My Day(s) Attending PCMA's Hybrid Meeting

January 16, 2013

Hybrid Meetings are here to stay!

There has been a lot of discussion, and worry, about how online content would impact the meetings industry. When the internet first exploded on the scene there were those who predicted the demise of the live meeting. Would people invest the time and money to travel to conventions if they could see the presentations on their computers?

However, in-person gatherings are never going away, as humans are experiential beings who desire to share what they are learning and doing with others. In fact, the meetings industry is expanding again following the couple of years of recession.

Additionally, most webcasts over the years from meetings have been choppy at best. The technology did not always work, and thus attending session remotely was often a frustrating experience.

There has been much talk about the "Hybrid" format, where the live conference, trade show, convention or seminar also has an online component for those who cannot attend. Some feared this would undermine attendance, while others argued this would supplement the event by providing content to those who could not be present. I have always believed in the later, but had not really ever experienced a conference remotely where I was overly impressed.

An event is about more than the content, as the "hallway conversations" and other interactions with my peers is always what has delivered the most value from conference participation. Plus, the lags in technology have usually left my remote viewing in the "blah" category. I am often left wanting more, or simply logging off long before the presenter finished.

Until today.

I was not able to attend this year's PCMA Convening Leaders Conference in Orlando. With my busy travel schedule it is often hard for me to justify more time away from my family when I am not speaking at an event (I gave 57 presentation in 2012, and expect the same level in 2013).  But as an active participant in the meetings industry, this is a gathering I would have liked to have been at in-person. I spoke there last year and have developed ongoing friendships with many who I met at PCMA CL in San Diego.  

Thus, I registered to participate in the hybrid broadcast. There was no cost for doing this (there is some debate still in the industry if the online option should be free or for-fee ... I am not sure, but since it was free I adjusted my schedule to be sure I could try the hybrid).  

The opening session, featuring keynote speaker Morton Hansen, was a great online experience. I had read Mr. Hansen's book (co-authored with Jim Collins), and was curious to experience his presentation.  I was very happy with what I witnessed.

The technology used by PCMA to webcast the conference worked very well. I did have to go through a download of software and a re-boot to get it to work, but I anticipated this and allowed time for the necessary set-up. Their technology provider was MediaSite by Sonic Foundry.  The manner in which it allowed me to view was superb. I had the choice of seeing the slides or the speaker in larger format, with the other being in a smaller window. The streaming was nearly seamless, and the camera operator captured the presentation perfectly.

Mr. Hansen used two live "Tweet or Text Polls" to engage the audience, and I was able to participate remotely, which gave me a bit of a shared experience with those who were live in Orlando. Plus, several of my friends who were present or also watching online were commenting live on Twitter and we were able to have our own back and forth whispers via "Tweet" (similar to leaning over to the person next to you in an audience and making a comment or sharing a point of view).

Being able to participate in the Opening General Session at PCMA Convening Leaders from 1000 miles away was a great experience. It was NOT the same as being there, thus meeting organizers have little to fear from offering a selection of sessions to those who cannot make the trek. I would never skip a conference because the data was available online, but it is a nice option.  

Content alone is not what makes a conference unforgettable. We often mistakenly think that the agenda and data are the drivers, but without the shared experiences among the people there is little that lasts. I enjoyed what Mr. Hansen had to say, (and thought he did a great job of connecting his message of "Great by Choice" to the lives of those who organize conferences), but the video alone was not as moving as I imagine it was from the main stage.

My excitement level over watching hybrid online events has changed.  I would now choose to do this from a variety of other conferences in industries that offer a chance to participate from afar. But I am even more sure that the "hallway conversations" and other human-to-human engagement is what really stamps success on an event. Clearly looking at the PCMA CL agenda this topic of getting people engaged has reached the top of the pile of what is important in the industry (Many have been screaming about his for years). It will be fun to see where it goes from here, as I talk with planners on this topic nearly everyday.

Mr. Hansen challenged the audience to take risks in how they structure events. He pointed out that we do not need to take risks we do not need (but getting folks more engaged IS something we need), and warned against "change for the sake of change" ... but his closing challenge rang true in many ears!

I look forward to seeing some of the other PCMA sessions this week that are offered online.

Have A Great Day

FOLLOW UP:

After the success of the opening session I logged onto a breakout session that was offered online.  "The Art of Engagement: Making Your Conferences Extraordinary, Not Extra Ordinary" with Greg Fuson.  His talk was interesting (and right up my alley), but the extraordinary part was the Group Chat conversation that took place between many of the people who were watching remotely.  Taking Greg's concepts and ideas, we discussed related issues.  Some on the chat agreed with each other, while others differed in their opinions (but all were articulate and respectful of areas that did not match up).  

Some of the participants were meeting planners, while others were vendors to the industry.  All had quality points of view, and the engagement made the remote experience more robust.  Those live in the room could not debate and dive deeper like we did online.  Hopefully the others online, who did not join in the chat, also found value in the banter.

A few of those who participated were: Jeanne Torbett, Meredith Low, Deanne Davis, Jay Daugherty, Cory Fransway, Jennifer Kingen Kush, Amanda Clark, Dana Gracia, Stephanie Gimmi, Mercedes Peralta, Judy McClain, Allyson Wagner and Mahogany Jones.  Thanks to all of you for creating and amazing hybrid experience.

MORE FOLLOW UP:

I logged onto two other sessions via the PCMA Convening Leaders Hybrid Meeting.  In all cases the education level was good, but the live chat with the other virtual participants was what made the experience shine.  Some friends and clients were on the chat, and one person reached out to me by email after the session ended and wants to talk more about my speaking offerings for her conference.  Thus, one can network without being in the same room!

Overall I have to give the virtual option for this event an A+.  I have never had this level of an experience attending a virtual event.  But at the end of the day I still do not feel complete - as one cannot really share an experience with other people when sitting alone.  

STILL MORE FOLLOW UP:

I had not meant to add more to this blog post, but watching Jeff Hurt's presentation I was compelled to chime in again (Jeff is with Velvet Chainsaw, and a friend and mentor to me over the last 18 months). 

His interactive breakout session took the experience of remote viewing to a new level.  The way he engaged the online audience was spectacular, and he used the dead time in the room when the live audience was doing live exercises to present directly to those watching on their computers.  

His session was hands on for the audience, and it was a great example of how to do a session that is not "cookie cutter".  Room layout and having round table discussions, etc.... was a great showcase, but more important was how Jeff behaved as a presenter.  The problem is that few speakers or facilitators can do what Jeff did in regards to giving control of the learning to the audience (I like to think I can do this on some levels!!!).  

While having someone with confidence and experience leading an out-of-the box session is great, my fear is that some will just let anyone facilitate, and thus it could come out flat (Jeff's session ROCKED both the live and remote participants!!!).  He mentioned that training those who will present at your conference is one way... but I wonder if most who speak at conferences are open to such training.  

Speakers, facilitators and other presenters must all be seen as partners in cultivating the event experience.   It reminds me of my manta: "Just because someone is smart, or has done something cool -- it does not mean they belong on stage!".

Jeff showed by example the importance of having the right people leading workshops, and not just finding a subject matter expert.  His point was spot on when he mentioned moving away from SME (Subject Matter Experts) to SME (Subject Matter Experience).  His program was an experience, and if I was not already a huge fan of Jeff Hurt... I would be now!!!

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