White Flag of Inefficiency

'Keep your phones out' is not a common thing to hear at the beginning of a presentation.

Especially in a world where we are constantly being told to turn off our phones, put away our computers, sit quietly, and pay attention. Corbin Ball, founder of Corbin Ball Associates, doesn’t believe in that. He doesn’t see smartphones and tablets as distractors, only enhancers and learning tools, and ones that are permanently changing the events industry. “Speakers need to get used to phones in the meeting space,” Ball explained.

During his education session at the 2012 MPI World Education Congress, Ball encouraged us to use our smartphones and tablets to follow, and interact with, the presentation. We could download the slides and annotate directly on them. Excitedly, Ball spoke of the latest apps valuable to the meetings industry, introducing many audience members to “Swiss Army” meeting apps like those provided by Quickmobile or CrowdCompass. Or more low cost, do-it-yourself apps like buzztouch or guidebook.

Corbin Ball explaining to attendees the power of meetings apps.

He discussed how hotels like the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville are planning to implement a new indoor GPS system, Wifarer, that would help attendees navigate the property. And if you’ve ever been to the 600,000-plus-square-foot property, you’d understand why. CVBs are offering EventPilot to help planners and attendees stay connected without being connected via the Internet.

Sounds of awe emanated from the crowd when he demonstrated “bump,” a new quick way to exchange information by literally bumping your iPhone with another. Ball says this could one day replace business cards. He also explained that all conference binders could be shared digitally, by using programs like Quickoffice.  A strong proponent of cutting down waste in this industry, he believes in a completely paperless future. “A piece of paper is a white flag of inefficiency,” he explained. “Find a way to digitize it.”

Then Ball explained a few other new tools and toys that may or may not be directly related to the meetings industry, but were, at the very least, really cool. Some of these devices stray into what Ball would refer to as “science fiction territory.” One example is Project Glass, or actual “Google Goggles.” They are eyeglasses developed by Google where the lenses act as small computer screens. If you look at the sky, a weather forecast for that day will come into view. If you need directions, just say your destination and a small GPS will guide you. It’s like wearing your camera, iPod, laptop, and GPS system on your face.

“It’s an amazing time to be alive,” Ball said at the end of his session. When I met him the night earlier at the Opening Reception, he’d said the same thing during the course of our short conversation. This isn’t a line that he uses, not something he adds on to the end of a speech in order to rally the crowd. His passion is palpable. He’s really thrilled to be alive to witness this kind of technology, and he’s practically giddy about what else is to come in the next 20 years. It’s hard not to get excited, too. Who knows what Project Glass will mean for meetings in a few decades, but the fact is that the way we communicate and interact is changing forever. We need to stay on top of these emerging tools and trends, because as they change, the industry changes, and we’ve got to change with it.

For access to Ball’s presentation slides, visit


Sarah Beauchamp

Sarah Beauchamp was formerly assistant editor of Convene.