The Attendee Speaks

In the media, what inevitably followed September 11 were stories about how we're slowly but surely getting back to normal. On the other hand, Meetings in America IV, a Worldcom study released in March, says that September 11 forced significant, and perhaps lasting, change on the meetings industry.

The study shows that between September and March, 42 percent of business travelers used audio, video, or Web conferencing at least once, rather than travel to a meeting via airplane. The study's sample size (323 people) detailed their usage of alternatives to face-to-face meetings during the six months following 9/11 and weighed in on their future plans to use the technology (see chart above). Download the complete survey (in Adobe Acrobat from http://e-meetings. wcom.com/meetingsinamerica/).

The study found that one-third of travelers canceled at least one business trip after September 11, and 25 percent have reduced their airline travel for the forseeable future. Forty percent cited company reductions in air travel and the unfavorable economic outlook as prime reasons. But 35 percent of respondents between ages 35 and 54, and 32 percent of those with children, cited personal safety concerns. As planners know, family pressure can stop people from attending events. And while 70 percent of respondents think their own concerns will lessen, 42 percent said their families express lingering fear.

So what are the alternatives? First was audio conferencing, used by 32 percent; then video conferencing, used by 20 percent; and Web conferencing, used by 18 percent.

Among Web-conferencers, 46 percent used it for remote training, 46 percent for document collaboration, 36 percent for presentations, and 29 percent for software demos. But sales remains a touchy-feely area: Just 3 percent used Web conferencing for sales meetings. Jana Kemp, president of Boise, Idaho-based Meeting and Management Essentials, says these findings make sense. "Most of these are simply one-way presentations, not meetings. But the low number for [Web-based] sales meetings shows the ever-present need for face-to-face interaction at particular times."

Kemp notes that the survey results reveal potential for independent planners. "Training is not an area to target. Instead of three-day seminars at the company's expense, people are being pushed online, on their own time, to get training. But incentive programs fit into today's environment, where fewer employees are doing more work."

Planners must see electronic meetings as "venues," she adds, "and expand their own value by facilitating [them]."