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Embracing Hybrid Meetings

They attract new audiences, build revenue streams and decrease travel costs. Why aren’t companies—and planners—embracing them?

By Angela Kryhul

It makes perfect sense that Dx3 Canada would help test drive the Metro Toronto Convention Centre’s (MTCC's) new hybrid event solution earlier this year. After all, the annual Dx3 conference attracts digital-savvy marketing, advertising and retail professionals who are as comfortable in the virtual world as they are face-to-face.

It was MTCC’s first such event and an opportunity to really understand the different skills needed to deliver hybrids—considered by many to be a meetings industry game changer.

Hybrid events are loosely defined as face-to-face meetings that include at least one virtual component. And whether that component is live audio or video streaming, webcasts, online chat, live blogs or any of the freely available social media platforms (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), the hybrid meeting has the potential to attract new audiences and revenue streams, address attendance-building challenges such as soaring travel costs, and to answer demands for more sustainable meeting options.

Yet, research last fall by Meeting Professionals International found a general reluctance among meeting planners to fully embrace hybrid meet­ings, citing the potential for technology failures, increased costs, and fears that a virtual option will cannibalize face-to-face attendance.

“Rightly or wrongly, some perceive that people won’t bother coming to a live event if it’s being live streamed,” says Duncan Payne, president, Dx3 Canada. “Personally, I don’t buy that... but many jobs are measured by how many people show up to events.”

Dx3 tested the Digital Event Center program offered through the MTCC by The Virtual Edge Institute of Pleasanton, Calif. A keynote and inter­views from the show floor were live streamed in order to build last-minute attendance.

It was a short-term marketing tactic, Payne explains, but there was a long-term strategy too. “It was about putting our brand in the hands of people outside Toronto with a view to getting them to engage with it and come next year,” he says.

By The Numbers
Research by Meeting Professionals International has found that while 50 per cent of survey respondents have never organized a hybrid event, 70 per cent of all respondents feel they will be an important part of the industry’s future.

Find the comprehensive executive summary under the Research & Tools tab at mpiweb.org.

Tips for hybrid conferences
Select your platform: Determine in advance whether you’ll be using a free service (such as Skype or Google Hangouts), or partnering with an event technology company.

Check your bandwidth: Ensure your venue has the bandwidth to live stream a presentation. The Convention Industry Council website (conventionindustry.org) offers a handy event bandwidth estimator.

Train your speakers: Provide speakers with an orientation prior to your event so that you can test your chosen platform and ensure that the speaker understands the needs of your specific audience.

Have a live facilitator: If your speaker is making a virtual presentation, designate someone to be responsible for on-site logistics, and facilitating communication among the live and virtual audiences.
Source: Mariela McIlwraith, meetingchange.com

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