“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”(George Bernard Shaw) Since nearly every core IEEE activity has communication as both its means and its end, this “single biggest problem” is one that directly impacts our members.
For IEEE sections, it’s all about the meeting. We measure the success our sections, chapters, areas, and regions by meetings, by how many attendees there were at the meeting, and by what happened at the meeting. Workshop, conference, congress, are just names we use to indicate that the meeting is important or special or big. For section after section, chapter after chapter, the three most important activities are meetings, meetings, and meetings. Successful meetings, though, require more than a great speaker to lead the communication. Meetings also need communication before and after: announcements, attendee registration and tracking, and reporting. vTools tackles these major needs of virtually all our meetings.
My own section has not been a big user of vTools, but I undertook to incorporate them into my meetings for four separate meetings held this year. In January, I tried to host a local IEEE meeting where a colleague and I would provide a tutorial on Kalman filtering but the communication that this meeting was planned didn’t happen you can’t have a successful meeting if no one knows to show up. That’s what happened back in January and why we did host a very successful tutorial, but it was held in February. We didn’t quite suffer from this “single biggest problem” because we knew communication had not taken place. I was inspired from this failure on my vTools journey. For this next meeting, I used vTools.meetings to create the meeting announcement and registration page and then used vTools.enotice to notify members. Since it was my first experience with it, I didn’t use it to allow registrants to pay for the tutorial via vTools, telling them to bring a check, and I extended the notice to the 2000 additional people who are on the section list by working with my local section for a second email notice using that list (this would cause members to get two emails, by the way.) but even that email used the vTools meeting announcement as a weblink so they could register. This wasn’t just successful, we were a little too successful and registration filled up in less than 24 hours and we had to change to the largest room and still we turned away more than we could add.
After this success, I used vTools again on 3 more meetings, every time I didn’t just fill up, I became full and then started getting requests to increase capacity or just find room for more. This is a great problem to have (although rather scary on the evening of the event). Even my most recent meeting where the notice only went out on Monday for a Wednesday speaker, we had more attendees than chairs.
In the midst of this, I contacted John Prohodsky, vTools committee member for our region and found him to be a valuable resource. He even agreed to attend our next section executive committee meeting where I would be presenting on this and he would be with us, just on the line. His expertise in what the tools can and cannot do and what improvements are planned and how soon was invaluable. The section leaders were passionate that meeting notices must go to the nearly 2000 interested parties who aren’t on the current member roster. The discussion was lengthy and brought the genuine concern our leaders have that everyone we think wants to know about our meetings should be notified quickly and not limited to only society members for a chapter meeting or only the paid-up IEEE members. The coolest part was the enthusiasm those present had with finding solutions and a willingness to embrace change that started immediately to promote vTools as part of the process for our meetings.