The explosion of virtual meetings and events is just ramping up and is expected to triple in the next five years. Through the convergence of technology, bandwidth and mobile devices, marketing managers, sales managers and meeting professionals will see not only more “virtual only meetings” but also a wide range of “hybrid meetings,” defined as a combination of face-to-face (f2f) and virtual attendees and components. These “live-plus” virtual events will dramatically change the face of the conference meeting, event and tradeshow industries. Get ready for a wild ride!
Here are just a few of the ways virtual meetings are exploding. Remember, virtual meetings can be as simple as strategic conference calls prior to an event or show or getting feedback on creative and visual components on an upcoming program. Here are the most popular ways corporate meeting planners are enhancing their programs with virtual technologies:
- Web conferencing – Connect meeting attendees and speakers in different physical locations by using VoIP (voice over internet protocol) which allows real-time streaming of audio and video. Many are familiar with Skype, but there are web conferencing systems which offer much more advanced interactivity such as user camera control and collaborative tools. We are also seeing more hotels and business centres adding high-definition virtual conference rooms which can be used to host hybrid sessions during your f2f meeting/event at a particular venue.
- Online collaboration tools – Open source your meetings and events by allowing virtual participants to share documents, web pages, whiteboards, slide decks, audio, video and more. All in real-time of course. Some web conference systems even allow you to record your events, thereby creating a collective knowledge base. These tools can be used for small meetings or for larger groups of thousands.
- Webinars – Whether stand-alone or to complement an f2f event, webinars are a great education tool which broadcast content from a single source to multiple viewers or listeners simultaneously. Most webinars include audio transmission of the speaker/presenter along with visuals (usually a slide deck presentation). A moderator helps to monitor questions and comments from the virtual attendees via real-time chat.
- Live webcasts – Broadcast your keynotes, general sessions and/or breakouts by streaming your live presentations (video and audio) via the Internet in real-time. Allow f2f and virtual participants to communicate together about the event and/or presentation by utilizing real-time social media tools (see below). Content can be made available “on-demand” for a set period after the meeting/event.
- Remote presenter(s) – This can be done using a streaming video feed of your speaker who is in a different physical location. This can be done as a realistic 3-D hologram, or a live feed of your guest speaker. Remote presenter options can be a great way to attract high profile speakers who may not have the time to travel to a physical event.
- Social media channels – Often called the “backchannel”, social media represents the virtual conversations taking place in the background before, during and often long after your live meeting or event. Take the time to set up and promote social media activity through things like assigning a specific Twitter hashtag for your event, creating event-specific Facebook and LinkedIn pages, setting up Foursquare check-in locations and more. And then, bring the backchannel forward by including highly visible digital screens to show the Twitter feed at your live events. These tools are becoming indispensable for event management towards building a meeting and event community and tapping into the power of collaboration. As iPads and other “always online” tablets and devices become more prevalent, we will discover even more ways to share and capture knowledge and ideas wherever, whenever.
- Virtual environments – Multimedia formats like Second Life, ON24 and others offer virtual attendees a rich experience of moving around and interacting within a 2D or 3D environment in real time. During a live meeting/event, these environments can offer attendees an opportunity to “virtually” interact with presenters, organizers and/or live meeting attendees. You can expect virtual conference centres and meeting rooms, tradeshows, exhibit floors and more to become more common as well as more realistic.
- Complete virtual meeting/conference platform – Especially for larger annual conferences, product launches and tradeshows, consider creating an overall “virtual attendee” platform to complement your live event. This should include promoting the menu of virtual options on your event website. You may want to offer different “virtual attendee” fees which determine level of access to sessions, breakouts, the exhibit floor, on-demand content, etc. And don’t forget plans to encourage social networking and feedback. And of course there are many other possibilities such as custom mobile apps for events, interactive virtual exhibit booths, video sharing, interactive web-based games, virtual goodie bags and more.
The “hybrid” options for meeting management and event planning are limited only by your imagination and creativity, and they are here to stay. Whether you’re just starting to experiment with them or are ready for the latest and greatest technologies, you are probably already using them to some degree. Take time, and think out of the box. It’s an easy way to enhance the quality of any meeting or event.