Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

February 15 2016

When Worlds Collide: Mashing Face-To-Face And Virtual Attendees Together

David McMillin

PCMA first embraced a virtual component for its flagship conference, Convening Leaders, in 2010, and since the inaugural experience, the demand for digital engagement has steadily soared. At Convening Leaders 2016, the organization set a new record when nearly 1,400 virtual attendees tuned in to the programming, which marked a 28 percent year-over-year increase.

More virtual attendees have been part of the action, but many members of the face-to-face audience have been unaware of the conversation unfolding on screens around the world. That all changed in 2016, thanks to an expanded MashUp Studio prominently placed in the middle of the Learning Lounge in the Vancouver Convention Centre. With design help from Freeman and financial support from the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center the Virtual Edge Institute [VEI] hybrid team built a high-tech environment that offered face-to-face attendees an up-close and personal look at the production work involved in staging a successful hybrid experience. “The studio was definitely the talk of the on-site audience,” Amanda Marijanovic, Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Inneraction and one of the hosts of the hybrid programming, says. “We were located directly outside the general session. It established a great presence.”

The fishbowl-style design of the environment gave attendees in Vancouver the feeling of standing outside a live network TV news show, and they could see the team in action. That team was big, too; it included two hosts, one director, two camera operators, a lighting specialist, an audio operator, a switch operator, a production coordinator and a representative from SonicFoundry to oversee the live stream. Attendees in Vancouver watched as the team navigated the complexities of arranging entrances and exits for speakers during live broadcasts and adjusted lighting, as the Vancouver harbor backdrop went from sunup to sundown, to keep speakers and hosts looking top-notch.

“The MashUp Studio was designed to bring both our audiences together,” Jennifer Kingen Kush, Executive Director, Virtual Edge Institute, says. “Inside the studio, we produced exclusive interviews and content to keep virtual attendees engaged. Outside the studio, on-site attendees could see what their remote counterparts were seeing and doing.” Freeman, VEI and PCMA collaborated to feature a series of “Learning Moments” around the studio — signs that explained the rationale behind decisions. From the role that the plexiglass walls played in reducing potential sound challenges to how to manage latency issues, the displays helped educate on-site meeting planners and suppliers about digital tactical and engagement strategies.

Impressing The At-Home Audience

Every meeting planner knows there is no substitute for the thrill of the on-site experience, and VEI’s hybrid strategy is designed to inspire virtual attendees to become future face-to-face participants. Based on feedback, it’s safe to say the sophistication of the production in the MashUp Studio helped reach the objective. “Super envious not to be there,” wrote one attendee. “But, these live broadcasts are amazing!” Other attendees shared the same sentiment; 73 percent of them indicated that the virtual experience increased the likelihood that they will attend a face-to-face PCMA event.

Interested in more insights from Convening Leaders LIVE? Check out 3 Key Virtual Engagement Lessons For Meeting Professionals.

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