The pandemic compelled many associations to quickly get comfortable with moving much of their meetings content into a hybrid environment. But the shift has also exposed some of the challenges of keeping remote groups engaged and has started to identify which technologies can best bridge the gap between two audiences.
Associations have learned that the techniques they used in the early pivot to virtual last year aren’t enough, said Sheena Majette, CEO of SLM Education Solutions.
“When we first thought about virtual and hybrid, it was really about livestreaming content,” she said. “Now we are thinking about how to gain a full experience in the virtual environment and a more cohesive experience with hybrid events.”
One key to that fuller experience, Majette said, is using technology to create conference sessions where interactivity is built in, so that attendees can engage with each other regularly and often. A robust conference app, for example, lets both in-person and virtual attendees participate via regular polling during sessions and in Q&A periods afterward. Remote and in-person groups can also be brought together as active participants in “solution corner” sessions: there, an “event correspondent” who’s assigned to connect with both audiences moderates a discussion on a particular industry problem in a dedicated on-site room where remote attendees take part via Zoom.
Throughout the event, Majette said, interactions should be framed as combining audiences, not creating secondary opportunities for remote attendees.
“For a long time, the chat room was our default mechanism for engagement, but look at how technology has evolved,” she said. “We have opportunities now to bring together the virtual audience and in-person audience in the same space, allowing them to see each other and interact with each other in different ways.”
Among those new tools are holograms and more sophisticated gamification—Majette is a fan of Two-Bit Circus, a virtual-reality entertainment venue that specializes in hybrid experiences. But relatively low-cost solutions are also available, such as in-room webcams to allow remote attendees to better see who’s speaking and large in-room monitors that give remote attendees a more visible presence. Many technology platforms allow event organizers to integrate remote and in-person attendees in breakout groups.