Do you remember Second Life? At the peak of its popularity, some people predicted that it would change the world of meetings and conferences forever. They envisioned avatars gathering in the virtual space to hear lectures and interact with each other during virtual coffee breaks.

Although that vision did not exactly become true, the combination of broadband internet and high-definition video is changing the way people attend meetings and conferences. Add to that the impact of the economic crisis, and it becomes clear that the meetings industry will never be the same as it used to be. And whilst the players in this market will need to adopt to change, the usage of technology opens opportunities for new types of services.
To understand the potentials, let me share with you three stories – and by the way, none of this is fiction, all three are based on real life examples.
Our first scene is Slovenia, where for the past 10 years, Cisco Expo has become one of the country’s leading IT and technology conferences. Each year, some 400 Slovenian IT executives and specialists gather for a 2-days conference to hear about the latest trends in networking technologies. However, with the current pace of business life, not all participants are able to “check-out” from their offices for two full days. Using Cisco WebEx online meeting technology, attendees could join presentations real-time, even though they were not able to come in person. Cisco WebEx combines desktop sharing through a web browser with phone conferencing and video. It also has a chat box, so meeting participants can ask questions to the speaker if they don’t want to interrupt the lecture. All you need to join a WebEx session is a computer with an Internet connection, an audio connection – either through your computer or phone, and optionally a webcam, if you would like to share your own video. Attendees to Cisco Expo Slovenia appreciated the flexibility which the technology offered to them, but WebEx is not only for online conferences and meetings. It can be used to host press conferences (yes, we practice that as well), online trainings, or to offer remote support to customers. In the case of Cisco Expo, it enabled the smooth combination of a live and virtual event in a highly cost-efficient way.

My second story is about famous French filmmaker Luc Besson, whom many of you will know for his film Le Grand Bleu. For the launch of his award-winning movie “Home”, he relied on Cisco TelePresence to meet with journalists from 24 countries. In just 2 days, he crossed the globe virtually from Canada to Malaysia, in the most environmentally friendly way. It is important to note that several major hotel chains – including Marriott, Starwood and Taj Hotels, are setting up public Cisco TelePresence meeting rooms as part of their conference offering. As to TelePresence, it delivers high-quality, lifelike video on high-definition screens and offers a face-to-face experience that makes people feel they are sitting in the same room.

Our third scene is Budapest, Hungary. It was shortly after 9:00 am local time on a cold November day in 2010 when Cisco senior vice president Inder Sidhu walked out to the stage to talk about the ideas described in his bestselling book Doing Both. But, in a physical sense, he was not there. His voice and life-size image were delivered by Cisco TelePresence technology from our headquarters in San Jose, California over a distance of almost 10,000 kilometres, across 9 time zones and projected via holography on stage.

“I came to the room and it took me some 10 minutes to realize that the person talking on the stage is not actually there  – what I see is his holographic image” an amazed visitor to the conference commented.

So whether it’s the combination of a life and online conference, a TelePresence meeting which makes you feel you are sitting face-to-face with other participants from dozens of other locations, or a holographic speaker, there are bold new possibilities opening up for the meetings industry. And who knows what comes next? Cisco chief futurist Dave Evans predicts teleportation on the particle level will begin to occur by 2025. Welcome to the future!

Judit Sinko