“Virtual technology is here, it’s available, and either we co-opt it as another solution we can be responsible for, or it will come in through another door,” said panel moderator Howard Givner, executive director of the Event Leadership Institute.
Panelists agreed that the best use of technology when attendees are in multiple locations involves two-way transmission of audio and video, known as a hybrid format. Angela Smith, now vice president of client services for INXPO, shared an example from her work at Cisco. “Cisco Live, three years ago when they first launched virtual, had 32 percent more people who attended live the next year because they had attended virtually. They saw that engagement and how cool it was and they wanted to be a part of it.” Smith said that from her experience, hybrid events are always more effective than strictly virtual events that just transmit audio and video to, but not from, the remote and online audiences.
The key to success is structuring the online experience so that the remote audience feels as welcome as those attending in person, which means the computer interface needs to be very user-friendly. “Engagement needs to start from the moment your virtual audience logs on,” said Emilie Barta, a virtual M.C.
When online attendees are engaged effectively, their participation may be better than if they were attending in person.
“People are afraid of public speaking. So if I give you another medium for doing that, you’re going to be more than happy to do that,” said Samuel Smith, managing director of Interactive Meeting Technology. “In the virtual space, you will find people that answer other people’s questions. That’s the most important piece of this digital participation: People start communicating with each other.”
Smith shared examples of his work on Event Camp Twin Cities, which took place in Minneapolis in September 2010 and also had attendees participating from Dallas, Basel, Switzerland, and online. Organizers modeled the digital component on live television programming such as sporting events.
“We designed the content in two-hour content blocks and then, between those blocks, we created specific custom content for those [remote] attendees so they would have a special experience and they would not want to leave and check email or go do those 900 things they could do,” said Smith. “We looked at it as four different audiences, four experiences to design.”
Kevin Olsen, president of One Smooth Stone, reminded attendees to rely on the same principles they use for traditional physical events. “This is not new. We do this. We are just now doing it in different environments,” he said.