I’ll admit that in 2011, when the Virtual Edge Institute (now called the Digital Experience Institute) first co-located its conference with the Professional Convention Management Association’s Convening Leaders, the experience fell flat for me. At the time, a mere six years ago, the fledgling for-profit entity that wagered its future on the potential of virtual meetings staged sessions that were too heavily weighted toward the online audience in the verbal communication and moderation by the speakers. Attending in person, I thought the Institute—now owned by PCMA—was doomed to failure.
The Switch On
Fast-forward to January 2017. I’m watching PCMA’s Convening Leaders LIVE, the online real-time streaming of key sessions from my computer in the comfort of my office, far from the Austin Convention Center. I’m anticipating that I’ll be multi-tasking, primarily in listening mode while hoping for some juicy nuggets from PCMA’s education platform.
It didn’t take long to become mesmerized by the adroit handling by the online Digital Experience Strategist (the certification the DEI now offers) who moderated each session. Before the session got underway, she welcomed us to the chat room, asked people to introduce themselves (many from outside the U.S.) and encouraged and vetted questions to ask of the speaker at the appropriate times.
The speaker, Sourabh Kothari, also a DES, presenting on how content should drive conference design, welcomed the virtual audience, but didn’t dwell on us. He took questions effortlessly from both live and online participants. He obviously had presented to online audiences before, but there were other sessions I watched with speakers who clearly had been trained on how to properly engage two audiences simultaneously.
Hybrid at its Best
I’m accustomed to participating in webinars in which presenters like our own Jeff Hurt totally engage the audience during the presentation. What fascinated me about the hybrid Convening Leaders sessions was how the online audience carried on their own discussions, offering tips and insights sparked by what the speaker said as a sideline conversation, which others could choose to partake in or not. Bottom line: the online community was totally engaged, if not always with the speaker, with each other! It was the epitome of online sharing around content and problem solving—and therefore learning—that we strive for at in-person conferences. In my opinion, the perfect hybrid meeting.
The experience gave me a new appreciation for hybrid events and made me a true believer in what we recommend to sustain the health of annual meetings: engage your participants—members and even non-members—by making it easy for them to share either in person or online. By extending your content, and hopefully sharing, beyond the four walls of your conference, you are amplifying the experience. There are high-tech (high-cost) and low-tech (low-cost) ways to amplify your content. Live streaming is appealing to sponsors since it enriches the member and attendee experience.
There are many, many benefits to members and to the association, as PCMA discovered when it dug into the ROI of its hybrid journey to come up with five years’ worth of impact, monetarily and otherwise. Primarily, it was able to track how many new prospects and incremental dollars their hybrid and rebroadcasts generated, including motivating in-person attendance at Convening Leaders as well as membership renewals. Clearly, PCMA is in it for the long game. We look forward to its White Paper, full of the data back-up, coming out later this month.
What obstacles are preventing you from live streaming your conference education? What benefits can you derive from broadening your reach?