August 2014

Hybrid elements boost international events

by Fred Gebhart

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You can lure 25,000, maybe 30,000, attendees to your client’s next citywide event. That’s your best possible audience given the local hotel inventory and event space. Or you can open the event to virtual attendees, potentially attracting tens of thousands of equally enthusiastic participants around the globe. What’s your plan?

It was a no-brainer for Cisco Systems. The technology vendor has been a pioneer in expanding in-person meetings and events into the virtual world. Cisco Live! 2014 brought 27,000 attendees to San Francisco this past May and added another quarter-million virtual attendees around the globe.

“In 2009, Cisco canceled their live event and went virtual,” says Corbin Ball, meetings tech guru and presenter. “Then they went to a hybrid format to get the best of both worlds. A hybrid event gives you all the impact of a physical, face-to-face event with a bigger audience than you could ever fit into a single venue. That’s where the meetings and event industry is headed.”

Taking a physical event into the virtual world may seem daunting, but there are more similarities between the two than there are differences.

“My ultimate goal is the same, virtual or face-to-face,” says David Adams, director of product marketing for Arkadin, a global collaboration provider. “My goal is to create a shared experience and connection. Everything we do is designed to bring the benefits of a live event to the virtual world. It is a direct translation of the planner’s intent to engage attendees, send the key messages, and drive attendance. The difference is that you are no longer limited by the number of people you can fit into a physical space. Your reach is anyone, anywhere, with an Internet connection.”

Super Bowl and World Cup
Need to explain the advantages of going virtual to a client who is wedded to physical events? Look no further than the Super Bowl or the World Cup. Whether you’re talking football or soccer, few stadiums can fit more than 100,000 attendees. The National Football League (NFL) and the Federation International de Football (FIFA) broadcasted their respective entertainment and extended their audiences to hundreds of millions.

“The same thing is happening in the event space,” says Dan Lotzof, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Inxpo, a webcast software provider. “Every meeting you go to today, somebody is virtual, dialing by phone, calling on Skype, using WebEx. What we are starting to see is that every single physical event has an online component because it is impossible to get the entire audience there in person every time. The virtual space is a dream come true for planners and for sponsors.”

Suppose your client has an annual event scheduled for Las Vegas this year and London next year. Does the client really want European attendees to skip Vegas and North Americans to skip London? The ideal situation is to get everyone to both events despite the time and travel costs. Going hybrid eliminates attendee travel and allows more people to attend both events. That’s a win for planner, client and attendees.

“Virtual is an easy transition,” says Emilie Barta, chief strategist at Emilie Barta Presentations. “It is just taking what you have done your entire career as a planner and adding an additional element. That additional element is technology and there are plenty of people who are figuring it out.”

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