When is a hybrid event not a hybrid event

hy·brid:  (hbrd) noun
a composite of mixed origin; a conceptual whole made up of complicated and related parts

As with the evolution of all new technologies it takes a little while for the terminology to settle down and become general use.  For the early adopters this can be an incredibly frustrating experience.  Why? Because we’ve already been part of the (extensive and believe me exhaustive) debate, discussion and intellectual tussle and just as we sign off on that particular topic, along come the newbies and start it all again.

So it is in the land of virtual/online/hybrid events.  As conference professionals and other interested organisations begin to understand that the technology isn’t going to go away; that rather than being frightening in its complexity the right solution can simplify marketing and communications; and that there are other people just like them creating very successful conferences and events; so does the supplier network.   The latter are not slow at getting on a successful bandwagon, and nor should they be, but never does caveat emptor apply more than in an emerging market.  Not least because you won’t get many chances to get this right with your audiences, and if you are billing something as a hybrid which falls in any way short of other experiences they may have had, your credibility will be questioned.

With hybrid events rapidly becoming flavour of the month, it is incredibly important that conference organisers are very clear about what constitutes a hybrid and what does not. So here’s a quick synopsis:

A hybrid event is NOT:
  • A recording of the event posted online two or three days afterwards; sorry but this is just an online post-event recording.
  • A live event with a Twitter feed running on a screen at an event; no – this is just an injection of social commentary into your live event
  • A selection of individual blogs, chatrooms and social media forums; aren’t these already essential parts of your integrated communications strategy?
  • A series of event photos; honestly…?

And if you are a purist you would also say:

  • A simultaneous stand-alone webcast; because this is a stand-alone webcast

Why are none of the above really hybrid events? Because they fundamentally miss the point.  A hybrid is something where two parts meld seamlessly together to form a unified whole.  A post-event recording doesn’t allow first-time viewers to participate in the debate; a twitter feed is a one-way stream of consciousness; and a standalone webcast does not allow the live and online audiences to interact with one another.

What a hybrid event IS:

  • An event where a technology solution is used to permit both a live and an online audience to view the same content at the same time. PLUS,
  • Where the online and live audiences can interact simultaneously with the speakers and other commentators via spoken questions and typed chat. AND,
  • Where the online and live audiences can interact with each other within the timeframe of the live event.

With the right technology solution, or blend of solutions the latter point could also be extended so that the conversation with the audience starts in advance of the live date(s), is developed with the input of relevant and well-informed experts and then continues post event.  What is imperative is that you, the conference or event organiser, create an environment, beit online, live or a hybrid of the two, where there is no barrier to integrated conversation and networking.

Hybrid events are delivering great results for organisations such as The Economist so they are there to be embraced.  Just make sure that when you step into the water you are taking the right equipment with you.

Advertisements

Time to wake up and smell the coffee chaps…

While rummaging through my email inbox this morning I stopped and read the one from the professional institute of which I am a member.

It’s compelling, and beautifully written, as it ought to be and it was asking me very nicely to attend the annual conference.  And offering me a discount.  What’s not to like about that?

What caught my eye though was that the early booking discount was £200 + vat.  If that’s the discount I thought, how much is the conference?  A mighty £445 + vat no less.  Which means that if I don’t book before the early bird discount runs out I’ll have to fork at a eye-watering £645 + vat to attend a conference run by the association I pay to be a member of.  Wow.

Possibly not for the right reasons, the organisation now had my full attention.  Surely this must be a two day event I thought… but no, this was for a one day 09:00 to 17:30 affair (with an hour and forty minutes of break time; you’ll be relieved to hear that lunch was provided) where I could attend ten sessions (if I had the fortitude to get through it all) of which there were some of only marginal interest.

The marketing line what smaller companies can learn from the “big boys” illicited a wry chortle. Because at that price how many small businesses are actually likely to attend.  The HMRC definition of a small company is if your turnover is £5.6million or less or have fewer than 50 employees.  In reality many small, and very dynamic, businesses fall well below these thresholds.  In the Marketing Week/Ball & Hoolahan marketing salary survey for 2012 the salary for a marketing manager is somewhere in the region of £36,000.  If you extrapolate down from this you can work out that this conference organiser is potentially asking a company to pay a quarter of an employee’s monthly take home pay to attend a one day conference from which there is marginal company-wide return on investment.

You don’t need to absorb much media in the UK to work out that these are straitened economic times.  There is many a managing director trying to work out whether they should pay the wage bill or the suppliers, and telling their employees that “we’re very sorry but there will be no wage increases this year”.  Training budgets may survive, just, but spending on expensive conference days out (we haven’t factored in travel and accommodation/lost productivity costs in all of this have we?) isn’t a priority for many.  And what about those who have embraced redundancy and become freelance marketers… if you take the cost of the conference and the loss of a day’s earnings why on earth would you even consider booking a place.

And conference organisers wonder why their attendance rates are down… Discriminating against large sectors of the audience by virtue of price isn’t going to help much is it? And membership organisations are more at risk than ever because we’re not even sure we need you any more guys.

It is in times like these that great innovation often occurs. Exhibition and live event organisers have recognised for years the need to add more and more value to their offerings, creating environments where visitors can get information or experiences that they just can’t get elsewhere.  It’s time that conference organisers did the same. There is no point telling a potential attendee that they will learn new things and network with their peers, because they can do this via LinkedIn without spending a bean or having to get up at 6:15am to get to the venue, and a day full of plenary sessions with tiny comfort breaks (because the programme is crammed to make it look like it is value for money) doesn’t deliver for many people.

So dear conference organisers I challenge you to do three things differently this year:

  1. Start your pricing strategy from how much you think your conference is worth and how much your delegate is willing to pay rather than from how much money you need to cover your venue costs.  If the answer is £99+vat then find a solution that fits.
  2. Stop trying to cram too much into a programme to justify the huge sum of money you are asking for.  Remember how exhausting it was to sit in a lecture theatre for a couple of hours as a student and ask yourself why you think people can endure it for eight hours or more now that they are older.
  3. Embrace some new technology to deliver to your audiences and members in a different, more inclusive and accessible way.  Get out of that traditionalist box right now.

At present most conference organisers (associations included) attract on average less than 5% of their target audiences to their events.  Which means that for every delegate you get there could be another 19 waiting to engage with your organisation. Time to go get them.

hellen @missioncontrol