By Mitra Sorrells Posted September 19, 2012, 3:00 PM EDT
To be successful at organizing hybrid meetings, planners need to begin by participating in them as attendees. That was one of the findings of a 14-month research project sponsored by the Meeting Professionals International Foundation and Sonic Foundry, creator of the Mediasite platform for hybrid events, Webcasting, and lecture capture. Researchers surveyed nearly 1,800 participants, including meeting professionals, event delegates, technology vendors, and consultants, to identify what successful planners are doing and develop a guide for those new to hybrid events. Samuel J. Smith, a member of the research team and president of Interactive Meeting Technology, hosted a webinar on Tuesday to share the following key findings from the research:
1. 70 percent of respondents feel that hybrid meetings will be important to the future of meetings.
2. 50 percent have never organized a hybrid event, and 25 percent have never attended or helped organize a hybrid event. “We still are at a point where we don’t have critical mass yet. It’s an evolving category,” said Smith.
3. Technology is just one piece of the equation. “When you put people, processes, and technology together, that’s when you get the good outcome,” Smith said. “This is another form of communication. Think about that first—who the audience is, what are the core messages, how you want to do deliver those messages.”
4. Diverse audiences have diverse needs. Delegates at the main venue, in remote viewing locations, and online experience the same content in different ways. Most meeting professionals are still trying to understand this concept.
5. A hybrid event is more successful when the decision to make it a hybrid is made in the early stages of planning, as opposed to adding it later in the process.
6. There are a variety of formats for hybrid events. The majority—62 percent—are done in a broadcast format where there is one main event that is captured and streamed to a remote audience. Additional formats include events that connect people in remote office locations, events that use technology to bring in speakers, and events that connect multiple sites to content coming from a broadcast studio. “You may have people in field sales offices, remote office sites, retail stores, doctors’ offices, restaurants, where they are having a bit of hospitality and a program, but the core content is being driven out of a studio environment. This is one I think we are going to see emerge quite rapidly,” Smith said.
7. People attending online and from remote locations would prefer the experience resemble a talk show or other television format, but most event organizers produce hybrid events in traditional lecture formats. “For those virtual participants, that’s what they are comparing your program against. So if you are delivering something that looks like bad public-access TV, it’s not going to maintain their attention, because they are used to watching something that looks like Oprah or CNN or the Super Bowl that are live events, but they are fast-paced and have a lot of different types of elements,” said Smith.
8. Not all content presented at a live event is suitable for the remote audience, so planners should develop a strategy to appeal to specific audiences. Remote audiences prefer shorter content, in sessions that are no longer than 20 minutes.
9. Meeting professionals are focusing on the logistical elements of hybrid events and the technology, whereas attendees just want great content and engagement. Planners need to become more involved in content.
10. To create a sense of belonging for members of the remote audience, speakers need to be trained to acknowledge them by name, look into the camera, take questions, and provide exclusive content.
11. Planners are still concerned that adding a hybrid element will cannibalize their face-to-face meetings, but statistics show that is not the case. After adding a hybrid element for their events, 23 percent of respondents said attendance was up in future years at their face-to-face event, and 65 percent of respondents said they did not see any change in in-person attendance.
12. Most people who attend virtually do so because of limited time and money. Only 15 percent of respondents prefer to attend online rather than in-person. “People want to attend face to face and if they can’t, their reasons are legitimate. By having the hybrid portion, you can include these people. So most people don’t prefer it, but they see you offering it as a benefit,” Smith said.
M.P.I.'s Hybrid Meetings Toolkit is available free for members and $199 for nonmembers.