Salvaging a Sept. 11 Meeting

By Heather Baldwin

If your meeting was a victim of September 11 and you’re still trying to figure out whether to reschedule, cancel or scale down, consider how the Academy Connection, a division of the University of Chicago Hospitals and Health System, met the challenge. The first World Trade Center building was hit minutes into the last day of its meeting. Concerned for the safety of attendees in the heart of downtown Chicago, conference organizers decided immediately to cancel the rest of the event, including the first-ever meeting of its 30 board members.

The problem, says Nancy Prendergast, director of the Academy Connection, was reconvening the 30 CEOs and other top administrators from hospitals around the country who comprise the board. Not only were schedules tough to coordinate, but also the cost and time for travel to another in-person meeting would be significant – and no doubt unbudgeted by the hospitals. Her solution: a Web conference. “I had done Web casting in the past through Communicast and realized this was a perfect solution,” says Prendergast. “People didn’t have to travel, it has the visual impact as well as the audio, and we have a record of how people are voting and how they’re messaging about issues.”

With the help of Toronto-based Peoples & Co. Communications, a company that produces Web casts using the Communicast platform, Prendergast set up an online conference in mid-November. The result: “They loved it! This was the first time many of [the Board members] had participated in a Web cast, but they were messaging like crazy and said they never knew a board meeting could be so much fun,” says Prendergast.

Curt Peoples, director of Peoples & Co. Communications, said the group voted on its by-laws using the online polling feature common to most Web conferencing platforms. Members offered opinions, asked for parts of the by-laws to be reworded, raised issues for future meetings and generally “talked to one another like they would in person,” says Peoples. “It was the most active use of the chat feature I’ve ever seen.” At the end, the Academy Connection had a complete record of everyone’s input, making compilation of minutes a snap.

They’ll still meet once a year in person, Prendergast concludes, but there are now 30 new Web conferencing enthusiasts out there who plan to use the popular online meeting technology for other business throughout the year.