For many in the event industry, the debate over virtual meetings has evolved from a question of "Bad idea or not?", to "When do virtual meetings make the most sense?"
Today, virtual meeting technology is often viewed not as a replacement for face to face events but as a way to augment them. In addition, it would seem that much of the time, virtual technology is making meetings possible that would otherwise never take place.
When you consider that for most people a virtual meeting amounts to some form of web conferencing, the debate takes on an even less threatening tone. After all, from that standpoint, many of us are participating in virtual events or meetings on a daily basis.
I recently had the pleasure of being part of a team conducting research for MPI on The Strategic Value of Virtual Meetings and Events. During our research, it became clear to me that virtual platforms are enabling people to meet and collaborate in ways that would have been next to impossible without them.
For instance, without the use of virtual, our team: Samuel J. Smith of Minnesota; Rosa Garriga-Mora of Barcelona, Spain; Ruud Janssen of Basel, Switzerland and myself, a resident of California; would have communicated less often and in a much more problematic manner. In fact, I would question whether we could have conducted our research at all as a team without the help of virtual meeting and collaboration tools.
For information sharing, collaboration, training and education, the virtual meeting option can be a life-saver.
But, virtual has it's weaknesses. The one most often cited in our research is the difficulty many encounter attempting to interactively engage others using virtual event and meeting platforms. Most of our respondents agreed that for client-facing meetings; meetings where networking is important; and meetings where sensitive issues are being discussed, only face to face meetings will do.
So when do virtual meetings make the most sense? Here are five examples based on the research from the MPI report, The Strategic Value of Virtual Meetings and Events.
1 - When Travel Costs Are Prohibitive
The number one reason respondents gave for choosing to go virtual with their events or meetings was to avoid travel costs. Organizations have become much pickier about where to spend their travel budgets, often saving the bulk of those expenditures for internal client meetings.
2 - When Taking Time Away From The Office Is Impossible
Even when we can virtually take our offices with us, time spent traveling and getting situated in a new environment is time we miss doing productive work. A virtual meeting does away with all of that. For participants, preparation usually amounts to clicking a link or dialing a number.
3 - For Last Minute Meetings
With preparation so simple, virtual meetings can often be organized with very little lead time. So communication that might have been relegated to emails or a series of phone calls can take place in a virtual meeting where everyone is present.
Last minute meetings are a great example of the type of meeting that would likely not take place without the use of virtual meeting technology.
4 - For Sharing Information Across Time Zones
When virtual technology makes it so easy to overcome space and time differences, a lot of collaborative efforts that wouldn't have been considered are not only possible but surprisingly simple. Online video chat tools such as Skype and Google Hangouts are free or cost little. And collaboration tools such as BaseCamp, Central Desktop, Google Docs and DropBox simplify the task of gathering, sharing and working on documents together.
5 - When Detailed Metrics Are Required
Though under-used by most event planners, virtual meeting technology offers the ability to gather detailed information about attendee behavior that can yield measurements such as conversion ratio (number registered vs number attended); repeat vs new attendees; percent in platform time vs total content available; as well as valuable lead nurturing information at an individual level. Such data can help users measure performance and identify opportunities for improvement as well as identify lead opportunities.
For more information about the value of virtual meetings and events for meeting planners, check out The Value of Virtual; download The Strategic Value of Virtual Events, which includes a handy How-To Guide; or join the next #eventtable Twitter chat, Monday 2/20 at 3 pm est where we'll be talking about the Value of Virtual with guest Samuel J. Smith. Just log into Tweet Chat at the appointed time and use the hashtag #eventtable.
(Photo by mdGovPics)