Q&A | Corbin Ball: The meetings guru discusses the highs and lows of technology in the workplace

As mobile-device manufacturers race to outdo each other, speaker and consultant Corbin Ball is on a mission to guide tech-wary businesses through the rough rapids of conducting meetings in a futuristic world.

Ball, who runs the consulting firm Corbin Ball Associates in Bellingham, was recently named as one of the “25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry” for the fifth year in a row by Successful Meetings magazine. For more than two decades, he has led international technology meetings and written prolifically on high-tech topics.

We asked Ball for tips on how small-business owners can test the waters of social media and encourage their staffs to keep up with innovation.

BBJ: What are common pitfalls business owners find themselves in while trying to implement more technology use in the workplace?

Corbin Ball: One of the biggest pitfalls is having unrealistic expectations about technology. The web, software, mobile devices, social media, etc., are tools, means to an end rather than being the ends themselves.

The first step in making a significant technology purchase or investment is to consider what you want the product to do and how you will measure the ROI.

A related challenge is that the rate of technology change is increasing exponentially, and we have almost an unlimited supply of choices. The question is how sort out the best products/systems from the blizzard of options. This is where web resources, consultants and peers can help.

On the positive side, the cost of software development and distribution is plummeting. What once took a team of developers months and hundreds of thousands of dollars to accomplish can now almost be done by a gifted teenager over the weekend in his or her bedroom. Consequently, there is a plethora of free or very low cost web and mobile tools emerging to assist  businesses be more productive.

From the end-user’s perspective, technology is getting faster, cheaper and easier to use all the time. The biggest barrier is no longer price or ease of use. Increasingly, the biggest barrier to technology adoption rests between our ears—mindset and resistance to change.

BBJ: What’s the best way managers can ease their staffs into using mobile devices for business if their employees don’t know an iPad from a smartphone?

Ball: The good news is that mobile phone and tablets (specifically the iPhone and iPad) are becoming easy enough that your “grandmother can use them.”  They are intuitive and simple to manage. The major barrier is the natural human resistance to change.

Strive to have tech-support persons in the office. This doesn’t have to be a full-time geek, but simply someone that understands technology, is enthusiastic about it and is willing to share in plain English.

With the accelerating rate of technology change, openness and enthusiasm for technology is a key characteristic that I recommend looking for when hiring just about any position.

BBJ: Does the increasing use of mobile devices in business provide more ways for people to get distracted from interacting face-to-face? Do you think technology will eventually replace handshakes and elevator speeches?

Ball: Humans are social. We like to get together. Service industries in particular tend to be relationship-based, and face-to-face interaction will remain important for some time. Some tasks are not as easy to do online: networking, brainstorming, and relationship-building—there is no such thing as a “virtual beer.”

That being said, there are virtual meeting tools such as Skype and hundreds of others that will increasingly be used.

Mobile devices can be a distraction, however. We are still working out the etiquette rules for this relatively new technology. I make it a point of visibly turning off my phone during a business meal or business meeting to indicate that the person I am meeting with has my full attention.

BBJ: Meetings can get a bum rap, either from people thinking they’re too boring or a waste of time. Why do you believe they can be different?

Ball: The challenge with many meetings is that they are poorly planned and/or conducted. An unenthusiastic speaker showing dozens of pages of small, bulleted text will put anyone to sleep.

However, with good speakers and an organized agenda, meetings can be great education and motivational tools. Meetings are moving away from a talking head droning along to much more interactive environments.

Audience participation and collaboration are two of the keys to keep things interesting and to get better results. Additionally, trade shows, if done correctly, can be great ways to bring buyers and sellers together in a fast and efficient way.

BBJ: What is one technological advance we don’t have yet that you’re most looking forward to seeing in the future?

Ball: With the constant advance in voice recognition and voice translation technology, we will soon have the ability to converse in real time with anyone in any language on the planet. The Star Trek “Universal Translator” will become a reality.

Wordlens.com is already converting signs and menus from Spanish to English and back using an iPhone with no Internet connection needed. This technology will continue to advance and will be very helpful with my international travels.

I also would like to see the intuitiveness and ease of use of the iPad/iPhone applied to televisions/home theaters. The multiple remote controls and clunky TV/DVR menus have much room for improvement.


Corbin Ball’s tips for small business social media

  1. YouTube search “Facebook 101”,  “Linkedin 101”, “Twitter 101”, “Blogging 101” etc. Seek to understand these tools before you make the leap.
  2. Set up automatic notifications of web mentions of your company and products at google.com/alerts. Your brand is not what you say it is, it is what people online are saying it is.
  3. Establish a LinkedIn company page. The new “yellow pages” is one of the first places that people will look for business information.
  4. The “Golden Rule of Marketing” states that businesses should market to where their customers are. Increasingly more people are using Facebook as a principal communication vehicle.
  5. Consider converting your company newsletter and/or e-newsletter to a blog.
  6. Create promotional and educational YouTube videos. A good video recorded in high definition and less than three minutes long is far more compelling than just about any text on a website.
  7. Consider setting up a Twitter page. Remember, it is not about hardcore selling, but if you have news, deals, helpful information ideas, etc., link to these ideas using Twitter.
  8. Use a social media aggregators, such as Hootsuite, to make much more efficient use of your time. Ball is active on most of the social media channels, but only spends an average of 30 minutes each day managing them.





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