African American woman attending conference from home

Use Digital Hacks to Better Engage Hybrid Conference Learners

The shift to digital due to pandemic closures left a significant mark on how associations conduct their meetings. Learn how two associations are adding new digital elements to amplify their hybrid conferences.

Meeting pros are still trying to figure out how to host hybrid conferences that meet both association and participant goals. Determining the best path forward will require experimentation and thinking outside the box.

Here’s a look at how two organizations are trying new things with hybrid to enhance the attendee experience.

One Minute Can Make a Difference

Like other associations during the pandemic, the Institute of Food Technologists learned its members could get a lot of their education needs met via digital processes. Knowing that, IFT made changes to how they presented content, both virtually and in-person.

“We changed all of our formats,” said Corrine Calice, Ph.D., CPTM, senior director of knowledge and learning experiences at IFT. “We decided to make it easier to consume the content in a virtual or hybrid format.”

IFT offered its annual conference in a hybrid format, meaning they wanted sessions available to both virtual and in-person attendees. “Every speaker recorded either a 10- or 20-minute talk [for virtual attendees],” Calice said. “They also recorded a one-minute flash summary. We called it the First Cut Summary.”

IFT also made each First Cut Summary, as well as the talks, available to watch prior to the start of the in-person meeting. That way, attendees, if they thought they were interested in a session at the conference, could check out the First Cut Summary to see if it was worth their while.

“We said [to attendees] ‘Give it one minute,’ and if it was really good, then you’ve basically vetted it and now you can go and watch the 20-minute version and/or attend the multisession,” Calice said. “What we were trying to do was use bite-sized content to increase the customers’ ability to consume more with their own personal needs in mind, so that they didn’t have to sort of be at the mercy of a bad session.”

The multisession that Calice mentioned was another new format IFT introduced. Rather than have a few panelists get up and give a presentation, IFT created a multisession, which included several presenters who had recorded 20-minute sessions. Attendees were expected to pre-watch the recorded videos, and during the multisession, a facilitator helped guide a conversation about how the presenters’ content fit together in the larger context.

“The presenters, instead of actually delivering a paper, talked to one another about those synergies,” Calice said. “Before every session began, we actually played the one-minute session summaries right there on the big screen. So, if attendees didn’t get a chance to prepare, they were able to consume it. Once they saw it come to life, we had many, many people say, ‘Oh my gosh, this was so much better because they were talking to each other.’”

Live Chat Is Not That Scary

The Consumer Technology Association’s CES event has been hybrid the last two years. For those who only attended virtually, CTA wanted to give them a chance to better connect. They did this by allowing live chat during the sessions. This was not an easy decision for CTA to make, because of concerns about inappropriate comments during live chat.

“You get nervous and ask yourself, how many moderators do I need?” said VP of Marketing Sean Perkins. “We got some advice from some other folks who had done this and had been very successful. And they said, ‘When people show up [to our events], they have to be credentialed. So not anyone can just come off the street. When people show up, they’re representing their business, so they’re not going to start to use their personal views or be a bad actor.’”

With that in mind, CTA decided to give live chat a go. They had moderators and the ability to boot users violating their conduct code. But it wasn’t necessary.

“The chat function was, really for me, the biggest, exciting eye-opening part when it came to engagement with the conference sessions this year,” said Marika Oliff, director of event content. “I was a little bit hesitant to open the chat up to just anyone who was attending on the digital experience, but it was really lovely. People were engaged with what they were seeing on the session. They were talking to each other before the session started. They were connecting after the session ended.”

(Drazen_/iStock/Getty Images)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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