomplish your goals. If all participants have access
to broadband connections, and almost all today do, then
web-conferencing offers another increasingly attractive option.
Audio-conferencing could also be a viable option depending on
the number of people attending and the amount of interactivity
required during the meeting.
If the goal is to gain trust and/or respect, or to inspire,
motivate, persuade, establish relationships, negotiate, or
change how people think, then a face-to-face meeting is a must.
If this is not possible, then the next best thing would be
telepresence video conferencing rooms, which typically have
three huge curved screens and a fourth screen above for shared
work, custom lighting and acoustics, and life size images.
the current conditions of gas prices, transportation costs, and
airline cuts, the need to meet, share knowledge, and develop
relationships will continue. Therefore, successful meetings will
depend on your ability to master the concept of visual
communications and develop guidelines that leverage both old and new
tools to build trusting relationships that foster greater
communication, collaboration, and community.
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