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Hybrid Meetings

Hybrids are going viral in the real world. Do they add to or subtract from the focus and content of meetings?

By Pauline Mitchell

It seems like only yesterday that pulling out your smart phone in the middle of a meeting was a no-no, and social media was something not allowed on company time. But now a growing number of companies are strategically leveraging technology to make face-to-face meetings more engaging, interesting and ultimately more productive.

Hybrid meetings—face-to-face meetings, conferences and events that include at least one virtual component—are expected to increase. The intent is to merge the advantages of productivity hardware and software with the benefits of bringing people together in person for spontaneous interaction. Telepresence, web conferencing, audience response systems, mobile applications, Twitter, Facebook, and other tools are changing the dynamic of many corporate meetings and events

David Kliman, president of The Kliman Group based in California, says, “Technology is being used effectively to augment, not replace face-to-face meetings.” He cites the 2009 Cisco Global Sales Experience where nearly 20,000 Cisco employees in more than 89 countries and 24 different time zones simultaneously participated in a blended experience—part virtual, part face-to-face. In Cisco’s case they imbedded business content in keynote speeches, chat rooms and gaming technology that kept participants fully engaged. It worked because it was the right technology for the audience.

Not every company has Cisco’s resources. Kliman believes hybrid meetings will work for any size group as long as content and technology match the objectives set out for the meeting. He says it doesn’t take much urging to get meeting attendees to use their own mobile devices to text or collaborate on Facebook or Twitter, although he concedes “they may multi-task during the meeting but you can keep attendees focused with strong content.”

Jocelyn Flanagan, CEO of e=mc², one of the largest event companies in Alberta, favours audience response systems over personal devices for getting participant input. “These systems are readily available in most cities, and where they aren’t, they can be easily shipped to the venue. They are also dedicated to the task at hand.” 

Tools exist to enrich face-to-face meetings and provide a more memorable experience for attendees but there’s a reason more than 98 per cent of meetings continue to be good old-fashioned face-to-face. Says Flanagan, “Companies understand the value of face time, and the personal connections and interactions that are only possible when you bring people together in person.”

Popular Tools for Virtual and Hybrid Meetings

WebEx Combines real-time desktop sharing with phone conferencing. Also known as web conferencing.

Citrix Online Collaboration products include GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, GoToTraining.

Telepresence Uses telematics technology to engage in real-time audio-visual communication using a telecommunications network. One of the best-known products, TelePresence Audience Response Systems (ARS), combines wireless hardware with presentation software to create an interactive experience between the presenter and audience. Rentals are available in most communities.

Social Media. Uses web technology for interactive, user-generated content and interactive dialogue, usually at no cost. Facebook and Twitter are the best-known social networks. More than 150 million active users currently access Facebook through their mobile devices.

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