Virtual Goes Viral! 8 Ways to Hybrid-ize your meeting or event

This chart says it all. The explosion of virtual meetings and events is just ramping up and is expected to triple in the next five years. Through the convergence of technology, bandwidth, and mobile devices, we will see more “virtual-only meetings” but also a wide range of “hybrid meetings”, defined as a combination of face-to-face (f2f) and virtual attendees and components. These live + virtual events will dramatically change the face of the meeting, event, and tradeshow industries. Get ready for a wild ride!

One could argue that the “tipping point” came after Cisco Live! 2009, one of the software giant’s largest annual conferences. For the event, Cisco turned to virtual technology to boost attendance and cut costs and the results were nothing short of a home run. According to an article in the June/July issue of Event Marketer magazine, “Cisco’s foray into hybrid events changed the event industry forever”.

At AMI, we believe in the power of face-to-face (f2f) meetings and don’t believe they will ever go away. At the same time, we are fully engaged in the possibilities of massive knowledge sharing and collaboration via new technologies. Here are some of the tools we offer clients who want to blend onsite with online:

1. Web Conferencing – Connect meeting attendees and speakers in different physical locations by using VoIP (voice over internet protocol) which allows real-time streaming of audio and video. Many are familiar with Skype but there are web conferencing systems that offer much more advanced interactivity such as using camera control and collaborative tools (see below). We are also seeing more hotels and business centers adding high-definition virtual conference rooms which can be used to host hybrid sessions during your f2f meeting/event at a particular venue.

2. Online Collaboration Tools – Open source your meetings and events by allowing virtual participants to share documents, web pages, whiteboards, slide decks, audio, video, and more. All in real-time of course. Some web conference systems even allow you to record your events, thereby creating a collective knowledge base. These tools can be used for small meetings or for larger groups of thousands.

3. Webinars – Whether stand-alone or to complement a f2f event, webinars are a great education tool that broadcasts content from a single source to multiple viewers or listeners simultaneously. Most webinars include an audio transmission of the speaker/presenter along with visuals (usually a slide deck presentation). A moderator helps to monitor questions and comments from the virtual attendees via real-time chat.

4. Live webcasts – Broadcast your Keynotes, General Sessions and/or Breakouts by streaming your live presentations (video + audio) via the internet in real-time. Allow f2f and virtual participants to communicate together about the event and/or presentation by utilizing real-time social media tools (see below). Content can be made available “on-demand” for a set period after the meeting/event.

5. Remote Presenter(s) – this can be done using a streaming video feed of your speaker who is in a different physical location. OR, as very recently announced by AMI, why not blow your audience away with a realistic 3-D hologram of your guest speaker?! We are very excited to be able to offer this new technology to our clients. Remote presenter options can be a great way to attract high profile speakers who may not have the time to travel to a physical event.

6. Social Media channels – Often called the “backchannel”, Social Media represents the virtual conversations taking place in the background before, during, and often long after your live meeting or event. Take the time to set up and promote social media activity through things like assigning a specific Twitter hashtag for your event, creating event-specific Facebook and LinkedIn pages, setting up Foursquare check-in locations, and more. And then, bring the backchannel forward by including highly visible digital screens to show the Twitter feed at your live events. These tools are becoming indispensable for event management towards building a meeting and event community and tapping into the power of collaboration. As iPads and other “always online” tablets and devices become more prevalent, we will discover even more ways to share and capture knowledge and ideas wherever, whenever.

7. Virtual Environments – Multimedia formats like Second Life, ON24, and others offer virtual attendees a rich experience of moving around and interacting within a 2D or 3D environment in real-time. During a live meeting/event, these environments can offer attendees an opportunity to “virtually” interact with presenters, organizers, and/or live meeting attendees. You can expect virtual conference centers and meeting rooms, tradeshows, exhibit floors, and more to become more common as well as more realistic.

8. Complete virtual meeting/conference platform – Especially for larger annual conferences, product launches, and tradeshows, consider creating an overall “virtual attendee” platform to complement your live event. This should include promoting the menu of virtual options on your event website. You may want to offer different “virtual attendee” fees which determine the level of access to sessions, breakouts, the exhibit floor, on-demand content, etc. And don’t forget plans to encourage social networking and feedback. And of course, there are many other possibilities such as custom mobile apps for events, interactive virtual exhibit booths, video sharing, interactive web-based games, virtual goodie bags, and more.

The “hybrid” options for meeting management and event planning are limited only by your imagination and creativity. Whether you’re just starting to experiment with them or are ready for the latest and greatest technologies, AMI can help you find the right mix of physical and virtual elements to maximize ROI, enrich attendee experience and achieve strategic meeting objectives, all while reducing your carbon footprint.

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