After an initial foray into hybrid meetings at its 2010 annual meeting, the American Society of Association Executives is pulling back on the virtual reins. The association does not plan to have any live streaming component at its 2011 annual meeting in St. Louis, August 6-9, but will make archived videos of the sessions available for purchase after the meeting.
Presenting at the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum on June 1 in Washington, D.C., Tammy Blosil, ASAE’s vice president, online learning, talked about the challenges of doing hybrid events that blend the live and virtual meeting elements. C.B. Wismar, vice president, events, American Association of Retired Persons, joined her on stage.
ASAE jumped into hybrid meetings last year for its meeting in Los Angeles, streaming a total of 24 sessions over three days, including three general sessions, nine thought-leader sessions, and 12 education learning labs. Overall, 33 hours of live sessions were broadcast and 70 sessions were recorded for on-demand access after the event. There was no online exhibit hall. The registration fee for the virtual event was $595 ($200 less than early-bird pricing for the live meeting) and included access to the archives for 90 days. The virtual meeting drew 265 registrants.
The cost of the meeting’s virtual components was in the six figures, said Blosil, including $54,000 for Internet and audiovisual hookups and décor at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Other expenses included the producer and platform, marketing, and business operations. Ultimately, ASAE decided that the model was not sustainable at that price, she said.
The association hoped to reach members who had never attended ASAE’s face-to-face meeting or hadn’t attended in awhile, or international members, Blosil said. However, they found that a high percentage of the virtual attendees were people who regularly or periodically attend the live meeting. ASAE didn’t market the virtual meeting early because it didn’t to want to take away from the physical event. However, both she and Wismar said that strategy is a mistake. The good news is that about 34 percent of virtual attendees in 2010 said they plan go to the live meeting in St. Louis.
Instead of the live virtual event, ASAE will offer sessions from the 2011 meeting on demand after the event. “To continue to meet the learning needs of our Annual Meeting attendees as well as our members who are unable to participate in the live physical event, we will continue to offer the archived conference recordings,” said Blosil. For more information, go to ASAEAnnualMeeting.org and click on the on-demand tab.
AARP has faced its own hybrid event challenges. “It’s like you are building a plane while you are flying it,” said Wismar, speaking at ECEF. While acknowledging that this is the future, early adopters like AARP and ASAE are still trying to figure out what works best. AARP has given itself three years to get it right—it’s now in year two. “You need a consultant to find out what you need, what you don’t need, and how much it costs,” he said. He also said that the virtual event is an extension ofand can’t be separated from it. YouTube, Facebook, and all the other social media outlets have to be tied to the virtual meeting.
AARP live-streamed 82 sessions over three days, but found it had a huge spike in viewership after the conference. They also had a virtual exhibition but it was not what Wismar would call an exhibit hall. The online space for exhibitors, Wismar said, shouldn’t be made to look and function like a live booth, because it’s not. It should be about access to buyers and information that extends beyond the three days of the conference. “It should give exhibitors year-long access to customers,” he said.