Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hybrid Events — Whats All the Buzz?


There has been a lot of discussion in the business world lately about a relatively new genre of events, “hybrid meetings.”

Briefly, the term “Hybrid” refers to an event containing both “Live” and “virtual” components working together.  In Wikipedia, the term “hybrid” is defined as “the combination of two or more different things, aimed at achieving a particular objective or goal.”

Over the past couple of months I have participated in several hybrid events, both as a virtual and live participant.  From those experiences come the following observations:

  • The social media tool that seems to do the best job of developing a sense of community is Twitter.  At all the hybrid events I attended there has been a live twitter stream marked by a hashtag.  For discussion of a “hashtag” click here.
  • The Twitter stream,used in conjunction with a live webcast, creates a strong connection between virtual and live attendees.  Surprisingly,in this context it is difficult to discern between virtual and live attendees as the information exchange and interaction leads to a comparable awareness of the content.
  • At all the hybrid events I attended I have made new “virtual-driven” connections with other like minded professionals leading to new relationships.  This in and of itself is very rewarding.
  • Adding a virtual component to a live event can significantly extend its reach.  Here are two examples:
  • Engagement in Sessions — Using Twitter forces a person to fully engage themselves in an educational session motivating them to pay close attention to the content.  The tweets I posted as an event attendee, along with those of my peers, enabled me to author two blog articles summarizing those events.  Check them out… A recap of the MPI WEC Opening General Session and a summary of the ASAE 2009 Keynote Session.

So what is truly the value of a “Hybrid” event?  Well, the answer to that question is multi-faceted:

  • For event sponsors and the hosting organization hybrid events clearly widen their exposure in the marketplace.
  • Live webcasts create an opportunity to make new connections with folks that would otherwise be difficult to reach.  By creating a registration process contact information is captured, which will provide potential ROI value to event sponsors and the organization itself.
  • The sense of community created across organizations is heightened.
  • In a tough economy many people can not afford to attend f2f events.  A hybrid event makes it possible for virtual attendees to at least leverage the educational content at some level, and network with live attendees albeit a twitter feed.  The ultimate result may be enhanced member/customer loyalty to the organization hosting the event.

Is there a potential financial benefit to creating a Hybrid event?  That is a great question and one to address in another discussion.

Question — What are your experiences/impressions with/of Hybrid events?  How do you see them evolving?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Salinger August 22, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Nice post Mike. I actually think hybrid events are increasingly going to be even more powerful and timely than the use of emulation environments for connecting audiences, sharing content and building communities that are long lasting and provide value.

I’ve participated in a few hybrid events (like you, both live and virtually), and find them easier to navigate and engage in than virtual tradeshows that require you to build an avatar and figure out how to negotiate a variety of spaces (though I do think those have some value for a variety of applications as well, but not necessarily as a replacement for f2f events).

I think the next wave that we need to think about is whether we can create very vibrant experiences for the virtual audience that don’t necessarily try to replicate the live experience but take advantage of what being virtual has to offer – things like game design, alternate reality games, more integration and connection through social media networks could all be vital to keeping virtual audiences engaged and wanting to build longer term relationships – and, ideally, become audience for a f2f event in the future.

it’s a great topic and we all have a lot to learn about how to really make these work. I look forward to learning more myself and participating in the discussion.


Michael M McCurry CMP August 22, 2009 at 5:09 pm

@Paul Salinger,

Thanks for the contributions to this discussion Paul!

As with you, I am still struggling to figure out the right context for a “virtual only” event. I have been a Second Life member for nearly three years and think there is a lot of depth to that social media option. I am just not sure yet what the most strategic business use for it is.

I like your thought to elevate the experience for virtual attendees… look forward to seeing the ideas hit our discussions on this topic. I am curious and I know you brought this up in #eventprofs chat… how do games play into the business virtual user environment…. would love to hear some examples of your vision there.

Thanks again for contributing and look forward to your future thoughts on this subject!



Jay Smethurst August 24, 2009 at 8:28 am

Mike and Paul,
You’re hitting on great points regarding the virtual experience. Instead of replicating the f2f experience, how can we leverage the strengths of the “virtual” tools to create a more valuable experience. Edward Tufte’s work on “Envisioning Information” and “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” could be a huge input to the virtual experience. Most presenters have been trained in the “three bullet points per slide” method of information-display. The virtual audience, however, is used to and eager for much more dynamic visual inputs. Online attendees could experience simulations of systems and processes, or fly-throughs of three-dimensional information landscapes. The informational experience for virtual attendees can be much richer than it currently is, and potentially richer (in some aspects) than the f2f experience.


Michael M McCurry CMP August 24, 2009 at 10:11 am

@Jay Smethurst,

Wow Jay, those are some powerful words there. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us.

I look forward to seeing some examples of what you are referring to in your comments… perhaps that would be a great blog article… would you like to guest blog on my site here?

I would love it.



Jay Smethurst August 24, 2009 at 10:44 am

@Michael M McCurry CMP, The most familiar example of rich information display is any of the 24-hour news channels — a talking head, a ticker or two, some sidebars, and a logo that winks at you every few seconds. The bandwidth for the human eye is staggering compared to the bandwidth for the human ear. We can process a lot more visual information than we give our audiences credit for. Sadly, we’ve taken our presentation cues from the world of education, which seems to have largely missed the mark as well in terms of user experience and engagement.

I’d be happy to share some thoughts and examples in a guest post. These concepts are experimental to some degree. I’ve seen some pieces and parts done in various contexts (and done some myself), but have not seen it all put together in the context of a virtual meeting experience.


Michael M McCurry CMP August 24, 2009 at 1:38 pm

@Jay Smethurst,

Jay, thanks so much for offering to do a guest post and as you know I am taking you up your offer…. look forward to seeing it later this week!



Cece Salomon-Lee August 24, 2009 at 11:36 am

Hi Mike, Great post as usual!

To expand upon your point about how virtual can enhance networking and customer loyalty for organization hosting the event. I think that highlights one intrinsic value of how virtual events can complement a physical event. In addition to having access to education, a virtual event is a way for people to connect and forge the relationships that will turn into long-term relationships.

Another interesting article is VirtualEdge’s interview with Cisco regarding their upcoming virtual sales kick-off meeting. While this event is completely virtual, the interview revealed some interesting ways that Cisco is leveraging the power of virtual that Paul and Jay are referencing to create an engaging experience:

“We’ve designed a great environment and things like a ‘virtual concierge’ to greet and help attendees. We’ve developed and produced a ‘alternate reality game element that is very fun, interactive and rewards people with 100’s of great prizes.”

At InXpo, we believe that “physical”, “virtual” or “hybrid” will cease to be an issue. Rather, each event will have a “virtual” component that inherently enhances the experience for everyone. This includes integrating the right social technologies, gaming interfaces, interactive video, and soon-to-be developed technologies to achieve that rich experience.

As VirtualEdge concluded about Cisco’s GSX event, “It is also significant because it is the beginning of the industry embracing a concept of ‘design follows objective’ whereby platforms become open to extensive customization and integration of external apps and widgets.”

It’s an exciting time for the industry and we look forward to the possibilities that are before us!


Michael M McCurry CMP August 24, 2009 at 1:42 pm

@Cece Salomon-Lee,

Cece, thanks for the feedback on the article and most importantly for your insights on this very interesting and dynamic subject.

I am going to review the Cisco interview to capture the value points of that interview.

It sounds like InXpo has done some interesting things with applying virtual technology in a conference setting. I can’t wait to see where all the collaboration occuring in this industry will take us.

All the best,



Cece Salomon-Lee August 26, 2009 at 2:00 pm

@Michael M McCurry CMP, Thanks Mike. We wouldn’t be able to do it without the insight from individuals like yourself and our customers, as well as the partnership with companies like GPJ and Juxt who did a phenomenal job for Cisco.


ben chodor August 24, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Hybrid events, I have been screaming from top of every mountain or box i can find, that this is the way to go for.

On the Meeting & Events Side of the biz, it makes so much sense to have some audience attend physically while others would attend virtually.


Michael M McCurry CMP August 25, 2009 at 9:01 am

@ben chodor,

Hi Ben, thanks for taking time to share your feedback on this blog post.

I agree with you that hybrid events expand the reach of your meetings, create community and build collaboration value.

It will be exciting to see how this concept evolves!



John Iwaniec August 25, 2009 at 8:42 am

Excellent points, Mike. You’ve nailed it again. It seems like this time of transition is the perfect opportunity to produce a series of hybrid meetings drawing on the features of barcamps and unconferences. These events would be _very_ affordable, short, intensive knowledge sharing events designed to enable meetings professionals in the use of social media tools and practices that will drive more purposeful meetings in the future.
John Iwaniec


Michael M McCurry CMP August 25, 2009 at 9:03 am

@John Iwaniec,

Hello John,

Now is a wonderful time to roll out this genre of events, as the impact of the economy has been tough on many folks.

The new normal in business is to find ways to bring greater value to your customers and hybrid meetings do just that!

Thanks for your comments!



Sam Smith August 26, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Nice Post Mike! There are several great comments above! (Hopefully I am not going to repeat what they say!!)

To me, the hybrid event opens a “window” into the f2f event and allows this virtual person to get a “taste” of the event magic. IMO, there are three positive outcomes from this “taste” – (1) The virtual person likes the event and registers for the face2face next year. (2) The virtual person likes it and shares it with other like minded individuals – who might not have been aware of this event or organization. (3) The virtual person engages in a discussion or dialogue with the f2f participants.

For International Associations (and other event types ) that are interested in increasing global membership and participation at events — a hybrid event seems like a great way to give future members or future event participants a taste of the organization and event.

Equally important, after watching several webcasts in July and August, I did put together a list of tips and links to other valuable website resources that I hope help people create better webcasts for their events:

Hope this helps. Keep up the good work Mike!

– Sam


Brian Slawin August 26, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Hey there Mike:

Coincidence? I think not. Coming from yesterday’s #ASSNCHAT, I called three of our clients and broached the “hosted virtual” discussion we had, for their upcoming events.

We’re engaging with all three to investigate it further.

Paul’s ideas on “gaming environments” and Jay’s “rich interaction” are new thoughts – anyone mind if we borrow them and see where they go?

Much like Cece, we believe that one day, we’ll simply be discussing ‘events’ and that will of course include some F2F/IRL elements, some virtual live elements, some on demand elements, some rich media, some static media and in essence, the events world will more accurately replicate the real life world where people are able to multi-task and absorb multiple inputs at the same time.

GREAT topic, as always . . . and so timely.


Wendy Tarr September 1, 2009 at 9:34 am

Some great comments above which I’ll try not to repeat – I think the key is to differentiate the two environments and not try and replicate the live experience for a virtual audience. At the moment, many of the virtual trade shows still imitate a live trade show. There’s so much more that could be done with the technology to produce a rich experience for virtual participants such as interactive games, product demonstrations, live polling, video chat and simulations. The issue is whether this will eventually cannibalise your live event attendees, and whether people will limit the virtual event experience so that they can get bums on seats.

People still feel that face-to-face interactions at an event are more meaningful and result in better qualified opportunities than those online. As we move to more interactive virtual events, I wonder if this perception will change.


Michael M McCurry CMP October 2, 2009 at 3:11 pm

@Wendy Tarr,

Wendy, you raised some good points here…

I think its important for us all to realize that “one size does not fit all” and we need to take a look at each event and then tailor our communications to its specific needs.

It will be interesting to see how perceptions change over the next twelve months, and I suspect there will be changes.

Thanks for adding to the conversation!



Ian McGonnigal September 6, 2009 at 7:08 pm

Hi Mike, Great post, and great comments everyone.

I believe hybrid events will become the norm in the near future. Whether its using virtual event platforms like inxpo, unisfair, ON24, etc., events in virtual worlds, integrating social media tools, new platforms based on MMOGs, mobile technologies, or all. The fact is audiences engage with brands in conversation both online and face to face. There is an organic fit between these channels and smart companies are experimenting with these and will be well positioned for the future.

Please check out the following posts for more information:

Virtual Events

Five Ways Social Media Amplifies Event Marketing

Keep the conversation going!


Michael M McCurry CMP October 2, 2009 at 3:07 pm

@Ian McGonnigal,

HI Ian,

Sorry for the major delay in responding to your post!

I agree with you that, to the extent they make sense for a particular program hybrid features will become commonplace in the meetings business.

In our world today so much emphasis is being placed upon collaboration and creating community with your customers and vendors alike. Hybrid components help accomplish that by making it possible to add a new channel of people to the conversation, that otherwise would not have a voice.

Thanks for adding your thoughts to this conversation.



Katherine Elliott September 30, 2009 at 4:35 pm

There are many variations of hosting all types of events – physical, hybrid and virtual. Although a virtual event could replace a physical one, it may also supplement or complement one.
At vConferenceOnline, we assist organizations to not only capture and live stream to virtual attendees or repackage for an OnDemand feature, but also hold a live q & a “track” from our studio side by side with other pre-produced tracks. Talk about great dynamics and interaction within a virtual event.
This may be of interest. We are hosting the Virtual Event University, a three hour event to talk about the possibilities with virtual events, items to consider, etc. It’s 10/29. More info here:


Michael M McCurry CMP October 2, 2009 at 3:03 pm

@Katherine Elliott,

Katherine, thanks for adding to the conversation and I will check out your website.

I am fascinated by all the possibilities with events these days.

Thanks again,



mike mcallen October 2, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Great post Big Mike-

And some really insightful comments. To add to this conversation I think the evolution of hybrid events will hopefully take over. I have many virtual friends who I have great conversations and learning experiences with. A few have turned into business partners. It seems with the economy and time restraints we all have, Hybrid events are the next logical step.

Today I was asked in a lunch meeting about what a hybrid event was. Since we both had our computers open (nerd alert) I typed it in for fun. And your post came up Mike! I laughed because you and I had a nice virtual conversation yesterday online… Such a small world. Well, a small virtual world.

Keep up the great work.

Your friend,

Not as big Mike


Michael M McCurry CMP October 2, 2009 at 3:01 pm

@mike mcallen,

Ha, I am glad to hear the search engines are doing their magic. I am honored that you picked my article!

Hybrid events are demonstrating over and over the power of social media to extend the reach and impact of a face2face event by connecting virtual attendees with those on site at the event. The ensuing collaboration and conversation is remarkable.

I too have made valuable business connections as a result of this channel of communication. It will be interesting to see what the next twelve months brings in the event business.

Thanks for adding to the conversation!



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carlton March 9, 2012 at 3:34 am

Thanks for this interesting post. I do agree that through hybrid meetings one is able to not only cover a large audience but also facilitate network creation across borders


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