Baseball, Children’s Counting Rhymes And Virtual Events

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
Face-To-Face or Virtual Go

My mother told me
To pick the very best one
And you are [not] it.

Often when meeting professionals consider whether to offer a face-to-face or virtual event, they feel as if the choice is best made by using a children’s counting rhyme.

You know…

Pizza, pizza, pizza pie
Offering virtual will cause our face-to-face to die

Or perhaps this is the rhyme you use. Get your fists ready.

One potato, two potato
Face-to-face galore
Hybrid or virtual
Which offers more?

Face-to-Face? Virtual? Hybrid? Which should I offer? The choice can seem daunting.

And understanding all of the dynamics involved with hybrid (offering both a face-to-face and virtual elements) or virtual events can be overwhelming. Heck, finding a common vernacular for virtual events is a maze itself.

Why? Virtual is a catchall phrase that encompasses a broad variety of terms. To the purists it only means 3D immersive environments like Eve Online, EverQuest, SecondLife, Virtual U or World of Warcraft. To others it means a high tech component that has a steep learning curve and unique software that must be downloaded–something most don’t want to do. Still to others it means something as simple as an online gathering of people.

Kelly A Graham, a Cisco System’s Virtual Events Strategist, says “A virtual event is a gathering of people who meet in online environment at a set time to acquire info, share, network and engage.” Using Kelly’s definition, a virtual event can include 2D and 3D environments, hybrid events, livestreaming, online chats, teleconferencing, telepresence, video conferencing, Webinars or Web streaming. In short, virtual is an umbrella term for any type of an event that is not face-to-face in person.

So figuring out the right mix for your audience can be overwhelming.

But won’t a virtual event cannibalize the face-to-face attendance? That’s the first reaction and fear of many.

And, it was the reaction of Mike Ray, Intel Americas’ North America Channel Sales Manager. Ray spoke recently on the Virtual Edge Summit¬†2010 panel: Learn How Oracle, Intel and SAP Extend Reach And Build Community With Hybrid Events.

In 2009, Ray decided to offer a hybrid event with both face-to-face and virtual live streaming components to his customers. His number one concern was if he did, would it cannibalize the face-to-face registration, costing more and reducing revenue. He and his team were concerned that the virtual element would deprive the company of vital elements, resources, and funding as less people opted to attend the face-to-face experience.

Ray said he now likens the decision to attend a face-to-face or virtual event similar to attending a baseball game. The choice: to watch a baseball game in person in the stadium or watch it at home on his large screen high definition TV.

His answer: “Depends.”

It “depends” on:

  • Who’s playing
  • How important the game is
  • Where his seats are in the stadium
  • How much his tickets would cost
  • Who’s going with him
  • Where the game is held
  • How much is it going to cost to get there
  • What the travel time would be
  • What the weather is like
  • What his schedule is like

Ray’s analogy has rich meaning for understanding how people decide to attend a face-to-face or virtual event. His baseball analogy identifies the criteria many use, often intuitively, when deciding to attend.

The attendee’s registration, whether face-to-face or virtual, “depends” on:

  • Who will be at the event in person (both speakers and attendees)
  • How important this event is professionally and personally to them as well as how unique the content and experience is
  • Where the attendee will sit…is it a large event with more than 10,000 people so good seats are premium and they are going to watch the image magnification anyway or a smaller intimate experience
  • How much the registration fee is
  • Who in the attendee’s professional and social network is attending too
  • Where is the face-to-face event being held…location, location, location…can the attendee do additional business in that location, can they bring the family and make it a mini-vacation, are there other things to do in the conference city, is it easy and quick to travel to
  • How much is it going to cost to get there
  • How long will it take to get there…especially in this day of long security lines, increased airport delays and constant flight cancellations
  • Will weather impact travel, don’t forget 2010’s snowmageddon
  • Can the attendee take the time off from work to attend the event

And did Ray’s concern about cannibalization of the face-to-face event ever materialize? No, just the opposite happened. Intel now has more people registered for the 2010 face-to-face event and for the virtual event than in 2009.

Engine, engine number nine,
Going down Chicago line,
Virtual, hybrid, face-to-face,
Which will win the meetings race?

What other criteria do you think people use when deciding to attend a face-to-face or virtual event? What is your experience with hybrid events? Share your thoughts.

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