by Jay Ward
In recent years hybrid meetings have become quite popular due to less expensive and more reliable technology, but it seems many meeting professionals are not yet taking full advantage of the opportunities that are available. With some basic understanding of how hybrid meetings are managed, the “virtual” portion of your event can be a seamless and natural extension of any live program.
AV and IT Integration
The first thing to consider when planning a hybrid meeting is the integration of AV and IT. There must be enough bandwidth available through the venue’s IT system to allow for error-free internet connectivity. Rarely is this a problem, but it is critical to get the IT team involved early so they can prepare for this added internet activity. Also, the AV team must be aware that they will be sending and receiving their signals to and from webcasting hardware. This is standard practice in the world of live event AV these days, but it’s important to get both teams involved as early as possible to avoid any last minute troubleshooting.
When selecting the AV supplier for a hybrid event it is important to qualify them based on their experience with these types of programs. There are many special considerations that must be addressed for lighting, video and audio when adding a virtual component to a live program. By now most live event AV suppliers have plenty of experience with hybrid meetings and webcasts, but it is still important that you are comfortable with their level of expertise in this area before signing a contract.
The next thing you must consider is which service you will use for the interactive webcasting. I have worked with several different services and each had their own strengths and weaknesses. I would recommend selecting a few options and requesting a demonstration from each. This way you are able to see how each service works and hopefully one will stand out as the best option for your particular event. This process should also make you a little more comfortable with webcasting in general if it is a new endeavor. Above all, you should feel comfortable with the technical assistance you get from the service because nothing is more valuable than having a live person on the line before and during the event. If the service does not offer this as an option perhaps you should look elsewhere.
True interactivity between the live event and remote attendees is what closes the gap between a simple webcast and a hybrid event. Figuring out the best way to achieve this interactivity is perhaps the most crucial decision because it will allow the remote attendees to feel like a real part of the event. Most webcasting services allow for live questions to be typed in by remote attendees throughout the event, but there are other options as well. For example, promoting a hashtag before the event allows Twitter users to interact throughout the program and discuss the content in real time. I have found this to be incredibly useful because there is interaction between remote and live attendees during the event that brings the two groups together in a very real way thus allowing the remote attendee to feel a little closer to the live event experience. There are other options such as live polling that present interesting opportunities as well.
Even the most reliable technology can sometimes fail. For this reason it is important to build a backup plan into the system. Most webcasting services can provide something called an audio bridge over a phone line so if all else fails the remote attendees will at least be able to hear the program. Also, backup internet lines and codecs (devices that allow video and audio to be transmitted and received over the internet) may be used. As previously stated, webcasting technology has become quite reliable but redundancy in the system is often worth the extra cost.
Hybrid events are becoming a necessary element that should be added to any meeting and event professional’s tool kit. These types of programs will only become more popular in the future so it is important to stay on top of the technology now instead of trying to play catch-up later. Embracing new technologies and considering the myriad of opportunities they present is crucial for the modern event pro to stay one step ahead of the game.