Maximize Unique Strengths of Virtual, F2F or Hybrid for Event Success

Posted by Jenise Fryatt on Thu, Jun 07, 2012 @ 04:48 PM

Virtual, Face to Face, Hybrid EventsHave you considered your face to face event objectives in light of the growing popularity of remote attendance and virtual events? More and more it seems that events that have done this are achieving success and getting rave reviews.

Case in point: the Commerce and Creativity Conference (C2-MTL) held recently in Montreal.

I'd never even heard of this conference until today when I read a tweet by Mana Ionescu (@manamica on Twitter) promoting a blog post entitled "Will Livestreaming Replace the Business Conference?"

A Conference Designed for Collaboration, Play and “Wow” Experiences

According to blogger Ilana Rabinowitz, the concept of C2-MTL was "not just to talk about creativity and innovation, but to make it happen. Right there."

Rabinowitz went on to describe how, in light of the availability of live-streamed event experiences, innovative real life events such as C2-MTL are taking on greater importance.

"At the conference, and between presentations, we were immersed  in a creative experience through installation art, impromptu art, and a space designed for collaboration, play and “wow” experiences," she explains.

"Sakchin Bessette spoke about how Moment Factory creates over-the-top experiences like the Super Bowl Half time show featuring Madonna .  He drove home the fact that at a time when individuals spend so much alone time facing a digital screen, congregating in real life to have meaningful experiences with other people is more vital than ever.  That means more opportunity for businesses  that can help their communities gather."

It's Not About Event Cannibalization Anymore

The debate over whether virtual would replace or cannabilize face to face events seems to be morphing into a discussion about how the two can be made to complement and strengthen one another. In light of that fact, now might be a good time to examine the strengths and weaknesses of each format.

Advantages of remote attendance include lower travel costs, less time away from the office; the ability to reach a wider audience; the ease of content capture and post event dissemination; easy and effective ways to gather event metrics; and new avenues for generating event revenue. While disadvantages include lack of networking ease and effectiveness; the reduction of an event to screen size limits spectacle or "wow" factor; and three of the five senses (taste, touch and smell) are not usually engaged.

Advantages of face to face attendance include greater opportunities for effective networking; more visual cues for easier communication between attendees; more opportunities for spontaneous shared experiences; and easier activation of all five senses. While disadvantages include much higher costs for food & beverage, travel and production; a more limited ability to reach a large audience; and more difficulty gathering metrics

So it would seem obvious that the decision of whether to create a face to face or virtual event experience would depend on which format would best align with your event objectives. It would also seem obvious that a hybrid event, which combines both a face to face and a virtual experience of the same event would be best designed as two separate experiences reflecting the strengths of each format.

A Diverse Toolbox Can Help Event Pros Meet Future Challanges

As we look ahead at the challenges facing the events industry as a whole, it would seem particularly important that we learn and understand these different formats and use them well.

Research done as part of the  2012 IMEX Power of 10 Study of what the next decade holds for events and meetings identified several key priorities of today's event professionals.  The survey respondents, 765 people from 68 countries on six continents representing the full range of business sectors served by the events and meetings industry, listed 12, often conflicting, priorities:


* Cost Reduction

* Quality and Novelty

* Shorter Lead times

* Increasing Delegate Insight

* Deepening Dialogue

* Tailored Speeches

* Personalization

* Interactive Learning

* Pre and Post Event Engagement

* 15-20 minute TED talks

* Delegate Led Content

The IMEX research also listed strategic thinking; nurtuing agility and flexibility; personalizing and deepening learning experiences and experimenting with business models and revenue streams as four of the ten challenges the events industry should address in its quest to be seen as a vital enabler of business growth and critical engine of economic development.

With that in mind now is the time to learn all we can about the tools we event professionals have at our disposal. For instance, a virtual event or component can reduce costs adding another element for a more personalized experience with opportunities for more pre and post event engagement as well as opportunities for new revenue streams.

While a face to face event has unique capabilities for deepening dialogue, creating opportunities for interactive learning and creating delegate led content (such as Rabinowitz described or, for another example, in peer to peer formats.)

If live streaming or virtual event participation ever begins to take a bite out of face to face attendance, it means that we as event professionals have not truly understood the nature of virtual events. By capitalizing on the strengths of both formats, we are quite capable of adapting to the changes brought on by a bad economy, new technology and all the other challenges we face. The best way to ensure face to face events never die is to truly understand and adjust to the existence of virtual.

(Photo by hassmanm)

Tags: conferences, hybrid events, interactive meetings, event technology, events industry, virtual events