by Bob Walters | April 01, 2007

When the Internet first exploded on the scene as a convenient resource for information, many worried that virtual trade shows, electronic publications and new search engines would hurt the meetings industry. In many instances, just the opposite has happened.

Indeed, rather than viewing the Internet as the enemy, savvy meetings professionals have learned how to use it as an enhancement to their traditional “in-person” events.

Still, keeping meetings relevant in a wired world can be a challenge, even as the industry uses the Internet more and more in marketing and managing meetings. In an age where a few simple keystrokes in the comfort of one’s own home can provide a wealth of knowledge about any subject, planners need to adapt to entice attendees away from their screens and to a physical event.

Following are some strategies for incorporating the web in-to your meetings.

Group Approach

I belong to myriad industry listservs (online mailing-list groups united by a common interest), and whenever a major meeting is coming up, or even local/regional events, participants begin to make plans to get together and order ribbons for listserv members to wear. These faceless, Internet-based groups actually can motivate people to attend so members can put a face to an e-mail address or screen name of someone they chat with via the Internet.

Why not arrange roundtable discussions for members of different listservs to attend during the meeting, where people can sit down with a group of their peers and exchange information face-to-face? To facilitate discussions, recruit the authorities or recognized contributors from the various industry listservs.

Virtual Shows

If your event is a trade show with exhibits, you might consider adding a virtual trade show to add value before, during and after the show. There are numerous options for virtual shows, with offerings ranging from an online exhibitor list to an online showcase with links to vendor literature and online product demonstrations. These virtual shows should be viewed as a complement, not competition, to your live show. By using the list of exhibitors that have signed up or have exhibited in the past, you can drive more people to your show.

Let your registered attendees use the full power of the virtual trade show to plan their time on the show floor and to set up appointments with the vendors.

Meeting Abstracts

The age of leaving the meeting with a binder full of brochures, pamphlets and even notes is in the past. Today, most major meetings are either published on CD/DVD and distributed at the show or are available for download or from the web with proper credentials (typically a registration number or password).

To get the most out of this electronic information source, don’t limit access to attendees. Make access available to members or targeted audiences who did not attend, for a nominal fee if appropriate. By doing so, you’ll service the industry, maintain your value and hopefully convince the no-shows to attend in the future.

The Human Angle

It helps to appreciate the value of meetings. Remember that people are social animals, and typically we like the company of others. I conduct 90 percent of my business via the phone and Internet from my home office, but I find the personal interaction with people to be critical to my success in all areas.

No matter how wired our society becomes, people will still want to gather to get to know each other and talk face-to-face.

Bob Walters,based in Fort Worth, Texas, is founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak Software.