For event organizers, hybrid meetings – where in-person delegates are joined by online attendees – are an increasingly popular way to reach a larger audience by including people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.
But while technology makes it possible to create an engaging experience for participants who are hundreds of kilometres away, there are also pitfalls that can make guests remember a well-intentioned event for all the wrong reasons.
WHEN IT WORKS WELL
Hybrid meetings work best at events that are focused on sharing information, says Peggy Nieghorn, the director of business development at Ottawa meeting planning firm Intertask Conferences. In contrast, building an emotional connection is more difficult with people who aren’t physically at the event, she adds.
“Face-to-face is always going to be the more powerful forum to take away a tangible experience,” says Ms. Nieghorn.
But at the same time, event organizers can still capture the interest of individuals who are unable to leave the office that day. This can make hybrid meetings a way for people to get a sense of a conference or event and pique their interest for future editions.
This can be particularly effective when would-be attendees are short on time.
Doctors, for example, need to stay up-to-date on developments in their field but might not have the scheduling flexibility to attend a talk in person, Ms. Nieghorn says.
Other experts say the format is well-suited for conferences that would typically require extensive travel, such as those held by national associations.
“Hybrid meetings work really well when you have a distributed attendee base,” says Alissa Hurley, vice-president of marketing for audiovisual firm FMAV.
Her firm has even staged a hybrid version of a hybrid meeting: Connecting multiple events, held simultaneously in different cities by various chapters of the same organization.
GoToMeeting and WebEx
These proprietary platforms have a similar suite of options that allow for both video streaming and collaboration. They’re aimed at groups of up to 100 people and give users control over who can access meetings.
One of the most popular solutions, it’s probably the easiest way to reach a large audience. However, streams are limited to four hours and users don’t have the same level of control over who can see a broadcast.
Developed in Ottawa, this tool is primarily for webcasting, though it does have a comment function. It offers a high level of security.
The social media platform can allow delegates at an event to communicate with each other and remote attendees through the use of hashtags. While it can drive engagement and outside interest, organizers have little control.
HAZARDS TO AVOID
Alongside new opportunities, hybrid meetings also bring meeting planners new challenges. One of the biggest is considering the distinct needs of off-site attendees.
“Your remote audience are people too,” Ms. Hurley says. “You need to think about how to engage them as much as the people who are in the room with you.”
If, for example, the in-person event takes a coffee break or there’s a few minutes between speakers, remote attendees have little to watch and can easily drift away.
It’s important to involve the remote audience in what’s happening at the event. For example, moderators should take questions from both virtual and in-person attendees during Q&A sessions.
PLATFORM PROS AND CONS
Some social media platforms, such as Facebook Live, come with built-in functions intended to encourage engagement.
But it isn’t appropriate for every meeting as it’s generally public, which means anyone can watch the live stream and add comments. That might work well for award ceremonies and press conferences, but may not be appropriate for other events such as training sessions or corporate town halls.
For these meetings, a proprietary platform that requires participants to sign in with a password may be the better choice.
Some local firms have developed software that’s targeted at hybrid event planners.
Ottawa-based CollaborateVideo makes live video streaming software for large enterprise users and offers the option of only broadcasting an event on a company’s internal intranet, says company president Rick Valois.
The firm also has a built-in email-based function for questions and feedback in its video player that prevents anonymous comments. It also gives users the ability to control what’s shown to other viewers.
“Most of our clients want to vet what’s being posted,” he says.
Another factor planners should consider is whether they have permission from speakers to stream or record the event. Some speakers might not want the content of their presentation broadcast to the world.
There may be some room for negotiation. For example, a speaker who doesn’t want a video of their address posted on the Internet may be OK with a one-time live broadcast.
Other parts of your event may also be subject to copyright. Facebook Live, for example, can detect music that’s protected by copyright. “If you stream any copyrighted music materials, Facebook will cut your stream off,” Ms. Hurley says.