How One Meetings Organization Interpreted Digital Disruption

betaThe time we live in can only be described as bordering on the unfathomable: infants use iPads, celebrities show up at music festivals post mortem and human beings serve as wireless hotspots. We have gone from analog to digital overnight. The change is even reflected in our workplace terminology. We connect (meet), download (inform our colleagues about a project) and kvetch about bandwidth (time required to accomplish tasks). How can any industry keep up?

I left last week’s PCMA Convening Leaders conference in Orlando thinking about a number of statements, but one in particular has stayed with me. Thomas Friedman’s keynote, which alternatively addressed the failures and mandates we have as a country to avoid becoming a mid-day snack for China, mentioned the mantra of Silicon Valley start-ups, “Always be in beta.” It seemed to be the perfect solution for an industry of analogs trying to cope with digital disruption.

Even as the gauntlet of digital disruption—social media, mobile, virtual events, new content channels—was thrown down, PCMA looked it square in the eye and said, “Bring it on.” They attempted to scratch the surface of the issues surrounding digital technologies and meetings in a panel discussion, which I moderated, including industry luminaries from both sides of the aisle. We succeeded in laying out the issues and even discussing the “elephant in the room”: live events are not immune to the disruption.

In fact, PCMA not only exposed the obvious, they embraced it with their continued collaboration with the Virtual Edge Institute and their support of BOBtv. Virtual Edge education is now seamlessly blended into the Convening Leaders programming including an opportunity to sit for the Digital Event Strategist certification exam. An undercurrent of anticipation of the rollout this year of BOBtv was ever present during the meeting. The live streaming of the keynotes and several popular sessions from the conference was another hat tip to digital.

PCMA took mobile a step further this year by deploying a game on the existing mobile platform provided by Active Network. Participants were encouraged to complete evaluations, scan QR codes, add sessions to their agendas and perform other tasks in order to earn points and a coveted position at the top of the leaderboard. Then in typical PCMA style, staffers invited participants to a discussion of what went well, what could be done better and how the game layer performed overall.

The signs of social media were alive and well this year again. PCMA sponsored an official Tweetup. The mobile platform offered plenty of opportunities to tweet, post and upload content—and according to PCMA staff, they did. The three year-old Learning Lounge introduced attendees to a new platform called Tout (scheduled to be a part of the event next year), which developers describe as “Twitter for video.” Tout allows users to create 15-second video updates and add them directly to their Twitter and Facebook streams while enabling other users to reply with their own videos.

More than any specific program feature or technological innovation, it was PCMA’s attitude toward digital disruption that was so obvious at the event. They must have trepidation about keeping pace with technology and the future of meetings—their members surely do—but they didn’t let that paranoia stop them. If the level of experimentation at the meeting (lunch four different ways and the trade show reimagined) was any indication, PCMA is always in beta, trying new form factors and delivery systems. It almost seemed as if, despite some of the glitches that come with the territory, they embrace digital and disruption in general as a matter of policy. What a difference (non) denial makes.










  1. says

    Michelle, you NAILED it. We are a world in the throes of hyper-connectivity, in an industry where we have evangelists calling us up from having our heads buried in the sand and our feet dragging behind us even as we seek directions on our GPS enabled smartphones. PCMA did try many ways of teasing us to play along in this new world, and I hope they push this even farther next year. When a presenter is talking about a technology “upstairs” – who has the hands-on showcase downstairs? Thank you for being so aware, and so able to articulate for us as we navigate this new reality – it is truly a fork in the road time!

  2. says

    Great post, as always, Michelle.

    Antediluvian association planners abound, which stymies advancements.

    To them, I’d say, “Let go and let Google.”

    In other words, quit thinking, “Our members are not as technology savvy as some groups and we believe there would be resistance to change” (that’s a quote).

    For just once, be in beta!

  3. says

    Thanks Tahira and Bob. Perhaps the first step toward change in an industry is acknowledgement.The second step has to be leadership a.k.a. taking baby steps forward. It’s both fun and excruciating to watch.

  4. says

    Great article! I think the meetings industry has been laying dormant for awhile and things are prime for disruption.
    We can definitely do better in terms of the use of technology in bringing people together for valuable face-to-face meetings :)

Leave a Reply