Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Meeting Attendees: It’s About My Experience, Not My Location!

Yesterday I read a really interesting blog post written by Dennis Shiao.  In his article, entitled “A Virtual Blog Posting” Dennis raises the question of whether the term “virtual” is really the best way to describe what is really a “digital” event.

According to Wikipedia, the term “virtual” implies “that which is not real” or is used to mean almost, particularly when used in the adverbial form e.g. “That’s virtually [almost] impossible.”

Based upon those definitions I really believe Dennis is on to something.  In my world, I have actually avoided using the word “virtual” for some time when referring to digital, or online event experiences, as the term leaves me cold.

Conference Participants:  Who Are We Anyways?

Ask yourself this question;  if you are attending a conference remotely do you appreciate being referred to as a virtual (almost real) attendee or a remote (online) participant?  The term “live attendee,” when referring to a face2face participant, also bothers me.  Where does that leave their remote counterparts? (“dead” attendees??)  As an event organizer it is my hope that all participants at my events are “live.”

These days, it is more difficult to differentiate between who is online, and who is face2face at conferences.  For example, in a Twitter back-channel conversation, which is becoming commonplace at conferences, it is literally impossible to discern the difference.

Remote participants are oftentimes contributing as much (or even more) to the conversations occurring at conferences, as their face2face colleagues.  Of course face2face attendees have an edge at cocktail parties and other “on-premise only” networking events.   :)

Meeting Attendees:  It’s About My Experience, Not My Location!

As the inclusion of digital attendees continues to gain broader acceptance in the face2face meetings arena, the lines distinguishing between face2face and remote participants will fade.  I firmly believe Event organizers will no longer care, other than planning for logistics, on whether an attendee is physically located at the event, or attending through online digital channels.

The most important focus, for planners, will be on creating memorable conference experiences fostering quality conversations, collaborative learning experiences, and productive brainstorming sessions. Technology will be the bridge to ensure this happens seamlessly, amongst all attendees, whether they are participating remotely, or face2face.

Most of us agree the ideal way to connect with other people is still via traditional face2face encounters.  Reality is face2face participation at an event is not always a viable option for all prospective attendees.  With the growth and improvement of technology it is now feasible to have a value-rich conference experience as a remote or “digital” attendee.  A whole lot of learning and business is getting done that way!

Question:  How do you see the future of events evolving?  What are your thoughts on how online and face2face channels will continue to blend together?  Please  your comments.


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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Dennis Shiao March 15, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Mike – thanks for the mention.

Your heading, “It’s About My Experience, Not My Location!” sums things up perfectly. Great point that technology blurs the line between whether I’m face2face or elsewhere – what’s important is that I’m there. And, being “there” means that I have a voice (I can be heard) and I have ears (you can engage with me).

I expect that for some, the “location doesn’t matter” concept will be a hard one to grasp, but if we focus in on the experience (regardless of your location), I believe that conference and meeting participants are the ones who win.


Michael M McCurry CMP March 15, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Dennis, thanks for commenting so quickly.

you hit the nail on the head. We need to drop our concerns about where people are attending and just appreciate the fact they are participating.

Your article put me on my soap box as I have more blog posts planned to talk about this important issue. We need to stop putting people into silos and just look at our events holistically.

What is going to make them successful and how do we get people engaged? How do we get people fired up about their beliefs and motivated to share what they think with others?

Thanks for weighing in… you rock



Midori Connolly March 16, 2011 at 11:25 pm

Hallelujah! So glad to see this type of posting!
We still have a long way to go – at the Virtual Edge conference, many of the conversations I had with virtual providers were trying to convince them of the value of integrating audiences. I literally had one tell me, “Well, why would I care if the ‘live’ audience talks with the ‘virtual’ audience? And why would ‘virtual’ people want to talk to each other? What’s the point of that?”.
I’ve had several very long, very detailed arguments with technology providers and am finally getting them to understand my concept of an engagement strategy in order to maximize the value of their client’s investment in this event format.
Still a long way to go, but with this type of discussion, together we can educate an industry :)


Michael M McCurry CMP March 17, 2011 at 9:28 am

Hi Midori,

It’s funny how so many conference goers are getting hung up on labeling other fellow attendees by their participant channel. Why does it matter whether I am f2f or online. The fact is I’m engaged .. I’m participating.. I wanna make a difference.

By labeling people we are in essence profiling them and creating silos potentially. We need to quit doing that and just embrace the opportunity to dialogue with people through whatever channels are available.

We do have a long ways to go with blending our attendees interactions together in a seamless way. We’ll get there.

Thanks for commenting Midori!



Bob Vaez March 19, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Great post Mike… what you noted is a crucial change of perspective on how we view attendees participation.

I see this all around me how old and new organizations are choosing to hold multiple smaller events throughout the year at multiple cities along or instead of one big national event! That clearly shows face2face events, even on a smaller scale will never loose their place! I just participated at a tech event in Toronto which had sister events in other major cities globally. But even though it was almost a local event, they decided to stream it live and the online participants where twice the number of physical participants.

Well, how cool and valuable would it have been if we could somehow interact with all the other folks that couldn’t make it to the event during the workshops at least?

– Bob


Michael M McCurry CMP March 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Hey Bob, thanks for stopping by McCurry’s Corner.

Online participation is not only a thriving and viable channel for attending events, but in my mind it is crucial to sustaining and growing face2face participation. Oftentimes the reason folks opt for an online experience is because for one reason or another they could not attend f2f.

Attending online gives them a taste of the event and may even entice them to work harder the next time to attend f2f. That is marketing at its best.

There will come a day where online attendance will be as commonplace as its f2f counterpart, it will just be another option on the conference menu.

Thanks for contributing to the discussion.



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