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