“Attend our free webinar!” How many of these emails do you get these days? I don’t know about you, but my itchy “Delete” finger gets really itchy when these appear in my inbox. Why?
I think we’ve all been to many online events that are nothing more than PowerPoint presentations online. Slides, maybe some audio (usually the presenter), little interaction. I can think of better ways to waste an hour of my life.
Event Camp Twin Cities 2010
Now imagine an online event that is really an event where virtual attendees can interact with the moderators or presenters and where attendees, both virtual and in-person, gain value from what is being presented. That was Event Camp Twin Cities 2010. This was the first opportunity I had to witness a truly hybrid event where the virtual and in-person audiences melded into a hybrid whole.
First there were about 75 in-person attendees gathered at the McNamara Center on the campus of the University of Minnesota. There were also two other in-person groups, or pods, gathered in Dallas and in Switzerland. All three live groups could see each other and the presentations that were being broadcast from Minneapolis.
But the audience wasn’t limited to these three groups. Over 550 participants around the globe participated virtually, seeing live video feed of the presentations. The virtual audience was connected to the event via video feed and Twitter. Virtual attendees also benefitted from a continuous interactive feed moderated by tradeshow presenter pro Emilie Barta from ProfessionalTradeshowPresenter.com and VirtualEventHostEmcee.com. I served as Twitter moderator, fielding questions and jumping into a number of conversations that would spring up on the tweet feed.
The greatest testament to whether this worked or not was the comments coming from the virtual attendees. They mentioned how welcomed they felt, how they felt they were really participating, how much value they were gaining, and how excited they were to attend future in-person events (attention event marketers!).
What were the keys to this success?
Event Camp Twin Cities organizers took great strides to provide feeds that were about as close to real-time as possible. Delays in virtual feed were a couple seconds if any. This is important for keeping the virtual audience engaged and on track with the in-person sessions.
Additionally, in spite of some severe weather issues in Dallas, and a power outage in Switzerland, the remote pod events kept pace with that going on in Minneapolis. This requires testing and retesting before the event.
The myriad of required technology equipment and services is also an investment. Cameras, Internet feeds, workstations, lighting, power supplies… they’re not free and must be built into the cost of any event of this type. Many people mistakenly feel that virtual equals low cost.
It’s not difficult to get excited about anything with the bubbly Emilie Barta at the helm! She engaged with the virtual attendees for nearly 9 hours. Having an enthusiastic and engaged moderator is crucial to keep the online audience tuned in. So many so-called virtual events turn on the webcam and let it roll without speaking to the online participants or engaging with them. The most participation these virtual attendees get is the occasional person who accidentally walks in front of the camera (insert chuckles here).
Additionally, having continuous moderation of the Twitter chatter helps further engage the virtual attendees and alert to tech problems. If it’s not working, you can bet they’ll tweet about it! Luckily, at Event Camp Twin Cities we only had this happen a few times.
One of the roadblocks we ran into with moderating was traffic limitations on Twitter. For about an hour, my normal account was shut down due to breaking the tweeting speed limit. Some of our virtual participants experienced the same thing. We hope that Twitter will recognize how people are using the platform for real-time engagement and offer allowances for chats and events.
Overall, Event Camp Twin Cities was a hybrid event that pushed the limits and proved that truly engaging virtual events are possible and will be a significant component of events of the future.
This article reprinted with permission InXpo.