At the 2013 Meetings Professionals International event, Samuel J. Smith, an event technology consultant and president of Interactive Meeting Technology, shared some of what he has learned as a researcher for The Meeting Professionals International Foundation’s Hybrid Meeting Project. Sponsored by Sonic Foundry, the project involved surveying 1,800 people and conducting 37 interviews to find out how planners are using hybrid events.
Cannibalism Is a Myth
While 50 percent of planners surveyed said they worried they would lose attendees by adding a virtual component to their live event, most said that they did not in fact have any change in attendance after going hybrid. Asked what happened at the next year’s meeting, 65 percent said attendance stayed the same, while 23 percent said attendance actually went up.
Asked why they chose to attend a meeting virtually instead of live, survey respondents gave varied reasons:
• Due to travel budget: 55 percent
• Couldn’t afford the time out of office: 50 percent
• Cost: 45 percent
• Didn’t have enough lead time: 25 percent
• Preferred to watch the recording later: 20 percent
• Prefer virtual to live events: 15 percent
• Learned about the event as it happened and so had no way to get there: 15 percent
Because time and money constraints loomed so large, the researchers then asked if attendees would participate in the live event if time and money weren’t factors. The majority said they would.
There are several types of vendors involved in a hybrid meeting, and production can get expensive, Smith noted—having production and hard-line Internet in many meeting rooms adds up, and video production can get pricey in a union facility. Those surveyed said that 42 percent of their budget went to video production, 31 percent was for streaming services, and 10 percent to the platform.
5 Hybrid Tips
1. You should attend at least eight hybrid events before attempting one of your own, Smith said. Most meeting professionals have been to hundreds of live events, so you know what that experience is from the attendee perspective. You have to do the same virtually in order to understand of the hybrid experience from the other side of the screen.
2. Hold at least one rehearsal in order to find and fix tech glitches, and to walk everyone through both the technology and the process. Remember that there’s a whole team involved—not just your and your presenters, but also a production company, an Internet provider, a streaming provider, and a platform provider. “Rehearsing brings all four of these vendors together,” he said.
3. The remote experience is different from what those in the room get, so set expectations accordingly. Attendees want content, but you have to make it interesting—i.e., interactive—so you don’t lose them to e-mail, he said. “You have to get the content right first, then format it to create two-way engagement…you have to structure the dialogue.”
You can have the presenter answer remote audience questions during the break while the in-situ attendees are off having coffee, he suggested. One way to get remote attendees’ attention is to use their names, “Say, ‘Bob from Iowa asked this question,’” said Smith. “Not only is Bob happy to hear his name, but it also spurs others to ask questions so they can get recognized too.”
4. Get someone to coach speakers on how to engage online attendees. “A lot of [subject matter experts] are boring,” he said. Use a talk show format (where someone interviews them) to make them more interesting.
5. Smith suggested trying to compare apples to apples as much as possible when looking at bids, and, especially for some more specialized organizations, you may want to be sure they have experience in your market. Get everything in writing, he advised. “They’re not trying to cheat you, but there can be misunderstandings…Ask questions if you don’t understand, and keep asking until you do.”