Meeting Mentor Magazine

September 2023

Virtual Edge Summit

Give Virtual and Hybrid Sessions
Attention and Care They Deserve

Now that virtual and hybrid meetings have become important adjuncts to (but not replacements for) face-to-face meetings, all organizations are getting on the bandwagon. So take heed of some valuable ideas and best practices on virtual meetings that speakers shared during the day-long Virtual Edge Summit on September 17, presented by the Virtual Edge Institute.

Overcome the cost issue. “Streaming isn’t cheap,” said Johnnie White, senior director, education and meetings, at American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery, referencing his previous experience at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation. CRF’s solution was to stream to groups of individuals, which brought to the table sponsors that would set up a hotel meeting room for a couple of days. “We wouldn’t have to spend that money, so at the end of the day, we had net revenue,” he noted.

The American Institute of CPAs offers “packs” of sessions. “If we have 16 time slots, we offer 8-session packs,” explained Todd Helton, director, meetings, conferences and online learning events. Virtual attendees have 8 tokens to apply across the conference as they choose, which addresses time-zone issues. These are priced at 65 to 70 percent of the charge for face-to-face.

Bottom line: “If you’re charging people to be on site, you have to charge those online as well,” Helton advised. But you can price the non-member package higher so that it drives attendees towards membership that includes free live streaming at the annual conference, noted Brooke Passy, meetings manager, WOCN Society.

Start small. “Don’t feel you have to provide more than a few hours of live streaming with a moderator,” said Debra Rosencrance, vice president meetings and exhibits for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. AAO initiated an online education network for members 10 years ago, subsequently adding annual meeting content.

Give it the attention and care it deserves. “It’s not just streaming content. It’s like planning another meeting,” said Melanie Rafaty, director, scientific meetings, AAO. For live streaming sessions, assign staff and a leader to generate chat. Position the “virtual” monitor on stage, so s/he can pose questions directly to the live panel.

Consider partnerships especially if you have international membership. “They’ll bring an audience to you,” said White.

Play to new demographics. The next generation is different from the past. “While they still want in-person meetings, they want content in different formats,” said White. “If we’re not in this space, we’ll be left behind.”

Meet demand for on-demand. With a single portal where all content lives — live event, conference sessions and even conversations on message boards — HIMSS sees “tremendous and organic growth in on-demand,” said Mary Beth Micucci, DES, director, digital events. “Attendees can share thoughts and experiences and have discussion threads in our environment.”

Focus on efficiencies. This is especially critical for meetings run by small teams. Cross-train so colleagues who handle content, logistics or speakers can quickly step into each other’s roles, suggested Loren Benavente, online meeting manager, EDUCAUSE. Analyze tasks that can be condensed or even cut out altogether.

Enhance sessions behind the scenes. Incorporate content experts into “chat” during sessions to generate engagement and conversation. This is “wildly successful” for HIMSS, said Micucci.

Look for vendors close to home. Talk to vendors with whom you already have relationships. EDUCAUSE was already working with a vendor on an online library, and realized the partner had the capability it was seeking.

Insist on bandwidth. Hotels need to show you that they have the bandwidth to support broadcasts. Ask for logs of uptime. “Nothing is worse than a lot of buffering,” said Helton.

Find “secret” attendees. “From doing this a few years now, I know in my gut that someone has paid for registration, and two or three others are in the room watching the presentation,” Helton noted. So get creative with group sales and site models.

Promote virtual as “green.” Measure and promote the carbon footprint reduction and other environmental impacts from virtual meeting components, said Nancy Zavada, principal, MeetGreen. — Maxine Golding

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