"I don't know what people used to do before cell phones were invented!" mused Debbie Ricciardelli, CMP, a New York-based consultant for Tupperware." It's hard to believe that we had to wait until we got home to speak to someone, or we were able to perform our jobs using walkie-talkies!"
As Ricciardelli points out, the technological revolution affects everyone. But meeting planners—with their constant need to stay in touch with an assortment of colleagues (and sometimes bewildered attendees), may resort to gadgets more often than others.
In fact, as SMM's sister publication MeetingNews' Exclusive Research uncovered, planners pockets' bulge with a plethora of devices. When asked what they had in their pockets right now, 423 out 434 planners (97.5 percent) responded that they had at least one gadget on them. Not surprisingly, cell phones led at 75 percent, followed by—more surprisingly—USB drives, at 49 percent. According to Karen L. May, VP of sales and marketing for Phoenix-based CSI etc., who is frequently on the move, "You have access to your software and personal data just as you would on your own PC. And when you unplug the device, none of your personal data is left behind." Digital cameras (39 percent), BlackBerries (35 percent), Mp3 players (24 percent), and other (8 percent) rounded out the chiropractic appointment waiting to happen.
Although the digital age is perceived as a younger-person phenomenon, fifty-something planners sport a surprising range of hardware: 77 percent had cell phones, 44 percent USB drives, 34 percent digital cameras, 28 percent BlackBerries, 10 percent Mp3 players; and 7 percent had "other" (a category that most often listed PDAs, followed by computers, followed by iPhones—the users of which resented categorization).
Corporate planners were more likely to have BlackBerries (44 percent), and women planners aged 41 to 50 were most likely to have USB drives (61 percent).
For the 433 planners who rated which gadgets were most valuable in planning meetings, 58 percent said cell phone. For Kimberly Coleman, CMP, a San Francisco-based senior event planner at Reliant Technologies, a cell phone is "my life line. All my contacts are in the phone; only recently have I created contacts online."
Following cell phones, 32 percent tied the USB drive with the digital camera, 22 percent valued the BlackBerry, while 12 percent tied "other" with "none of the above." A deeper look into the research revealed that fifty-something planners were most likely to consider the listed gadgets as irrelevant to planning meetings (16 percent). Planners twenty-something to 40 were the most likely to have gadgets, and they were most likely to have Mp3 players. However, twenty-somethings were not likely to regard MP3 players as valuable in planning meetings, while planners aged 31 to 40 were the most likely to find them valuable (7 percent); the latter group also valued cell phones the most (66 percent). Twenty-somethings equally preferred the cell phones, USB drives, and BlackBerries (44 percent).
But if 75 percent of planners have a cell phone in their pockets, it may only be because they are holding a BlackBerry in one hand and a can of Red Bull in the other. Responding to a MeetingNews strawpoll of industry professionals (which asked them to complete the sentence "You can have my [blank] when you can pry it from my cold, dead hands"), Allie Wright, event coordinator for Phonak LLC, based in Warrenville, IL, said, "If I have to choose an electronic device it would be my BlackBerry. But, she added, "my true answer would be my Red Bull or my Starbucks; I can't do my job without daily doses of either one. I should be the poster child for either beverage with the slogan 'the most productive day in the history of event planning.'" Not for nothing do they call it "Crackberry": 56 out of 122 professionals (46 percent) swore allegiance to this revolutionary PDA. "Before BlackBerries," reminisced Beth Cooper-Zobott, director, conference services for Chicago-based Equity Residential, "I'd be on-site with a group, finish up with a dinner program at about 11:00 PM, and then face 3-4 hours of e-mail via laptop."
The next "irreplaceable device," at 13 percent, was the Apple iPhone. Although a far cry from the market saturation that BlackBerry enjoys, the iPhone inspires envy. Said one planner, "I [use a] BlackBerry because it's provided by my company. But I'd prefer to use an iPhone and I steal my boyfriend's iPhone every chance I get!"
Or, as Mike Van Horn, speaker and author of Grow Your Business without Driving Yourself Crazy, put it: "Okay, so I die, and you STILL can't pry my iPhone from my hands. So I take it with me. I get to the other side, and I've still got it. I look around, then I notice, 'Hey, there's really good reception up here! And look, iTunes downloads are FREE!' And as far as I can see across the heavenly clouds, it's all Mac OS—no Vista."
Originally published March 23, 2009