Hybrid meetings offer an innovative way to engage your audience. Here is a compilation of comments from meeting professionals regarding the advantages of blending live meetings with virtual interaction from attendees who cannot attend the meeting in-person.
Understanding these new technologies is vital if meeting planners want to speak the language of their up-and-coming attendees, says Andrea Driessen, whose title at Seattle-based No More Boring Meetings is chief boredom buster.
"When we look at what Millennials and Gen-Yers want in a meeting, they are so used to being integral in creating their lives and connecting with people, that you have to integrate that into a meeting," she says. "If you were to place a Millennial in a traditional meeting where they can’t participate, they are going to check out."
Driessen says it is becoming commonplace for meeting participants to use mobile devices to create content with a speaker, such as answering survey questions.
"Audience responses get tabulated in real time and shown on the screen," she says. "The event then becomes a conversation instead of a one-way dictation."
Increasingly, planners are taking note of the efficiency of virtual meetings technology, much of it new and improved over years past, and using it to offer hybrid or blended meetings.
"A hybrid meeting is one that has a real-time, face-to-face component as well as a virtual component," says Driessen, adding that such meetings could include a webinar with an in-person presentation, or an event speech broadcasted on the Web to attendees who couldn’t make the meeting.
According to Midori Connolly, CEO of San Diego-based Pulse Staging and Events, hybrid meetings are all the rage.
"The hybrid meeting format has become really popular; it is almost becoming the standard," she says. "A lot of larger events are being streamed live with backchannel conversations on platforms such as Twitter."
How big are hybrid meetings likely to become in the future?
"Right now, they have not been widely used, but that growth is going to explode," Ball predicts. "It will be considered commonplace. The video component is where it is really going to take off."
Hybrid meetings may be taking off in popularity, but what kinds of events lend themselves best to a virtual component?
"When there is an information transfer that needs to happen and you don’t need to get people to buy into it emotionally, that is grounds for a virtual meeting," Driessen says. "If they need to connect on a heart-to-heart level, a 100 percent virtual meeting will fall flat."
According to Betsy Bondurant, CMP, CMM, president of Coronado, Calif.-based Bondurant Consulting, virtual meetings can be advantageous for organizations.
"It can help with cost because you aren’t flying people," she says. "It is also a green way to have a meeting because more and more people are getting concerned about carbon emissions. Many companies are trying to reduce their carbon footprint and this type of meeting helps to support those initiatives."
With the explosion of virtual technology, are face-to-face meetings a thing of the past?
"I am convinced that face-to-face meetings aren’t going anywhere," Driessen says. "We all know in our gut that face-to-face meetings are more powerful than virtual meetings. It is important for us as meeting professionals to view hybrid meetings not as a threat to face-to-face, but as an opportunity to raise the bar on our profession. A hybrid meeting forces us to become better, more relevant and more engaging."
In-person meetings are more likely to grab an attendee’s complete attention, Driessen says.
"An important statistic is that 62 percent of people multitask during webinars," she says. "If you want people’s undivided attention, webinars aren’t the way to go."
According to Bondurant, face-to-face meetings are not only here to stay, they are made stronger with hybrid components.
"There is still a huge need for face-to-face meetings," she says. "The beauty of a hybrid meeting is that it can extend the life of a meeting. Attendees can go online and check in weekly, monthly and yearly. If they can’t attend live, they can virtually."
As physicians adjust to the new era of patient care, medical associations are grappling with a new set of challenges to attract, engage and educate healthcare professionals. Uniting communities of medical personnel in-person remains a top objective, but the hurdles in front of face-to-face conference participation are growing taller for many physicians.
In the US, prospective medical meeting attendees are overwhelmed with patients. The 2014 Survey of America’s Physicians revealed that 81 percent of doctors are over-extended or at full capacity without any room to see more patients. If they are unable to make more room for patients, how will they manage to find time to spend three or four days away from their practices in a convention center?
Internationally, there is no shortage of issues, either. Many US-based medical meeting organizers are making strides in marketing to global attendees, but a new European disclosure code is raising concerns across the pond.
“Some of our attendance is remaining flat, especially since international attendance may be declining because of the pharma rules moving more and more to Europe where sponsors aren’t paying for attendees to travel,” Janet Skorepa, Associate Executive Director, American Urological Association, said in a forum for medical meeting planners at Convening Leaders 2015.
There are potential sponsorship dollars for attendees in developing markets in Latin America and South America, but securing a visa and sorting through paperwork can be turn-offs for first-time attendees.
The good news? Hybrid event technology makes establishing the first point of engagement with attendees easier than ever. Rather than spending large amounts of marketing dollars on efforts to motivate physicians to register for a conference, forward-thinking medical associations are giving this audience a much easier decision to make: log on and learn from home.
“There are people that just can’t physically be at your event, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play some kind of role in your community,” Donny Neufuss, Director, Global Accounts, Production Resource Group, said.
Meeting professionals employ hybrid event technologies to share content, ideas and experiences with attendees across multiple geographies and time zones, but many still oppose the medium, citing technology failures and potential cannibalization of face-to-face events.
While the technologic concern is credible, MPI’s research shows that anxieties surrounding the degeneration of in-person events are largely unsubstantiated. Data suggest that face-to-face attendance increases or remains the same when other audiences join in, as most delegates still prefer to attend events in person.
Hybrid meetings are a still-emerging media, and most meeting professionals don’t even have experience using the model yet. But those who do have significant experience in hybrid are more likely to exceed their objectives. As meeting professionals continue to experiment with hybrid meetings, they will find new opportunities—new types of hospitality and logistics as well as new content management services.
"Today, the concept of a hybrid meeting is booming," said Carol McGury, executive vice president, Event and Education Services, SmithBucklin. "There are many virtual options to support the face-to-face experience and engage both on-site and off-site members." For example, a conference general session might be streamed live over the Web to off-site members – either individually or in a small group venue – giving them an opportunity to not only hear a keynote speaker but also participate in the related Q&A session. Other possibilities include sending brief videos or podcasts to attendees to promote an important session, using hand-held polling devices for instant feedback or arranging an impromptu, on-site "meet-up" through social media.
Hybrid meetings can create many new opportunities for associations, as well as help achieve their main missions. Ultimately, however, their success will correlate directly to how their planning relates to the organization’s strategic needs. “Understanding how to measure ROI from delivering hybrid events is critical,” McGury said. “Whether the intent of hosting the hybrid event is to build prospect attendee awareness, diversify revenue or provide an additional member benefit, it is important to step back, assess and analyze the post-event data.”
Article compiled by Donna Baldino, IMS National Account Manager