Editor, Technology, Northstar Meetings Group
Michael has covered the transformative effects of technology on meetings and travel for more than a decade at Northstar. Previously, he was a founding editor of a pioneering digital-photography magazine, and has written for two decades about tech, travel, business, cameras and culture for a plethora of publications.
- What experience can you draw upon to successfully judge the ETAs?
I am currently the technology editor for the Northstar Meetings Group, where I oversee the tech coverage for our industry publications, including Meetings & Conventions, Successful Meetings, Incentive and Meeting News. I’ve covered technology for the meetings and travel sectors at Northstar since 2007; prior to that, I covered tech as editor and writer for a variety of other publications, including CNET, DigitalFOTO, Mac|Life, MacAddict, MaximumPC, SmartBusiness, Embedded Systems Programming, and many others. I should add that a crucial part of my current coverage is listening extensively to the meeting professionals who use the technology — my colleagues who plan events at Northstar as well as the many readers, listeners, and sources I interview for our articles and webcasts.
- How long have you worked in the events industry and what keeps you interested in it?
I’ve been an editor at Northstar Meetings Group since 2007, and for about five years before that I was already writing for Meetings and Conventionsand T&E, the corporate-travel spinoff publication. But even my first editorial job, which was for a technology magazine at a trade publisher, involved a certain amount of event-planning — we ran an accompanying conference twice a year. What I loved about that — and what continues to excite me — is the community we were able to build via the magazine and conference, and the opportunity to visit face-to-face with our audience.
- Best moments working in the events industry?
My best moments in the events industry have been intrinsically tied to travel — the adrenaline of discovering a new place while collaborating and being exposed to new information is unbeatable.
- Favourite piece of tech for work and personal life?
My favourite bit of tech has remained the same over many years: Nothing beats a camera, and for me that’s both for work and personal life. The smartphone camera may be practical and even enjoyable to use — and the quality has improved dramatically over the years — but it isn’t satisfying in the same way. I remain a big fan of the mirrorless camera models; the size and weight are perfect for travel, and in practice the form and size create the feeling of using the street-friendly rangefinder film cameras of old.
- What’s your go-to piece of tech when working on an event and why?
I would love to say something other than my iPhone is my go-to piece of tech… I think we’ve all become too reliant on our smartphones. But I’m not in a position to say otherwise — the smartphone is the programme, communication device, local guidebook, camera, recording device, notebook. Chances are, whatever platform we’re using for an event can be accessed in some way through the smartphone.
- What was the last event on which you worked?
The last event I covered was just last week — the Global Business Travel Association Convention. My company’s most recent event on which I worked was Destination California, last April in Los Angeles, and I’m currently helping to arrange the content/education for Destination Mexico, which happens in September. Each of those events connects planners with destination-specific suppliers, including hoteliers, venue managers, CVBs, DMCs, and so forth.
- From your experience, how has tech been best utilised at an event?
Tech is best utilised at an event when it’s there to make life easier, either for the organisers or the attendees — or, ideally, both. But regardless of its purpose, it’s absolutely crucial you not only inform the attendees about the tech that will be there, but also sell them on it by clearly conveying the benefits. Time and again I’ve found there WAS tech at an industry event that I didn’t even know about beforehand. If you don’t promote the tech, no one will know it’s there… they won’t come just because you build it.
- We all learn from our mistakes! What was the biggest lesson you learned from a mistake since being in the industry?
Biggest mistake? Well, this may be off topic… you know those compact hand towels that have been compressed into mint-size discs, and you have to soak them in water and they’ll expand? Maybe you can see where this is going. I was at a big industry event in Barcelona, and I’d just wrapped up a successful dinner meeting at a hotel, through which I’d been very social and engaging (if I do say so myself), in my second language. I was feeling pretty good about myself. And as I very smoothly bid my hosts good-night, I reached into a bowl on the reception desk and popped what I thought was a mint into my mouth as I strolled out. Do you realize how quickly those towels expand when they’re covered in saliva? And how difficult it is to be suave when you’re gagging on a towel? Very quickly, and extremely difficult. I played it off as best I could, but I continued to sputter and cough the entire walk back to my hotel. I can only hope they no longer keeps a bowl of compressed hand towels on the reception desk. (Lesson learned: Don’t even try to be cool.)
- What are you most looking forward to at the ETAs?
I’m most looking forward to learning about the latest tech and seeing new perspectives and approaches to solving common challenges.
- Why is it important to recognise the achievements of tech companies?
I think these types of events offer exposure and opportunity for lesser-known suppliers, as well as chance for an industry audience to compare products from bigger companies and smaller start-ups side-by-side. It both levels and expands the playing field.
- If you could only use one piece of tech when working on an event, what would that be?
Just one? A transporter would be useful.