Virtual access won’t cannibalize your conference. It may even help it grow.
Just a few years ago, it was novel when conference attendees shared the proceedings with outsiders via tweets. Now, technology has evolved to the point where live-streaming sessions over the internet is one of the biggest tech developments for conferences.
People like Jean Riley, senior event manager with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, are taking advantage of it. In 2019, Riley will manage the Propulsion, Energy, and Space Forum and Expo, which will bring 2,200 people from around the world to Indianapolis.
Riley said her group streams its conference to its own website rather than YouTube. There’s no registration requirement, so anyone with internet access can watch it. While Riley said viewership started off small—”We wondered if it was even worth it”—it has grown each year.
It’s a legitimate concern whether offering a live stream will cannibalize a conference’s revenue, because some people may opt to watch from their desks rather than in person. Much of the benefit of attending a conference, of course, occurs at small gatherings between events or after-hours socializing—which aren’t live-streamed. Meeting planners should reinforce the advantages of attending in person or take steps to encourage more opportunities for in-person collaboration.
Meeting organizers should also understand that if they don’t provide an official live stream, it’s possible that attendees will do so anyways using Facebook Live or Twitter’s Periscope app. Furthermore, streaming a conference is a way to advertise future proceedings to potential new attendees. In fact, a study by Virtual Edge Institute found that 36 percent of organizers were seeing online participation drive future physical attendance.
The Tech Solutions
To accommodate all that video and viewers, Riley said it’s important to make sure that the hotels and other conference centers have the proper infrastructure, as her choice of Indianapolis does. While physical space is the main factor in selecting a site, technology capabilities play a part in her decision. “It boils down to bandwidth,” she said. “If they’re not keeping up and putting in the right amount of T1 lines [for high-speed data transmission] and such into their facility, they’ll run out of space. And then we’ll have super-slow internet. We won’t be able to live stream. A lot of the technology we want to use, they will not accomplish for us.”
One of the biggest technology challenges for conference organizers is that events are often booked years in advance. “I’ve been doing this for 18 years with this company,” Riley said, “and I don’t know how many times we’ve signed contracts three to five years in advance and then we get to the year-out planning stage and we find out that things aren’t covered in the contract because they weren’t invented yet.” Typically, advancements in live streaming, as well as other new technologies, require greater internet bandwidth, which can get costly. So Riley suggested meeting planners negotiate clauses in their contracts about the costs of possible increased internet needs.