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EIBTM Technology Debate

DOES TECHNOLOGY PROMOTE OR INHIBIT GOOD CONFERENCE COMMUNICATION?

  



With the purpose of stimulating thought on how technology is affecting our lives, I invited my friend, Tony Carey, CMM (http://www.tonycarey.com/) to debate the question: "Does Technology Promote or Inhibit Good Conference Communication?" Tony, a fellow former MPI Chancellor, is one of the most eloquent speakers and facilitators I know. He also never uses PowerPoint. He was the perfect “opponent” as we took the opposite sides to explore this issue. Martin Sirk, ICCA Executive Director, served as the moderator to the EIBTM-sponsored event held in Barcelona on 30 November 2005. 



At the end of the debate, we used audience polling to ask the overflow audience of more than 100 their opinion on the issue. Check out the illuminating results linked at the end of this article. 

 

Listed below is Tony's statement opposing the question followed by my statement in favor of technology.

 
DOES TECHNOLOGY PROMOTE OR INHIBIT GOOD CONFERENCE COMMUNICATION?

Statement in Opposition by Tony Carey, CMM (www.tonycarey.com)

Mr. Chairman,

 

I suggest that technology not only doesn’t promote good conference communication, it inhibits it.

 

The time has come for a backlash to the global obsession with technological solutions to real and imagined problems.

 

We are in danger of becoming a race of keyboard tappers unable to communicate with each other, meaningfully, in a natural manner, face to face.

 

There is now a generation of people coming into work who do not know how to interact except remotely. They are our delegates of the future and they lack simple social skills.

 

We are in the business of face to face communication, of bringing people together so that they can see, touch, and smell each other. That’s our job and it’s becoming more important by the day.

 

We should be in the vanguard of discouraging electronic solutions to communication and not just because we are doing ourselves out of a job.

 

The best communication is real time, up front and personal, where we can read body language, sense an atmosphere, look behind the eyes, really relate directly to the human being rather than via a machine.

 

I’m not knocking e-mail and the internet - they are wonderful time-saving inventions but they must not be allowed to replace the real thing. But some of the latest trends are scary.

 

When everyone is connected to an iPod or MP3 device, instead of a community we are just a million individuals in little selfish personal cocoons. Communication suffers. Where is the dialogue?

 

We have become lazy communicators. We don’t think of the other person when we e-mail (just cutting and pasting a standard letter and pretending it’s personal)

 

And where is the promised paperless society? We waste more paper than ever.

 

And we waste more time, fiddling with our systems and hardware than we ever did with our pencils.

 

Part of the problem is that since most of us over 40 are not techno wizards we have relied on the experts. And they have taken full advantage of our ignorance. Like all specialists in the land of the blind, they have made things unnecessarily complex to exclude the rest of us. It is human nature and world they have created is elitist and exclusive - the very antithesis of open communication.

 

In a word, we have become intimidated by technology and its perpetrators.

 

We are on a roller-coaster that is impossible to get off and it’s an expensive, inflationary one. The pressure to keep up is relentless and distracting.

 

I might be more sympathetic to it if it worked, but how often does it let you down? Just when it is most inconvenient.

 

And in the conference room, we are bewitched by PowerPoint. The worse thing that ever happened to the Meetings industry is the A-V industry. A bunch of techies who seem to think we have only two senses.

 

You are considered to be an inadequate presenter if you don’t support yourself with PowerPoint and other distractions. Wrong! The most effective, motivating, rewarding, inspiring presentations are when people interact directly - not via ersatz images.

 

Take the audience response system we are using today. It is open to abuse and we are all anonymous. What’s wrong with a show of hands?

 

And finally, the cell phone. We all bring our office problems to conferences these days. Half your mind is on what’s going on back at the ranch in your absence. you do not commit to the agenda as you used to. Cell phones are a major distraction. They hamper conference communication - and all too frequently interrupt it.

 

Mr. Chairman, we are, like the Gadarene swine, rushing headlong towards a sticky end. Human communication is being hindered by the the likes of Bill Gates, especially in the conference room. We are in thrall to the geeks.

 

It is time we stopped to smell the coffee - and talk to each other.


Statement in Favor, by Corbin Ball

 

Mr. Chairman,

It is my position that technology enhances good conference communication. When used properly, it can help bring people together more effectively, it can enhance the learning environment and it broadens the scope of meetings and events.

 

The first step in having good conference communication is the process of bringing people together. Technology has made this process much easier.


Online Registration
For example, online registration has increased customer service (people can log in anytime, fill out the online form and get an immediate confirmation)… While, at the same time, cutting costs to the event planner  90% or more when comparing the cost of mailing out registration form, collecting them, re-entering them into you system, manually processing payment, mailing out a confirmation, etc. etc.

 


A piece of paper is a white-flag of inefficiency. And the old ways of mailing, faxing, shuffling paper, reentering paper forms is so last century!


Site Selection
Another way it has helped in the planning process is in the area of site selection.

 

In the last century, planners had to manage drawers full of pamphlets about meeting facilities and locations. The largest meeting facility guide, printed every 6 months and larger than most phone books, contained about 1100 hotels and convention centers for which you had to pay about US$60 per issues to have the privilege of taking space on you book shelf.


 

Now there are free web global databases that contain more than 40,000 meeting facilities, with extensive up-to-date, regularly refreshed information, picture, meeting room information and contacts available for free, at simple a mouse click away.  Planners can take that 3-tier filing cabinet full of paper and toss it into the recycling bin   The online resources are hundreds of times more complete than any printed guide ever published… at virtually no cost.

 

Now that we have used technology to more efficiently bring people together, what about at the meeting?


The Power of Visuals 

In the meeting room, presentation software such as PowerPoint can assist in conveying complex thoughts and can increase retention.

 

Some people are visual learners and the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand word” rings very true. Studies show that sight is the most used human sense.

 

I can make the statement  (screen black):

“Sight is the most important sense. According to research by Doug Malouf, A 75% of all environmental stimuli is received through visual reception, compared to 11% hearing, 7% touch, 4% taste, and 3% smell”

 

Or I could say (with visual):

A whopping 75% of all environmental stimuli is received through visual reception!

 

 

I ask you, which one make the stronger impact? The fact is that visuals increase learning.

 

According to a recent University of California at Los Angeles study, 55% percent of what an audience learns comes directly from the visual messages seen during a presentation — compared to 38% from audio messages.


Visuals increase the retention of messages. A WhartonResearchCenter study has shown that the retention rate of verbal only presentations is approximately 7%. However, when you combine visual messages with verbal communication, you increase the retention rate to nearly 50%. A 400% increase!


Visuals, when used effectively, can improve the learning and communication process.


Technology Can Help Networking
Another way that technology can promote good conference communication is in the area of networking.

 

The way we have been promoting networking at meetings for the past 40 years or more is the name badge. About half the time the name badge is on a lanyard and it seems about half the time the name badge has flopped around facing in.

 

So we go around, staring at each others chests, in hopes of finding a match. Although this sometimes works, why not use technology to improve the process?

 

A great example of this is SpotMe (www.spotme.com). This wireless PDA-type device promotes networking by answering the attendee's question: Who is within 1-3 meters or 3-7 meters around me? It lists the names of the people immediately around you on your screen – if you highlight and click on the name, and get a picture and contact information. Among the several other tools, it also allows an attendee to search through the full attendee list on the device and put people on “radar” so that the device vibrates when person you wish to meet comes within 3 meters of you.

 

 

One good contact at a meeting can often pay for the cost of an entire trip. Why not use technology to assist in this process?

 

Audience Polling Benefits
A third area where technology promotes good conference communication is in the use of audience response. Group dynamics are such that typically a vocal minority have their way at meetings. What about the rest of us that may not have the confidence or courage to speak up or even raise their hand? With audience polling, everyone get’s their say anonymously. It engages the audience and it is informative. Everyone has their say without having to vocalize it, so substantial savings in time can be accomplished.  The responses are totaled immediately and accurately, and there is improved understanding at the end.  As a presenter, I love to use audience polling for these benefits.

 

The Revolution
Ladies and gentlemen, we are going through a revolution that is a significant as the industrial revolution or the agrarian revolution before it.

 

This digital revolution will bring sweeping changes to our society.. how we get information .. how we buy things .. how we entertain ourselves, and much more. The problem is that revolutions are messy. We are going through a transition phase that I call “technology adolescence.”

 

 

 This awkward, pimply phase is difficult as we cling to our old, paper-based ways of doing things while trying to transition to much more efficient digital methods. This is the toughest time and things will continue to get easier as these systems mature. It is vastly easier to use a computer now than in the 80’s when there were computer hobbyist groups simply to figure out how to run them.

 

Back during the industrial revolution, in the early 1800s, a group calling themselves the Luddites destroyed textile machines in the United Kingdom because they feared this automation threatened their jobs. Similarly, there are those today that resist the technology revolution on the basis that they don’t understand of feel overwhelmed by it.


 


Mr. Chairman and to you the audience members: Technology has worked to make meeting management more efficient; it helps to increase learning; it can help people network more efficiently, and it helps promote good conference communication. Digital Darwinism is alive and well. It is important to embrace technology in order to remain competitive rather than resist it.

Results of the audience voting on the issue. (PowerPoint Show: .pps)


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