Hybrid meetings have given the meetings industry plenty of big question marks. Is technology going to replace the need to meet face-to-face? Will the convenience of a screen eliminate the need to travel? How can planners still motivate attendees to pay for a four-day conference if the conference is available online for less money - - or no money at all?
If you’re asking questions about what a hybrid meeting will mean for your organization, here’s the answer: increased engagement, increased interactivity and increased relevancy in today’s fast-paced, technologically-driven world. Oh yeah, and increased attendance at your face-to-face event.
Mary Reynolds Kane, director, online marketing, PCMA, and Jennifer Kingen Kush, marketing, PCMA, have seen just how much of an impact a hybrid meeting can have on an organization and its face-to-face event. Reynolds Kane and Kingen Kush were the brains behind the screens of Convening Leaders 2013 Hybrid.
I caught up with both of them to understand how PCMA leveraged cutting-edge technology to welcome a record-breaking 800+ attendees to its hybrid community. Here’s a look at six key steps to taking a meeting hybrid.
1) Choose Your Content Wisely
Convening Leaders featured hundreds of sessions, but not all of them were appropriate for the hybrid format. As the meeting approached, Reynolds Kane worked with PCMA’s Education Department to determine which sessions would be the most interactive.
“We wanted to bring them sessions that would teach them something, but most importantly, we wanted to deliver sessions that would engage attendees even while they sat at their desks,” Reynolds Kane says.
2) Prepare Your Speakers
Choosing the sessions is only half the equation for engagement.
Long before the selected speakers arrived in Orlando, PCMA was working to help them understand how to appeal to both the on-site audience and those attendees engaging via their computer screens around the world. In order to help selected speakers consider how hybrid technology would impact their sessions, Kingen Kush shared a session with them from an actual attendee’s perspective and offered helpful tips for adapting to the hybrid environment during a pre-meeting webinar.
“You don’t change your presentation, but you do think about how you’ll deliver it differently,” Kingen Kush says.
3) Be a Team Player
While PCMA organized the entire program, Reynolds Kane says that the hybrid meeting would not have been possible without the dedicated work of the organization’s partners: Mediasite by Sonic Foundry for streaming, INXPO for the platform, Freeman for AV and bXb for production.
“It’s a huge team effort for success,” Reynolds Kane says.
That effort started with plenty of phone calls to determine technology needs, delegate responsibilities and ensure everyone understood their roles in Orlando. Even with all that preparation, the days leading up to the beginning of the program were packed with going room to room to check audio and video feeds.
“There are so many uncertainties in a hybrid meeting,” Kingen Kush says. “Running all of those tests long before any of your attendees arrive is essential to success.”
4) Start the Conversation
Once the meeting started and attendees logged in, they discovered a new element that PCMA hadn’t used in its previous two years of hybrid meetings: online chat capabilities.
“The chat component made the biggest difference this year,” Reynolds Kane says. “Attendees loved being able to share ideas and challenges and learn from one another.”
From informal greetings to sharing success stories to submitting questions for the on-site speakers, groups featured lively discussions among attendees.
Still, getting them talking relied on a moderator to help fuel the conversation. Reynolds Kane and Kingen Kush, along with marketing specialists Daniel Metz and Corey Domek, helped fulfill that role.
“An online moderator has to be friendly and approachable to help set the tone and foster a real sense of community,” Reynolds Kane says.
5) Show the On-Site Energy
A hybrid meeting must strike a balance between digital engagement and a desire to encourage that audience to join face-to-face the next year.
“You have to create that ‘I wish I was there’ feeling,” Reynolds Kane says. “Just sitting watching a session may not be enough.”
In order to show the true on-site energy, PCMA displayed videos and images of networking, receptions and elements that are only possible to experience as a face-to-face participant.
6) Extend the Life of Your Content and Your Hybrid Community
Just as the industry stresses the importance of a face-to-face experience extending after attendees return home, hybrid meetings can be part of that extension, too, with a rebroadcast.
“You’ve already got the content, and you’ve already paid for it,” Reynolds Kane says. “All you have to do is set aside one extra day. Even if you can’t get the speakers involved, a rebroadcast helps the hybrid experience live on beyond the traditional start and end dates.”
Reynolds Kane says that the rebroadcast can deliver additional value for face-to-face attendees, too. In fact, more than 13 percent of rebroadcast attendees participated because they wanted to watch the sessions again or missed the sessions while on-site in Orlando.
Looking Ahead to the Future of Hybrid Meetings
In 2013, the hybrid meeting drove plenty of new traffic to PCMA. In fact, just under 70 percent of hybrid attendees were not PCMA members yet.
While PCMA first included a hybrid component for Convening Leaders attendees in 2011, the organization has been constantly tweaking the virtual meeting experience.
“Our whole approach is to try, and if it fails, then, we’ll refine and perfect,” Reynolds Kane says. “If something doesn’t work, we figure out why.”
For more on what works for hybrid meetings, click here to read how the American Public Works Association and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering leveraged virtual technology to increase engagement.