About 10 days ago, I wrote an article which, in part, was critical of MPI (Meeting Professionals International) for deciding to charge “non-members” a hefty fee for their Virtual Access Pass (VAP) to the 2010 Meet Different Conference. (occurred in Cancun, Mexico this week)
Putting aside my disagreement with MPI’s pricing model, I registered anyways for the VAP and attended this conference as a virtual participant. I am glad I did, because, as it turns out, there were some good learning moments. As a bonus, I also made some new quality connections with other MPI attendees.
The virtual experience, from my perspective, was by no means perfect. In follow up, I promised to share my feedback with MPI, via this blog, and so, through the lens of a virtual attendee here are my observations, both positive and negative, of this Hybrid conference:
- MPI “VAP” Customer Service — the MPI customer service team, led by Theresa Davis, did an outstanding job of embracing VAP attendees, as well as assisting them with their challenges. The service was impeccable!
- Opening General Session — featuring Jeremy Gutsche, Innovation Expert was in my opinion the finest education moment of the conference. For a more detailed recap of his presentation please click here. His energy, knowledge, humor and connection with the audience (including us VAP folks) was compelling.
- Virtual/Face2Face attendees Interaction — MPI did a nice job of promoting use of the conference hashtag, #MD10. For the three main days of the event (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday) there was excellent dialogue amongst attendees using this Twitter conversation channel.
Emcee (Glenn Thayer) — Over the years I have experienced many Conference “Emcees” and by far I am most impressed with Glenn Thayer. In addition to having immediate stage charisma, which is important for the “Emcee” role, Glenn was very engaging with both the face2face and virtual audiences. Glenn even posted many tweets before, during, and after the events. I would recommend Glenn in a heartbeat to anyone looking for a highly engaging, charismatic Emcee for their event.
- Knowledge Session – “Hybrid Meeting Dissected and Demystified” — An outstanding session, led by Midori Connolly of Pulse Staging. Midori’s approach was very interactive, engaging and she did a great job of blending the participation of the virtual and face2face audiences. Questions/comments from VAP attendees were both encouraged and addressed! Glenn Thayer assisted Midori being the Twitter Moderator, for this event. That was a real nice touch!
- Audio Quality in all webcasts was excellent!
- Archives of the Video and Audio recordings — are available for access by VAP customers. As far as I know copies of slide presentations are still not available.
- Pathable Conference Community— Disappointingly, no access was granted to VAP attendees, to the Conference community site. This was a large mistake, for two reasons:
- The attendee segment (VAP Pass Holders) that could have most benefited from the social community, had no access.
- Access to this community would have helped to build credibility for MPI, with non-member attendees, and facilitated relationship building, ultimately leading to possible new MPI memberships.
- Significant Internet Access Issues — The Internet connection crashed on several occasions, denying VAP holders access to the webcast content. I also understand the WIFI in the Conference space was inconsistent, and failed as well. This is a major problem that can turn a successful Hybrid conference into a disaster. Thanks to the hard work of the MPI customer service team the glitches were corrected in a reasonable time period.
- Powerpoint and other Media Not Available — To our dismay slide presentations and other media utilized were not available to the virtual attendee, really diminishing the impact of the sessions. When I last checked these visual aids are still not available post-event.
- Webcast Interface — A twitter chat interface was missing from the webcast window, creating an awkward user experience. In order to interact in the hashtag channel attendees were forced to switch back and forth between Twitter feed and webcast windows.
- Speaker Communication with Attendees— With many sessions there was very little, if any engagement by speakers with the virtual audience, leaving us feeling left out. During group exercises VAP attendees were left in limbo with nothing to do.
- Breaks and Lunch — Once again, no engagement with Virtual attendees, or involvement/access to Iron Chef competition. (that could have been very exciting for VAP attendees to watch)
- Sessions Offering Webcast — Poor choices of sessions webcast vs. those not webcast. For example, in the first track of sessions on Monday, both sessions featured material addressing C-Level Executives. At the same time, a “Tweet Different” session occurred, which was less valuable to VAP attendees, when offered in an “audio only” environment.
So what are the real lessons with this experience? Well, there are clearly some things that could be done differently, in the future, that will significantly enhance the experience for the virtual attendee. Here are some thoughts:
- Selecting Sessions for Video Streaming— MPI should identify sessions for webcasting that will really benefit from that media channel. Sessions where there is hands-on instruction, or significant interaction are great candidates for this type of broadcast support.
- Social Community Access — I can think of no downside to providing virtual attendees with access to the social community. It will only heighten the overall buzz of the conference and create stronger connections between the virtual and face2face attendees. Furthermore it will help to build a case for MPI membership, for non-members.
- Internet Connections and Bandwidth — There is no room for compromise with this critical element. During site selection process MPI should identify the venue’s competency in this arena and plan accordingly. Internet bandwidth is the lifeblood of any conference, with virtual components, and should be a top priority.
- Speaker Coaching — All presenters, regardless of experience should be briefed and coached on expectations regarding attendee engagement and the importance of interaction. This component of the event is as important as the logistics themselves. If there will be group exercises, during a particular session, then the leader for that session should have some engaging provision which speaks directly to the virtual audience as well.
- Session Breaks, Coffee Breaks, Etc — I would recommend hiring a professional “journalist style” interviewer, to interview speakers and/or participants during breaks in the action, to enrich the experience for all concerned. We did this with the Event Camp Conference earlier this month and received fantastic feedback from attendees. An excellent resource is Emilie Barta, who is really terrific for adding value to webcasts and other virtual events.
- Slide Presentations and Other Media — Must absolutely be incorporated into the webcast, or the value of the session is diminished significantly. There are applications available that will integrate slides, a Twitter Feed and the Video together on one page. This is really a rich environment to provide to Virtual attendees. An example of this type of interface is Twebevent, created by Robert Swanwick.
Congratulations to MPI for really making an effort to embrace the virtual attendee! Hybrid events are still in their infancy, so there is a huge learning curve for all of us.
Question: Do you have any suggestions to address the issues which arose with this conference, or any other Hybrid event? If you do please bring them forth in the comments section!