Hybrid Meetings – A Silver Lining in a Down Economy
As difficult and demanding as this recession has been in the meetings industry, if you dig deep enough you may be able to find a few silver linings.
Over the past two years, many association executives and meeting professionals have been forced to find new and creative ways to meet the needs of members with smaller budgets. And like many great ideas, some of the best innovation can arise out of economic necessity.
One of the big changes I have seen as the result of the recession is an interest in hybrid meetings. When the recession hit, many associations were faced with members cutting back on travel and meeting expenditures. This forced meeting planners to explore ways for members to participate at the annual meeting without actually flying to the venue. In less challenging times, some association executives were reluctant to go down this path out of fear of eroding their face to face attendance, but during the recession it became a more acceptable option.
As meeting planners began to look at hybrid meeting options, many discovered that technology existed for effective live streaming of sessions. As interest grew in this area a number of innovative players began to develop effective models for conducting hybrid meetings. One of the great incubators for this strategy was EventCamp Twin Cities (ECTC10). This small, two-day event with 80 face-to-face attendees (over 500 virtual attendees and two remote pods on two different continents) was put together as a means to explore ideas and concepts for effective hybrid meeting execution.
A few good lessons came out of this event.
- Community – ECTC10 highlighted the importance of having an online event community so that remote, as well as face to face attendees, had a central location to effectively engage before, during and after the event. An online community allows remote attendees to feel part of the overall event experience. It also gives a central location for everyone to learn more about other attendees, speakers and hot topics.
- High-quality streaming technology – The importance of high-quality video and/or live streaming integrated with a means to interact (in this case Twitter) via a single web site location gave the remote audience a very professional way to watch and interact. Some events just place a camera in the corner of the room and use free streaming software like ustream. There are big cost differences between the two methods, but if you’re looking to create a meaningful experience and put your time and energies into planning for a hybrid event, using solid technology is a must.
- A professional moderator – Virtual attendees cannot be treated as an afterthought. It’s very important to plan and think about the experience of the audience on the other end of the live stream. ECTC10 was designed like an all day live TV channel for the virtual audience and the professional moderator was the glue that pulled it together. This emcee was the voice of the virtual audience and the event was designed to incorporate them. To fill time between sessions, the professional moderator performed interviews and gave interesting dialogue so there was no “down time.” Speakers were also educated on the meeting format so they would address the virtual audience and remote PODs too.
- Post-content publishing plan – A hybrid event creates a pool of rich content that can be re-purposed after the event, and how that content is distributed takes planning to maximize its value. At ECTC10, each session was recorded (including the slides and speaker). In addition, professional writers captured the sessions (as virtual attendees) in long and short summary written formats. These sessions were then shared one-at-a-time every week after the event in the video archive section of the event web site. The short summaries were distributed to different media outlets to drive traffic and awareness back to the session archives on the event web site. The complete content was also re-purposed at the Engage365 knowledge community that focuses on events, social media and new technologies to maximize its reach. People can only consume so much content at one time. Rather than dumping all this content to the web site and making a one-time announcement, the organizers, by design, kept the event alive for month. They drew people back to the event web site to view the archived sessions. A post-event content strategy is a great way to bring awareness about your organization and your event. It becomes a marketing machine for future events and face-to-face attendance as well as an opportunity to charge for accessing the post-hybrid event session content.
Here are some considerations in your quest for hybrid events:
- Do you have a moderator who can engage remote attendees between sessions?
- Do remote attendees have the ability to chat or tweet as they view sessions?
- Is there a live on site moderator who can answer questions of remote attendees?
- Do you have a location either in the community or on your conference web site where face to face and remote attendees can access session handouts and papers?
- How will you share content after the event? What are your media channels?
- How easy will it be for attendees to find and search the content that is relevant and of interest?
- How is this material handled between the community and on your conference web site?
- Who will have access to this content? Will you charge for some content?
The recession acted as a catalyst to create interest in hybrid meetings, but it’s conceivable that hybrid meetings will become the norm of the future. It could be time to explore hybrid meetings. This might just be the silver lining you were looking for.