Many associations have had success with hybrid meetings—where some portion of a face-to-face conference is broadcast live to a remote audience—and the concept is gaining momentum in the corporate world as well. But you don’t have to jump all the way in to get a feel for whether or not a hybrid meeting will work for your audience.
One option for a trial run of sorts is to choose one business session or keynote presentation at an upcoming meeting and live-stream it to a remote audience. That’s what the Chicago-based Financial & Insurance Conference Planners Association decided to do with one of its general sessions. Lydia Goessel,’s manager of education and learning services, coordinated the live-streaming along with Production Manager Jason Brentlinger of Bartha, an event production company based in Columbus, Ohio. Here are some tips from Goessel and Brentlinger based on their experience with FICP:
1. Don’t go it alone.
“The biggest thing is to partner with capable AV company,” Goessel says. “You need a solid partnership and an understanding of all the requirements before you get on site.” And an experienced and skilled camera operator can make the difference between a session that engages virtual attendees or bores them into checking e-mail instead of paying attention. Goessel credited Brentlinger’s variation of viewing angle and focus, sometimes including the audience in the shot, with making the session as compelling to virtual viewers as it was to those in the ballroom.
2. Don’t get stuck in traffic.
Know how much traffic the Internet connection at your meeting venue can handle, Brentlinger says. Even though Bartha used a private network to live-stream the session, that still required using the facility's local server. If you’re doing a session with hundreds or thousands of people in the live audience, and everyone comes in and connects their iPads and smartphones to the network, you could get “balks” in your video stream. The trouble is, you’ll probably only find out if it’s going to happen when it happens.
3. Decide where the video will be shown.
Bartha prefers to build and host a Web page for presenting the session. The client sends logos, color schemes, and other branding details, but Bartha hosts the site. It is possible for the client company to use its own Web page—provided its IT department is skilled enough to embed the necessary code, and that the company uses a broadcast server, which can reallocate the stream as necessary to ensure a seamless viewing experience.
4. Make up for viewers’ shortcomings.
Requirements on the viewer’s end depend on the level of interaction you want. At minimum, for viewing and using a chat function, viewers need a Flash-enabled computer and a decent connection. However, Brentlinger says, an experienced vendor will have the capability of using a “throttled stream,” which monitors how fast or slow viewers’ connections are and buffers the stream accordingly so that the video plays without hiccups.
5. See for yourself.
Inevitably, a few viewers will have technical difficulties. It’s critical for you to be watching the live stream on a “regular” laptop with its own Internet connection, so that you will know whether or not viewer troubles are individual issues or broadcast-wide problems.
6. Work with your presenter.
When presenters are speaking to a live room, they should present to the room, not to the camera. It is a good idea, however, to have the presenter acknowledge the viewing audience two or three times during the presentation. And be sure the camera operator knows the speaker’s plan, Goessel says. If it’s someone who walks all over the stage, the camera operator needs to prepare for that.
7. If you want to hear it, you need to mic it.
Presenters usually will have an individual lavalier microphone, so ambient noise is not a concern. But if you want the ambient noise—that is, if the virtual audience needs to hear questions or comments from the live audience, you’ll need to pass a mic or have microphone stands throughout the room.
8. Assign a monitor to the virtual audience.
Goessel watched the streamed session on her laptop, and interacted with the viewing audience to keep them connected. She greeted them before the session and let them know when it was about to start. She monitored the chat function and responded as necessary. Then she closed out the session by thanking them for joining.