The greening of meetings: Brought to you by emerging technology

I have become an extreme minimalist when I travel to trade shows and conferences. The last thing I want to carry on my way back is a suitcase full of literature that I may or may not be really interested in reading.

I have become an extreme minimalist when I travel to trade shows and conferences. The last thing I want to carry on my way back is a suitcase full of literature that I may or may not be really interested in reading. So, I must confess, I have dumped many a binder or press kit in hotel rooms while packing for the return flight.

That's why I actually read a bunch of information sent to me via e-mail by Eloqua, a marketing services company for business-to-business marketers, with both some statistics and anecdotal information about the "greening" of trade shows and conferences. According to an Eloqua-sponsored survey, more than 60 percent of B2B marketers plan to shift away from sending out scads of paper in the form of brochures and other collateral and are moving instead to digital activities. This trend inspired Eloqua to hold a "paperless" conference, using technology from iCentera (which provides conference portal solutions) and nTAG (a mobile device that lets attendees answer polls, communicate or access conference agenda materials).

Kinetic Business Applications is another example of an entire business that has been set up to support the philosophy that not only can conferences be more green by using multimedia kiosks and other related technology on the show floor, they can actually be more effective in terms of capturing leads and identifying truly interested prospects. "The value here is both an environmental and economic one," says John Cox, president, CEO and cofounder of Kinetic.

First off, consider the cost of producing all that shiny, glossy paper.

Cox cites IDC research suggesting that up to 97 percent of all the collateral at events is trashed before it ever makes it back to someone's office. Which means the hotel or conference facility has to handle all that waste. So, an event manager can save not only on printing, but also on disposal costs.

Cox also claims that these kiosks produce more qualified leads, because a person MUST be motivated to request information. When someone DOES ask, it can capture the information and forward it in a format that can be exported directly into a company database or spreadsheet. Two Kinetic products include Viper, which is what Kinetic calls an event management system, and the Information Resource Center, which is an electronic kiosk that attendees can use to request content. A typical show would support four to six kiosks, Cox estimates. Basically, though, the more exhibitors, the more kiosks you'll need.

Of course, that's assuming you even feel the need to go in the first place.

Cisco just sent me a note touting their TelePresence technology as a way of sidestepping the negative impact of travel associated with conferences. The company experimented with one of its own events, encouraging some participants to attend via TelePresence and handing out iPod Touch devices with the agenda and discussion materials rather than printing lots of stuff out and shipping it. The note sent to me by Cisco PR says there were 70 percent less materials printed than the year before, plus the company figures it eliminated more than 8,000 pounds of travel-related carbon emissions. This press release outlines a program for university researchers that subscribes to some of the same ideas, suggesting that people opt for face-to-face more selectively than they've done in the past.

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