Behind the Scenes

The Next Best Thing

Participating in a conference virtually isn't as good as being there in person. But it’s much better than missing out entirely.

Last month, if I could have backed out of making the two-hour drive to attend the Going Digital 2012 publishing conference without losing my hotel-room charge and registration fee, I might have. Just the week before, Senior Editor Barbara Palmer and I had been stuck an extra day in Nashville after our Convene Forum ended – waiting for the New York City airports to mop up after Superstorm Sandy’s devastation, sweating out canceled flights, and worrying about our loved ones back home. 

Then, on the day Going Digital started, I woke up to find my car covered in six inches of snow, courtesy of a nor’easter that added misery to all those still recovering from Sandy. While the snow was only a minor nuisance for me, it topped my “Reasons Why I Should Skip This Conference” mental list, which included fast-approaching deadlines for this very issue of Convene, a sick dog that had kept me up all night, and uncertainty as to whether I would get anything out of going. Which I ended up doing, as much because of the already incurred costs as a sense of responsibility that I represent the industry and need to support meetings. (Silly, I know.)

Why the long backstory? Because had there been a third option — if Going Digital’s sessions had actually been broadcast digitally — I would have stayed home and watched online.

Granted, it wouldn’t have been the same as being there. I wouldn’t have gotten to know a few potentially valuable contacts in the field of publishing technology, who may be able to help us chart a new digital strategy for Convene. I would have missed joining fellow attendees for a 7 a.m. walk around Skytop Lodge’s lake in Pennsylvania’s beautiful Pocono Mountains. But I would have probably gotten enough information to make it worth my while.

And in fact the results of our latest epanel survey on hybrid meetings indicate that planners increasingly are making that third option available, mainly because by adding a virtual component to their face-to-face events, they expect to expand their audience. We didn’t think to ask how hybrid events might add to the in-person attendee experience. But as Principal, Michael Doyle Partners, Michael Doyle reports in this month’s Online column, by broadcasting special education programs from theater/studio space on their show floors, two events succeeded in drawing on-site traffic.

At Convene Forum, Barbara took a no-cost approach to allowing Sarah and fellow Assistant Editor Katie Kervin — who were keeping the home fires burning back in the office — to join in on the action. She simply logged on to Google+ Hangouts and pointed her laptop in the direction of our speakers. Her aim, and ours, was to be inclusive rather than expansive.


Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.