Part 1: A Recipe for Disaster
Start out with a well-rounded, well-founded measure of enthusiasm for the latest virtual meeting technologies.
Add a healthy dose of concern about climate change, with a dollop of unintended greenwashing.
Factor in a preoccupation with cutting meeting costs to the bone, without pausing to consider what may be lost along the way.
Subtract any understanding of the value or impact of face-to-face meetings.
Stir things up enough, and you just might have a recipe for disaster.
A few weeks ago, we picked up a Google alert for the Carbon Free Meeting Coalition, a group of technology companies that see virtual meetings as a direct route to greening the industry. “The Coalition’s mission is to further increase the use, measurement, recognition and value of advanced communications technologies as a critical tool in the effort to reduce carbon emissions and drive energy sustainability programs,” according to the CFMC website.
“In order to effectively drive the value and adoption of carbon free meeting technologies—be they video, audio or collaboration based—our primary focus is on methodologies, certification and education around the development, use, implementation and measurement of advanced communication technologies.”
The sentiments, and the technologies, are badly needed. Virtual meetings are an important part of any effort to curb our industry’s carbon footprint, and in that sense, it’s great news that they’re on the rise:
But FutureWatch 2008, MPI’s annual tracking study of industry trends, painted a more nuanced picture. While two in five meeting planners predicted increased use of webcasts, they saw little likelihood—prior to this year’s economic crash—that live meeting attendance would decline as a result. Across a wide range of meeting technologies, only 36% to 44% of respondents felt the available options were ready for prime time.
(Disclosure: Working with data provided by MPI, I was the lead author of the FutureWatch 2008 report.)
The problem is that meetings technology is not the whole story. Any meeting professional can tell you about the moments when the success of a business deal or a negotiation, a training session or an international treaty, depended on the spark of face-to-face interaction.
Part of the magic of a well orchestrated meetings strategy is the ability to tell the difference. But the formation of the Carbon Free Meeting Coalition, the very language in its name, raises the stakes.
Suddenly, the convergence of cost savings and carbon reductions positions meetings as an extravagant part of the solution to an urgent problem. Even if the solution depends on the communication, formal or not, that occurs at a live gathering.
The value we can bring as meeting professionals is the knowledge to assess the options, the judgment to pick the right option for every job, and the evaluation tools to measure learning, sales, mutual understanding, or whatever other objective brought the group together.
But I fret about the industry friends and colleagues who are fixated on the newest, shiniest cost-saving, reinforced by the idea that every virtual meeting is a good thing for the planet.
In the end, I fear that they will nickel and dime themselves out of a job, leaving their organizations poorer in their capacity to learn, grow, and meet whatever challenges they face.
Next: Time to Get Creative