Here it comes again. Event Camp Twin Cities is back August 25–26, and the conference that set out to “rewrite the rules for a hybrid event” is preparing to break new ground for the second year in a row.

In 2010, ECTC was the first in a series of regional conferences that grew out of the #eventprofs Twitter hashtag. Each program has been a model for some aspect of innovative meeting design. This year’s Event Camp calendar is filling up fast, with programs scheduled in Philadelphia, Vancouver, and London, as well as Minneapolis.

At ECTC 2010, “one of our biggest accomplishments was to get the virtual audience engaged with the physical audience,” says co-chair Samuel J. Smith. “In 2011, we want to push that engagement farther than we did and learn from what we saw last year.” This year’s ECTC will run for two days, rather than one, and Smith plans to borrow freely from the game design that the Green Meeting Industry Council introduced at its 2011 Sustainable Meetings Conference last February.

Last year’s ECTC brought 75 Minneapolis participants together with face-to-face “pods,” or gatherings, in Dallas and Basel, as well as 550 virtual participants who joined the event from their desktops. This year, pods are confirmed in Amsterdam, Philadelphia, Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, plus two “corporate pods” hosted by businesses. As the game design takes shape, “we’re figuring out how to make the pods work together to collaborate on challenges,” Smith says, recognizing that seven or eight remote groups will be tougher to integrate than two.

Organizers aim to find out what it takes to keep virtual participants engaged with a full two days of programming. Last year, ECTC worked with virtual moderator Emilie Barta to deliver a constant flow of online content. This year, the conference will broadcast concurrent content simultaneously, giving participants a choice of three different sessions to view. “We want to see how that affects retention,” Smith said. “This is the next generation of experiments that we’re trying.”

Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, attendees will form case study teams and work with key thought leaders in innovative meeting design to solve problems and earn game points. “You can get a hybrid point of view from going to one of the pods. In Minneapolis, you’ll get to connect with people who have that fresh mindset.”

ECTC has always tried to leave each participant with one new idea to apply to their own meetings program. Smith’s comment in the opening minutes of ECTC 2010 has since become iconic in meeting design circles: “Experimentation is our get-out-of-jail-free card. If we weren’t having tech hiccups, we wouldn’t be innovating.”

This year, “the purpose of all of this is to experiment with hybrid engagement in a new way that other people might not try because, frankly, it might not work. We want it to work, but we also want to explore it and see how well it will work.”

Mitchell Beer, CMM, served on GMIC’s 2011 conference planning committee, and co-authored a case study of the 2010 ECTC’s post-conference content strategy. He 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.