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Top 21 Strategies for Successful Hybrid Meetings

Attending the uber-fabulous EventCampVancouver in person earlier this month—itself a well-executed hybrid meeting—I learned a great deal about hybrid meeting best practices.

Hybrid business meetings, once an occasional event, have indeed gone mainstream. Whether you’ve staged them, attended them, or simply wondered and worried (!) about them, the following tips—taken from the EventCampVancouver experience—will likely boost your success as a planner and attendee. After all, as a fellow camper in Vancouver rightly said, “Hybrid is a toy if it’s not a part of well-honed strategy.”

[A working definition: hybrid meetings are simply events at which audiences meet live (in-person) WHILE other attendees tune in virtually.]

STRUCTURE and FORMAT:

1.      Among EventCamp attendees who’ve executed hybrids, no one indicated that their hybrid meeting sabotaged attendance from their “regular” meeting registration numbers.  Contrary to what some believe, hybrid meetings are inherently ADDITIVE to your current audience base and ability to stage more viable events in the future. And, take note:  confident organizations take the risk of staging hybrids so more voices are heard.

2.      You can boost the potency of a previously real-time-only event by adding hybrid components.

3.      If, for whatever reason, you’re not ready to hold a hybrid meeting, start smaller: with a webinar that runs in real time.

4.      After your hybrid event, hold virtual meet-ups online (via Google Hangouts, TweetUps etc.) so any attendee (real or virtual) can continue to connect, learn and network. Doing so will also boost in-person attendance over time as relationships crystallize.

MARKETING STRATEGIES:

5.      Planners with experience planning hybrids have found that the virtual components of a hybrid—if promoted equally alongside your in-person meeting—are most effective. That is, give both audiences equal billing to ensure success.

6.      Since only the tiniest of hybrids can be held at no cost, consider tapping budgets in your marketing and/or education departments rather than just the meetings department. After all, many hybrid events build brand awareness, add to a customer base and boost learning.

7.      Consider doing a virtual pre-event promotion, and also use this campaign to test your computer infrastructure and lessen technical issues at the live meeting.

8.      An inherent benefit of hybrid meetings is that you can easily track virtual attendance, click through rates, retention, what content is most resonating, and more. Take advantage of this built-in ROI richness so you can prove value to your stakeholders—and make measurable improvements over time.

WHY CONTENT IS STILL KING at HYBRID MEETINGS:

9.  Planning to charge for the hybrid component(s)?  Make sure your content is worth paying for. Otherwise, you’ll pay the price in a lack of audience engagement, lower attendance and less buy-in among future stakeholders.  Indeed, if your content is bad, you prove to the audience and perhaps whole world that your organization is boring and not leading edge.

10. As you design sessions, remember: the event isn’t about you; it’s about your AUDIENCE. Focus your content accordingly.

11. Glenn Thayer, an EventCamper and our skilled conference moderator, smartly suggests that you begin a hybrid event with your very best, most provocative and fresh content. (HINT: Your most engaging content is not the sponsors’ remarks or a welcome to the new board president.) Dive right in to your best take-aways. This positions your event as not-to-be-missed, and ensures what you’re recording can be effectively used as a promotional teaser (“See what you missed?!”) for the next event.

12. If any portion of your event is broadcast, remember you must design event elements for a broadcast and a live experience. This includes getting releases from audience members who grant permission to be recorded (do so during online registration), professional lighting and sound, as well as quality staging.

COSTS?

13.  So what will a hybrid meeting cost? Anywhere from free via a service called Ustream.com, and into six figures.

14.  Is this your first hybrid meeting for which you’re charging attendees? Do all you can to ensure a seamless audience experience, or you’ll be hard pressed to get the audience to pay for a future event.

15.  If you must cut corners in your technology, skimp on video, NOT on audio.

ADDED REVENUE STREAMS:

16.  Many trade organizations have turned their recorded sessions into easy-to-access CEU earning opportunities for their delegates. Be sure to check with your presenters so programs are designed, in advance, with CEUs in mind. And even if a session doesn’t earn the virtual viewer CEUs, she still may be willing to pay for it. Lo, yet another reason to only offer content worth paying for!

17.  Consider selling a “Best-of-our-Conference” mash-up for re-purposing, marketing, and possible revenue generation.

BE SURE TO:

18.  Have someone—i.e. a tech-savvy human—devoted to managing the event’s Twitter Stream. Unless you’re OK with being viewed by virtual attendees as a hybrid rookie.

19.  See and experience other hybrid meetings in advance of yours, so you know more about what works and what doesn’t.

20. If you’re just starting out in hybrid, only stream your general session. Most of your AV equipment will already be in the room (further reducing your cost).

21.  Lastly, let’s take another tip from the broadcast world: hybrids—like our favorite TV shows—must start and end right on time.  Your juiciest content should lead the way to grab everyone’s attention—and keep it til the end.

What’s your best tip for successful hybrid meetings? Let’s continue the conversation here, virtually.