20.10.21 – Virtual & Hybrid Conferences and Meetings are evolving!
Live Meetings & Conferences are not dead!
Covid and the restrictions on movement it produced lead to a massive acceleration in the adoption and in turn evolution of Virtual and Hybrid Conferences and meetings. Now 20+ months on since the first lockdown the industry has evolved massively. Perhaps the most notable takeaway is that the live event cannot be surpassed, the serendipity of the random meeting in the buffet queue, the unexpected question etc. Despite innumerable attempts to ‘Amazonise’ the live conference it hasn’t happened. Event organisers have taken that on board.
We at Cavendish Venues are seeing a sharp decline in full production hybrid events, all singing events which seek at significant cost to emulate the live event. Instead, organisers seem to be releasing the live events cannot be simply shifted online. Instead they’re offering remote attendees a different, perhaps simpler but certainly more user friendly alternative, in many cases this is some form of the live stream. This trend is seen most strongly with sponsored conferences and those involving an element of exhibition. The failure to transpose this often financially vital component online has been almost total.
Where Virtual & Hybrid Conferences commonly fail
A recognition that many of us don’t like being force fed virtual conferences as though they were live events is partly driving this evolution. The now common “interactive moments” at business events, whether in-person or on-screen, using phones in the room or chat functions on digital platforms. The frenetic upvoting of questions and comments, the unedited live reactions broadcast to the whole event or the opportunity for every person to introduce themselves at length. Over the past 18 months, contributions have dominated communal gatherings that often seem to showcase the democratic possibilities of technology, rather than meaningful interactions.
How to navigate the perfect compromise between Live and Virtual elements in Hybrid Conferences & Meetings
Instead, there is a realisation that in-person events are often more emotionally engaging than their digital equivalents. It happens in every sector: it’s more exciting to visit the theatre rather than watch a YouTube recording of the same performance. Psychologists call this preference “affiliative social engagement”. This describes the moments when people see others moving in time to music, when everyone nods or applauds, or when a crowd laughs at a punchline. Pre-recorded or streamed events can borrow some of this feeling if they are rare, exclusive or have high production values (TED talks, for example, trade on all of these). But to be truly affiliative, people need to be in the same room. So, while hybrid events may be practical, in some ways they are also a compromise.
Start with what is the purpose of your conferences or meetings
The most important tool in this brave new world is to ask: what is the objective of this event? If it is simply to mark a new phase in the pandemic, then be honest about it. That is a low bar but being open allows for proper planning. The measure of success will be that an event took place, and the change of phase was marked. If that is enough, do not turn it into a Royal Variety Performance.
Whether there is a more ambitious or specific objective — for example, you want colleagues to bond, hear from an inspiring speaker, make them feel cared for or remind them that it is back to “business as usual” — then be clear about this. If colleagues are expected to bond, they will need to be in the same room, or have a facilitator who is deeply skilled in doing this online. Priya Parker’s podcast Together Apart has good ideas on how to achieve all these aims.
Do not try to be all things to all people.
Without huge investment and tech knowhow, it is very difficult to create an effective shared moment that works in person, online and for posterity. Hone down the aims, edit ideas and be specific about the target audience and how this will reach them. If you must live-stream an event, and/or record it, use more than one camera. Anyone watching will want to see the reactions of the audience as well as the action on stage. Consider how the audience (whether live or digital) will ask questions and how those questions will be processed and controlled. Be wary of audience hierarchy, organisers will need to make sure that those in the room are not more likely than remote delegates to have questions answered.
Professionals are also not in the same place psychologically as they were at other points during the pandemic. For example, during lockdowns, online events — big and small, commercial and private — were a valuable place holder. They could be surprisingly intimate and bonding at a time when many people were experiencing similar emotions including isolation, uncertainty, anxiety and cabin fever. Now, however, professionals are in a different, more unevenly spread psychological space.
Make your meetings personal and engaging.
Great events and moments of connection depend on drawing an audience together who are experiencing similar emotional reactions and intellectual insights at the same time. But the range of responses to the ongoing situation is wider and more unpredictable than before. To summarise, it is difficult to second-guess an audience’s mindset at the moment. Even if they are all colleagues in the same organisation. In this context, achieving what the comedian and master clown Phil Burgers calls “meeting people where they are” is difficult. Such concept describes the chemistry of a live situation where performers identify with the audience in a way that makes them feel connected. It is yet to be proven whether this phenomenon — common in live theatre, comedy, music and sometimes the corporate world — can be achieved simultaneously in person, digitally and in recordings.
Cavendish Venues are one of the leading groups of Central London meeting and conference venues. For many years we have hosted and facilitated virtual and hybrid events, often using the Remo platform. We believe that in addition to many of the best conference and meeting rooms available anywhere, we also offer market leading hybrid facilities, see HERE. Certainly, we can offer superb customer service, state of the art technology and some of the most competitive price point available anywhere. We can achieve this latter goals with an array of fixed camera’s taking out the need for many of the costs associated with camera operators etc.
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