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The Future is Here….The Virtual World for Large Meetings!

- May 14, 2009 - 6 Comments

imageIt’s 6:15pm EST on Wednesday May 13th, 2009 and I have just gotten up from my chair to get a cup of coffee before joining the next session. This is Day 2 of Cisco’s annual Strategic Leadership Offsite (SLO) where directors and above from all around the world and from all functions of the company congregate to align on the key priorities for the coming year. The difference this year is that we are doing it virtually. I do admit that when I heard the plans for a virtual meeting for SLO, I felt a rush of excitement that we were trying something radically different. I also was questioning whether I would like the experience and if it would be as effective as being physically there. Our current financial climate is forcing all companies to look carefully at expenses, and Cisco is no exception. The SLO event has historically averaged a cost of $2,800 per person and since we have close to 3,000 attendees, the expense is significant. Cancelling SLO is not an option and we needed to find an alternative that wasn’t as expensive. “Necessity is the mother of invention” and our need to reduce expenses led to this idea of a virtual SLO. The cost for attending virtually is turning out to be around $680 per person vs $2,800 which is a quarter of what we used to spend. Ok… so it makes financial sense and it also saves a lot of time traveling to and from the event. But is it effective? image The Pros:1) The interface is captivating and it allows you to navigate easily from one area to the other. (See pictures)2) There is a lot of great content on the site and every attendee’s schedule for the various sessions is unique to their interest and job function. Think about that… custom agenda and content for over 3,200 people. This isn’t your father’s meeting! 3) The event is also very interactive with attendees encouraged to participate via video, questions to managers, user submitted videos, polling, a leader’s lounge, chat and much more. Darn! They have even managed to keep my attention …and that’s no easy task.4) Real time feedback and statistics – there is a control room at corproate that is monitoring the ‘pulse’ of the meeting at all times. We’re keeping a close eye on what is happening and getting results instantly. 5) No travel — horray!6) I don’t have to share a hotel room. Yes, we share rooms to reduce expensees. The Cons:1) I miss the glass of wine I traditionally have at night during SLO with longtime friends.2) And I miss some of the informal meetings that take place as you pass each other at the event.In summary, I think we have gotten a glimpse of the future over the last few days. Virtual reality is an extremely effective medium that will change how large meetings are done. If they add a virtual bar on the next version then I think it will be almost perfect. 🙂 Carlos– Stay tuned because Cisco’s annual sales meeting is also going virtual and it’s going to bring together 16,000 people …and add gaming to the mix.

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6 Comments

  1. Thank for artcle...

  2. Good post Carlos !!according to the Pros and Cons. i think it should be considered as much because there are 5 Pros but jz only 2 cons. This is a good project as well

  3. As a past Project Manager, I can see this being a time saving, money saving tool. Nice one, Cisco. Good job on getting on the DOW too. You have 2 very happy stock holders in New Mexico!!

  4. Three other Cons"" that I'd be interested to see some attendees comment on (I did not attend).1) As a global company, we have many people living and working in mutually exclusive Time Zones (no overlapping work hours). Meeting physically allows everyone to exist in the same time zone (at least temporarily), thus maximizing all 8 hours of a workday. The success of a project or employee who must collaborate with others in mutually exclusive times zones ultimately becomes dependent on how much they are willing to sacrifice in their personal schedules to accomodate the other's time zone. This would seem difficult for employees with children. Example: 12.5 hr time zone offset (Bangalore and San Jose, CA) Requires mutual sacrifice to have a meeting.2) Travelling allows those outside the hosting country to experience a new culture and country. That helps build new relationships (in addition to seeing old friends) and greater understanding of unfamiliar cultures.3) We definitely save money and jobs at Cisco, but surely this will lead to job loss in the airline industry. Do they not matter to us?"

  5. Hi Carlos,I agree with you whole heartedly. It is a really cool venue and user experience. We hosted our first ever Cisco Powered Marketing Summit last year and it saved both cash & carbon costing 96% less per partner attendee-saving Cisco over $1million. And, because it was virtual, the event supported the Cisco green initiative to reduce its environmental impact, reducing emissions from air and auto travel by about 420 metric tons of CO2 or the equivalent of more than 2000 tree years. Yikes, that's a lot of trees! The other cool thing is the sessions are recorded so you can go back and watch the recordings if you couldn't attend or be in two sessions at the same time.Thanks for sharing SLO virtually....muy cool!Janet Romero

  6. Great post Carlos! I'm glad you explored both the pros and cons of virtual meetings. They really make sense in this economy (cutting in-person meetings definitely beats cutting jobs) and I look forward to seeing how virtual meetings will continue to evolve.