But this time, we may be watching the development of the perfect storm. Airlines are hurting, with some going out of business and others stretched so thin there's concern about whether they are spending enough on maintenance. Fuel prices are climbing sky-high, making it exceptionally expensive to travel, whether by plane, car, boat, or train. The populace of the world, and especially the U.S., is finally becoming conscious of our carbon footprints...and we're rightfully embarrassed at our abuse of the environment. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration makes life unnecessarily miserable for travelers, but virtually no one feels any safer as a result of TSA efforts. And, technology is going beyond "hey, this is neat," to "hey, this is phenomenol!"
I do not think travel is a thing of the past. But I do think association meetings are going to undergo some exceptional changes in the very near future. And association executives, meeting planners, and volunteer leaders better be ready to adapt quickly or they will find that they, like the meetings they are so used to, are dinosaurs.
Here's what I think lies ahead...and not far ahead:
- Technology companies will push, hard, to make "remote meeting technology" pervasive in every office.
- If you don't have a video camera mounted on your computer, you will very, very soon. And there will be video cameras throughout your offices and even on the trade show floors of the hotels and convention centers where your meetings are held today.
- Internet-enabled networkable sensors will become cheap enough that they will be almost everywhere...so it will be easy to control all sorts of devices remotely. Those cameras I mentioned...they, too, will be controllable by internet-enabled networkable sensors.
- What once was, at best, clunky and unsatisfyingly jerky video and sound, will become "almost live" so that viewers with an Internet connection will be able to see and hear what's going on in a room 2,000 miles away as clearly...or more clearly...than the people in that room.
- Meeting planners, association executives, and the people who have been attending their events will find themselves in a whole new world. Knowing how to negotiate for sleeping rooms and how to select food and beverage packages that will satisfy will no longer be so important.
- Skills in successfully integrating multiple technologies so that event participants from around the globe can have an "almost live" experience will be required.
- Physical meetings will become much smaller and much, much more expensive per "live" participant...but meetings will become far greater in their reach by drawing in participants from a huge pool that has never been terribly active in "live" meetings before.
- The team that executes a meeting will no longer have to be in the same place. Ten presenters might be in ten locations...the registration group may be in another location...the trade show managers may be in four buildings on three continents.
- For "live" meetings, the audience might be fifteen people sitting in front of a speaker, but the speaker might be communicating with ten thousand people who are listening and watching from afar.
- The fundamental skills required of association executives and meeting planners will evolve and will involve identifying and executing the best and most appropriate teaching methods for a disparate audience.
Now is the time for those of us who plan to stay in this discipline to "re-tool" ourselves so that we remain relevant in what promises to be a completely different world than the one we've known. Time will tell whether I'm right about this...but if I were a betting man, I'd say my chances of winning some serious money are very, very good!