The meetings industry has never before faced such a challenging time, and as a result the way we meet and work is changing
Glasgow looks forward to a time when we can meet face to face again and welcome delegates to the city. Interestingly, the latest International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) statistics have revealed that 84% of meetings now intend to include hybrid and digital elements going forward.
Glasgow Convention Bureau kick-started our hybrid conference series in July with insights into AV technology, and for the second instalment in our hybrid series we share advice and knowledge from our member Professional Conference Organisers (PCO’s).
Conference Partners International sets the scene, “The last few months have presented many challenges for all industries not least our meetings and events industry. Online events have helped us keep our clients and their delegates meeting in a time when they need it most. They have shown us that the industry can not only come back stronger but that it can extend its reach to an even wider audience than previously imagined through hybrid events.”
Margaret Sherry, from In Conference agrees, “Whilst nothing can compare to the in-person experience, we have had a very positive response from presenters, delegates and exhibitors from all of the virtual conferences we have organised in the last few months. Even when charging a modest registration fee we have been able to generate a healthy surplus back to the society/association. Registration numbers are substantially higher than the traditional congress and we have been able to reach more people around the world than would normally attend. Interestingly we have also seen larger numbers of early career researchers taking part. This is very important to our association clients as they are keen to engage with the future leaders in their field.”
The benefits of running a hybrid meeting
Adding a hybrid element to your meeting can broaden the demographic and enrich your conference with a wider range of delegates. In a post Covid-19 world this will be helpful for those who may not wish to travel, or cannot physically attend the conference due to workplace demands.
Adding a hybrid element to your meeting means you can offer your sponsors and exhibitors a wide range of benefits, including the opportunity to engage with both delegates physically attending the conference and those attending virtually.
Offering sessions virtually means they can be recorded for future use; this brings with it a range of benefits and means that delegates no longer have to choose between sessions and presentations and the time taken to participate. Your virtual delegates may be joining the conference from various time zones, so recorded sessions means the delegate can access the content at a time that suits them.
This point was picked up by Matt Davenport, MCI Group “In conversations with clients, participants and industry partners, we know that everyone is keen for connectivity with colleagues, friends, and industry and making new connections. The hybrid solution enables the virtual and face to face engagement and at the same time far greater reach and growth potential for associations. Hybrid solutions provide participants with access to a wider range of on-demand and live content whether they decide to participate virtually or on the ground to include a flavour of the destination. Hybrid means we are also able to deliver a significantly enhanced range of benefit entitlements to sponsors for their ROI.”
Sustainability is an important theme within the meetings industry and considering a hybrid element to a meeting will ensure your conference is accessible and sustainable for those wishing to cut down on travel, or who cannot otherwise attend
The challenges of a hybrid meeting
Choosing to organise a hybrid event adds to the overall planning process, timescales and budget which in turn can bring additional planning challenges. The venues and suppliers you work with during this process will be important partners working with you to accommodate the hybrid elements into your conference.
One of the more obvious challenges is the technological aspect, ensuring everything runs smoothly on the day,
Greg Carew, Abbey Conference & Events reminds us to ensure all aspects of the conference feels connected and that both the physical and virtual delegates have the best experience possible. “There is an increased workload as you are managing both a live conference and an online conference. Essentially, you are managing two events in one. Another challenge is ensuring that your audience is not separated and your event allows for online and live attendees to interact. In our experience, tools such as conference apps make this possible, along with a strong social media presence.”
We asked Laura Henry from Speakeasy if hybrid meetings are here to stay. “Virtual and Hybrid events have been on the cards for years! They offer a safe alternative to physical events, but are far more than just a contingency plan. In fact, they offer a whole host of benefits. They can also be tailor-made to suit your brand identity and messaging, crafted to the needs of your target market. They’re inclusive, giving the option for new demographics such as carers and single parents to attend, not to mention accessible, with the full range of BSL, audio description and subtitle options available at the click of a button.”
Whilst all of our PCOs say face to face meetings will always be the preferred option, they agree that once people discover the benefits that adding a hybrid element can bring, this will become more and more common throughout the industry.
As Ann Stark from Starkevents explains, “We think that there will now be much more of a willingness to embrace a digital element of an event – giving access to global speakers, engagement from delegates and guests in more remote parts of Scotland and also a more dynamic planning process with clients. Weekly zoom calls with clients have become a welcome part of our new event planning process.”
Are hybrid meetings expensive? Katie Hill from Fitwise Management Ltd gave us her thoughts, “By introducing the hybrid element to your event there are certain costs which come too, as with the addition of any element. However, you may be surprised at how affordable these platforms can be. There is also huge opportunity to offset these costs with an income stream for online delegates and additional online sponsorship opportunities.”
Sezen Elagoz, from Kenes Group continues this point, “Commercialisation can come through different layers. The most direct one would be having registration income from people who do not feel confident enough to travel yet or are unable to afford travel costs. The secondary channel would be to provide monetised on-demand access to the recorded content after the meeting through an e-learning platform which can be discounted for your members. And finally, having continuing education options throughout the year makes being a society member more beneficial, the return on registration fees greater while a larger audience means the visibility provided to your sponsors and exhibitors will be higher.”
Opening up your conference to a wider audience brings a range of opportunities for commercialisation for both you and your sponsors and exhibitors. This may be through registration income, or offering sponsors and partners digital marketing opportunities.
Advice for conference organisers running a hybrid meeting
Outline and plan your conference with the aim of having one single audience. Its importance to keep your target audience in mind throughout and that you make sure both your online and live attendees can network and interact seamlessly.
Choose a management company that can organise both the online and live elements of your conference to help keep everything seamless and make your planning easier.
Our final point comes from David Massey, Northern Networking, “Enjoy the opportunity to try something new and engage with a new audience. Expect technical issues to happen and plan for them, but remember this can also happen at face to face events and most of your delegates will be understanding.”