Better meetings through technology

Paul Nolan

If you want to start your meeting with a twist that will raise some eyebrows, Jon Petz recommends trying this: “Hey everyone, please make sure your phones are out and on.”

People — especially salespeople — are going to be interacting in your meeting and having digital dialogues at the same time you’re speaking. Why not concede the point?

The texting and instant polling that can be done using today’s smart phones can take idea-generation sessions to new heights, argues Petz, the author of "Boring Meetings Suck." You can poll opinions and solutions or gauge whether your audience is under­standing your message in real time.

Petz is surprised (and a little disappointed) that more companies aren’t incorporating the latest technology into their meetings. When he posted the question on Facebook, “What technology in a meeting can you not live without?” the answers he got back were “a ballpoint pen,” “paper,” “fresh whiteboard markers,” and “a good PA system.”

“I didn’t get it at first. Those weren’t the answers I was looking for,” he says.

In speaking with the general manager of a state-of-the-art meeting and special event facility in Ohio, he was told that most people are stuck on PowerPoint and haven’t ventured beyond that.

“If what you are using works and creates effective meetings, then run with it,” Petz advises. “At the same time, there are some core tools and devices that you need to be aware of and prepared for, tools that can seamlessly enhance your ability to get in and get it done.”

Petz says he has been part of conventions that created their own apps to convey everything from bus routes to schedule changes.

“You can share so much information so quickly, but is everyone listening? You think you’re spreading the word, but if people aren’t receiving that information, then it’s going to be ineffective. You still have to have that backup plan to communicate to the masses.”

As a speaker, he likes real-time polling as a means of determining instantly if your points are making sense or if you need to explain further. You can cover more ground in a limited amount of time if you know your audience is staying with you.

If nothing else, technology can help you catch and fix problems about your meeting that otherwise may go unnoticed. Petz tells the story of his first experience showcasing the power of Twitter. He was in an audience at a Meeting Professionals International listening to actor Ben Stein speaking. His microphone was clipping in and out.

Petz tweeted about the challenge of hearing him. Within two minutes there was a tweet from the audio production company (which was monitoring tweets from attendees using the appropriate hash tag for the event) explaining why this was occurring and what was being done to fix it.

At the same event on a different day, he was monitoring the Twitter feeds during another keynote address. Behind the speaker was an animated graphic of the Earth spinning. A tweet was broadcast: “This spinning globe is making me sick.” Within 30 seconds, it stopped spinning.

If a single tweet can stop the Earth from spinning, think about what it can do for your next event!