With the exception of the ever-present overhead projectors and the phone booths in the hall, the conference centers of yesteryear were decidedly low-tech. But you might be surprised by the amenities at your next meeting. The newest facilities are turning ordinary conference attendees into superconnected delegates by offering fast Internet connections and dazzling audiovisual systems.
- Northland Connectivity
The Northland Inn & Executive Conference Center in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, is located about 25 minutes from downtown Minneapolis. You won't have to drive too far to get connected, though. About one-third of the 140 ergonomically designed seats in its Longfellow Room come with a power supply and a modem connection plug so you can check your e-mail any time during a meeting. "Using these facilities, it's possible to link up with associates in other parts of the country or around the world," says Jonathan Parker of Northland. "This capability also lends itself well to training sessions where data needs to be disseminated simultaneously to a group of people."
- IBM's Latest Toys
Big Blue's Palisades Executive Conference Center ranks among the most wired conference centers in the country. Located on 100 acres of rolling hills about 20 miles north of New York City, the conference center's European brick buildings look more like a university campus than a meeting center. But appearances are deceiving. "We have all the latest toys," boasts IBM's Peter Maruzzella. Indeed. The 206 guest rooms all feature a personal computer connected to a high-speed network--a given for a high-tech company like IBM. What makes the facility so special is that each conference room offers a rear-screen projector that's compatible with just about any presentation software you can buy.
- Harmonizing At The Aspen Institute
The nonprofit Aspen Institute, Aspen Meadows (below), a conference center built in the Bauhaus architectural tradition in Aspen, Colorado, offers many of the amenities found at its larger counterparts' facilities. Oh yes, and there's one more thing--it's hard to quantify but easy to see. You might call it harmony. "We wanted to make sure the technology enhanced the seminar process but didn't overwhelm it," says director of marketing Dan Rowe. "It's there if you need it." What that means is all the gizmos--from videoconferencing equipment to high-speed Internet access--are discreetly installed; they're never the centerpiece of the conference rooms. "The dialogue is the most important part of a conference, not the technology," adds Rowe. "If you want special effects, go see a movie."
The Aspen Institute, Aspen Meadows, 845 Meadows Rd., Aspen, CO 81611, (970) 544-7850
The Claremont Resort, (510) 843-3000, www.claremontresort.com
IBM Palisades Executive Conference Center, (914) 732-6799, www.conferencecenters.com
The Mark, (800) THE-MARK
Northland Inn & Executive Conference Center, (800) 441-6422, www.northlandinn.com
Royal Sonesta Hotel, 5 Cambridge Pkwy., Cambridge, MA 02142, (617) 491-3600
Christopher Elliott is an Orlando, Fla., writer and independent producer who specializes in technology, travel and mobile computing. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines and online. You can find out more about him on his website or sign up for his free weekly newsletter.