The divide between what remote attendees want and what meeting planners usually give them is significant.
So significant, in fact, that when Samuel J. Smith shared the results of the study he conducted on hybrid events at MPI's World Education Congress last July, he titled it "Meeting Planners are from Mars, Attendees are from Venus."
Smith's research, sponsored by MPI and Sonic Foundry, set out to document how different organizations are combining virtual and face-to-face elements at events and which practices offer the best chances for success. The research team also included Rosa Garriga-Mora, Ruud Janssen, Richard John and myself.
Though virtual elements have been part of events for some time, the term “hybrid event” has only become popular in the past few years and many event professionals are just beginning to explore them. Often event planners have looked at adding remote participation as an afterthought - i.e., setting up a video camera in the back of the room and simply live streaming the event as it occurs.
In fact, our research showed that most event organizers produce hybrid events as a traditional lecture style format while most hybrid event attendees we surveyed preferred their remote experience to resemble a talk show. In addition, interaction with the remote audience rated very high.
When we asked hybrid event organizers with years of experience for their keys to success, their answers seemed to address these desires.
A few of the tips we got were:
- Remote audiences have different needs from face-to-face audiences, and those needs must be constantly assessed. The remote experience, for instance, will often be unable to convey many of the “emotional” and “experiential” aspects of an event, thus new techniques are required to ensure remote attendees are engaged.
- Content for the face-to-face event should be adapted to the needs of the remote audience, for example by offering shorter sessions.
- Look to television for ideas that are more suited to a remote audience, for example man on the street interviews, talk show and news desk formats designed for broadcast.
- Allow attendees to interact with content rather than passively viewing it.
- Because the distractions are multiplied for virtual attendees, content should be relevant to them and delivered in an engaging way.
- A sense of belonging is important to remote attendees.
- Make sure to periodically acknowledge the remote audience.
- Take questions from the remote audience.
- Provide a virtual emcee or facilitator.
- Provide remote attendees with exclusive content.
- Train speakers in addressing both components of a hybrid event audience.
- Because the attention span of remote attendees is shorter, speakers must be more engaging to keep them. They should acknowledge the remote attendees and look at the camera.
It would also be wise to consider the different advantages of remote vs. face-to-face meetings and choose which format to use according to the objectives of your meeting.
For instance if lower travel costs, minimization of time away from the office and the ability to reach a wider audience all weigh heavy in your event objectives, a remote component to your event may be called for.
However, if greater networking opportunities. easier communication between attendees and the activation of all five senses are big priorities, you may want to put more of your budget into the face-to-face experience and have limited or no remote attendee access.
With a little research you may find that those more likely to attend remotely may require different educational objectives. For instance, one of the planners we talked with identified a need for more basic training among remote attendees. She designed an experience that met that need, and her company achieved a significant and measurable return on their hybrid event investment as a result.
Over all, it seems that to create an enjoyable and useful hybrid event experience for both remote and face-to-face attendees, we must think in terms of producing two separate events that are blended together. A tacked-on video streamed online will be less and less acceptable. Hybrid events should be designed with the different needs of both face-to-face and remote attendees in mind from the beginning.
A version of this post first appeared on the Cvent blog last summer.