Planning the federal government’s first hybrid meeting, Adam Arthur knew the virtual components would have to be more than just a live feed with a camera aimed at the speakers, or cartoon-like visuals he knew were all too common at virtual events. As the virtual-platform-initiative lead at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arthur’s goal was to produce an online event so attendees felt they were actually there, as well as to drive attendance.
The result was the C.D.C.’s Public Health Informatics Conference, which took place in Atlanta August 21 to 24 at the Hyatt Regency, with archived and new content released two months later as a branded virtual conference.
“I tried to make the environment replicate the in-person environment as much as possible,” Arthur said. “It was photorealistic, [showing] the lobbies and everything of the actual hotel where we were. If you wanted to go downstairs, you clicked on the escalator. We even green-screened individuals. There were people literally walking in the lobbies, checking their BlackBerrys. I had several people ask me, ‘Are we really there now?’” Arthur’s team also produced content exclusive to the virtual component such as interviews with key scientists.
For vendors, the site recreated the trade show with virtual booths to let them interact with the online attendees. What’s more, vendors received analytics that measured engagement, with information about how attendees interacted with the booth.
As a result, conference attendance grew from 1,500 in-person attendees in 2009 to 1,875, which included 911 in-person and 964 virtual registrations. More than half of the virtual attendees registered after the conference began.
The virtual component even drove in-person attendance. About 200 people who started the event as virtual participants traveled to the hotel to attend in person. Following the event, the C.D.C. counted 101 new unique registrations for people who have watched the archived event. Those who registered for the in-person conference received free access to the content online, allowing them to check out recorded versions of sessions they may have missed. During the event, the largest number of people simultaneously logged in was 507, for the opening plenary session. Over the course of two months—from start of the conference to the debut of the archive site—there were 4,201 total visits to the platform. Viewers averaged two hours and 20 minutes on the site.