There are two characteristics of meetings that have remained static for years and years: the goal, and the fact that they are universally despised. The ultimate goal of meetings is to exchange information and make decisions. Despite technology driving change in our meetings, they remain universally despised. But, let’s take a step back and evaluate the changes that have occurred over the last 20 years; then we might truly appreciate the meetings we have today.
Prep Time
We tend to forget how much time technology saves us. In the case of meetings, it enables us to accomplish far more prep work in far less time. Coordinating meetings around peoples’ schedules was difficult on its own. Now all of our calendars are synced, so we can easily identify a time and location to meet.
But where the greatest savior of time lies, is within the prep work for meetings (from presentations, to research to reports). Today, we have so many resources at the tips of our fingers to conduct solid research (rather than pulling old files in the back room, checking out books, or the absolute worst – waiting for the slow internet connection to produce a result).
We now have access to mountains of data, and the tools necessary to help us interpret that data. 20 years ago, gathering the data was difficult enough, but once you had it became the real challenge. Dozens of reporters would have to work for days, and even months to produce a report. Now, this is reduced to hours or even minutes.
Be grateful that today you can pull up your reports, with charts and graphs, and easily insert them into your slideshow or presentation.
Paper to Paperless
Due to technology, the materials present in meetings have also changed. We are now in the age of the “paperless desk,” and therefore “paperless meetings.” Reports, findings and slides are no longer printed (those companies that still do, need to assess their sustainability initiatives). There’s simply no need to print them; if someone wants the presentation in front of his or her face, then he or she can easily pull it up on a personal device, whether it be a laptop, tablet or mobile phone.
Postponed to Productive
It is a common belief that meetings have always dragged on and on, while nothing gets accomplished. But to be fair, we have come a long, long way. All of these wonderful presentations and reports with visuals are easier for people to understand and get more information across in very little time. This also means that less explaining is necessary, resulting in less repetition and fewer redundancies.
One of the biggest challenges for accomplishing the goals of meetings (to exchange information and make decisions) is insufficient information. Sometimes people don’t realize that they are missing something until they are in a room, hearing from people with different perspectives. Sometimes, it is simply impossible to obtain all of the necessary and relevant information. In these cases, meetings must be postponed. This is one of the 7 deadly sins of meetings.
Today, postponed meetings are far less likely to occur. Technology enables us to gather and understand data better than ever. Resources for presenting these insights are also better than ever, and allow us to seamlessly exchange knowledge, information and insight between many different individuals and silo. Once everyone is on the same page, decisions can be reached much more quickly, which is imperative to success in today’s faster, leaner and tougher world of business.
Attending a meeting for our parents meant walking in and picking a seat where they would be comfortable for a couple hours. They would typically have to wait while the presenter fumbled with cables, and tried pulling up the presentation, which was typically followed by the question, “Is anyone good with technology?” I supposed this is one of the reasons, the presentations were always printed out. Then they spent the rest of this time, listening to boring people talk about boring things and argue about boring decisions. Luckily, they had a printout of the presentation to doodle on.
Today, not only do we have the amazing ability to not have to fumble with cords and cables, but we have so many resources to engage all attendees. Presentations can include more than just text and photos: they can implement audio, video, moving charts and 3D images to more effectively relay information, and in a more entertaining way. We can even incorporate quizzes and questions into presentations that people can access with a URL to keep them engaged and interested.
The Future Challenges
As a result of all this technology use, we have become very stimulated beings. Our world around us is constantly stimulating: emails binging, phones buzzing, television turned on etc. Because of this, we start to “tune” some things out, and don’t pay attention to them. Therefore, it is becoming more and more difficult to hold our attention.
So, for the future success of meetings, we will have to figure out a way to keep people engaged and attentive. We are likely to see a meeting room filled with more than just tables and chairs – we will have to use interactive content to engage all of our senses. Here is a great article that predicts what future meetings will look like.