What will your meeting, facility, or service look like in 10 years, maybe sooner, when hybrid formats—meetings with a mix of live and virtual elements—rule the industry?

While hybrid design continues to evolve, forces outside the industry are making hybridization the new survival skill for meetings and events.

  • Rising oil prices could soon bankrupt many airlines, jeopardizing the airlift on which large, centralized meetings depend. And even if tickets are available, organizations are scrutinizing the cost of air travel, and fewer travelers actually want to fly.
  • Every part of the meetings supply chain is under pressure to cut carbon, energy, water, and waste. The impact of many of these pressures increases with the number of participants who travel to the site, particularly those who travel by air.
  • Participants, funders, and decision-makers expect better results from every meeting. A new generation of meeting designers is poised to meet the demand, and hybrid formats are a part of their tool kit.
  • Seven months after EventCamp Twin Cities 2010 broke new ground on affordable hybrid meetings, co-chairman Samuel J. Smith is thinking hard about the ingredients of a successful hybrid. (Our firm’s case study of ECTC with co-chairmen Smith and Ray Hansen will be released soon.)

    “It’s an evolutionary process,” Smith says. “We’re not going to wake up tomorrow and see hybrids everywhere. But we have to try out these things and continue learning from each other, because there aren’t enough best practices yet.”

    While face-to-face meetings have been refined and tested over time, hybrids “are still in the gun-slinging era where there’s still a lot to learn,” he says. As a result, “most of them are really bad today. We have to figure out what’s good and how to make it even better.”

    Smith offered these tips for making hybrids work:

    • Like any face-to-face event, a hybrid meeting has to be designed with objectives and environment in mind. If general sessions are like theater, “the metaphor for hybrid meetings is a ‘live’ sporting or political event on television,” he said. Camera angles, value-added content, and careful attention to audience engagement all make or break the online experience. “If you’re just putting a camera at the back of a room, you’re missing a big opportunity.”
    • Consider the virtual component of a hybrid meeting as a distinct event with its own planning team. Otherwise, key personnel are pulled away to help with the face-to-face program, and the virtual audience becomes an afterthought.
    • Cost savings might be an outcome of a hybrid format, but it shouldn’t be the initial reason to shift formats. That choice should be guided by the purpose of the event and the audiences it’s designed to reach.

    Many large meetings will soon give way to a hub-and-spoke model that favors smaller, more flexible meeting facilities with great technology and services. “Somewhere down the road, we’re actually going to move away from these super-mega events,” Smith said. “Instead of bringing 9,000 people together, you can do nine 1,000-person events, with maybe 300 of those people on-site and 700 online.”

    Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog and tweets as @mitchellbeer.