Friday, February 26, 2010

Learning Lessons from a Hybrid Event Experience – MPI’s #MD10 Conference

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)

Learning can be Painful!!

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:

What Went Well!
  • 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.

Twitter Activity for 2010 MPI "Meet Different" Conference

  • Glenn Thayer

    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!

Midori Connolly, "Hybrid Session Leader" Multi-tasking

  • 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.
What Didn’t Go Well
  • 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.
Learning Lessons

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!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Teri Carden February 27, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Absolutely what I needed for my upcoming hybrid event! Thank you, thank you! I am sharing with all involved!


Michael M McCurry CMP February 27, 2010 at 2:34 pm

@Teri Carden,

I am so glad to hear you found this article helpful in your upcoming event plans.

I would love to hear about your experiences with that event, once completed so please, if you feel so inclined, share them with us.

Thanks for the comments and the contribution to the discussion.



Ray Hansen February 28, 2010 at 8:01 am

Great information Michael the “Learning Lessons” are extremely helpful. Midori’s talk was one of the first events I have attended virtually and participated with via twitter. I thought it was fantastic. I felt as engaged as if I was a part of the live event. One of the main things that made the session so successful was the engagement from speaker(s) to audience (virtual and live). This was not a single source push of information but in fact a collaborative think tank of shared expertise and ideas.


Michael M McCurry CMP February 28, 2010 at 8:30 am

@Ray Hansen,

I agree with you that Midori’s session was terrific. She really is good at getting both f2f and virtual audiences engaged together.

I am glad you found the learning lessons helpful… The Hybrid event business is so new and there is so much to learn for all of us.

Thanks for contributing to the conversation Ray!




Midori Connolly March 1, 2010 at 12:01 am

Well, gentlemen, after sufficiently recovering from Cancun (no, seriously, I actually worked 12 hours/day and paid for it with TWO hypoglycemic attacks!)…I finally have a chance to reply.

Michael, you are too funny for posting that picture. My feet were so unhappy that I couldn’t think of anything better than a cool pool to relax them :-)

Ray and Michael, thank you both so much for your feedback. I can’t tell you how much it means to me…especially because I was experimenting with a new session and dealing with an unknown technology team.

Here we are demonstrating yet another benefit of a hybrid meeting. As a speaker, I can track EXACTLY who was attending virtually through the backchannel (or even registration if provided this information by event organizers). I know who I can turn to for targeted commentary or insight on how to improve.
If you are an event organizer and you want to attract the best talent in the business…well, here you are. An *advantage* to a backchannel – nothing to fear at all!!!

I just wish I could do this presentation every week, it was so fun :-) If there are any meeting planners out there who’d like this presentation, please let me know!!

Thanks again guys and Michael, awesome post as usual.

Midori Connolly, Chief AVGirl


Michael M McCurry CMP March 1, 2010 at 8:16 am

@Midori Connolly,

Excellent point regarding tracking of who participates in Hybrid event as the back channel does provide an opportunity to understand who participated.

Your session was a testament to the power of engaging both a face2face and virtual audience. Well done my friend!

Thanks for contributing to the conversation!



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