Inside One of PCMA’s Hybrid Meetings

It’s been five years since PCMA entered the Wild West of hybrid meetings. After plenty of trial and error, here are five key strategies that have worked well.

When PCMA began designing and launching digital components for its meetings in 2010, we embraced a spirit of experimentation. We’ve tested a range of pricing models. We’ve encountered our fair share of technological challenges. And we’ve continually revisited our objectives to determine what we want to accomplish with our broadcast content.

As meeting professionals prepare for a future in which hybrid meetings will continue to change the industry — and where more attendees will be looking for online educational opportunities — here are some of the key ingredients that have helped us be successful:

1. C-Level Support

From day one, PCMA President and CEO Deborah Sexton has been supportive of the hybrid initiative. Even in the uncertain economic conditions of 2009, she believed that online meetings and hybrid extensions were essential to advancing the industry. We’ve been lucky, but many meeting professionals may face pushback from the top about the need to invest in hybrid meetings.

In these cases, you must be able to articulate the reasons why your organization needs to adopt a hybrid extension. One of the best places to start is to note that attendees are asking for it. According to recent American Express Meetings & Events research, 63 percent of attendees would attend more meetings and events virtually if the option were available.

2. ROI

Over the Long-Term We don’t look for immediate revenue increases to come directly from our hybrid initiative, and we offer it for free. In our view, hybrid is a powerful marketing tool that helps us engage new meeting professionals around the world and expand our brand reach. Our data confirms that the “freemium” model delivers big dividends, as nearly 70 percent of the virtual attendees at the PCMA Convening Leaders 2015 Hybrid Event indicated that they plan to attend the face-to-face program in the future.

3. Testing, Testing, and More Testing

Every meeting professional knows the number of potential issues that can arise on site, and that’s true of the hybrid environment, too. Is the livestream too slow? Is the lighting right? Is the audio fuzzy? Is the camera capturing each member of the panel? Before the meeting begins, we test every component to make sure the correct electrical and Internet resources are in place. All that testing paves the way for a top-notch experience. Ninety-two percent of our hybrid attendees rank the meeting as excellent/above average.

4. The 30-Second Solution

PCMA aims to resolve issues for on-site attendees immediately, and we approach our hybrid attendees with that same customer-service-oriented goal. In today’s rapid-response landscape, attendees shouldn’t have to wait for help. Our goal is to resolve all challenges within 30 seconds. Because they are sitting at their screens, there’s a risk that they will simply log off if issues aren’t quickly resolved.

5. Providing More Than Education Credits

While our hybrid meeting relies on the strength of our content to attract attendees, we know that education alone isn’t enough. That’s why we have added a happy hour at the end of each broadcast day. It gives attendees a chance to chat with each other, ask questions, and build a real community — one that feels similar to the face-to-face experience.

Jennifer Kingen Kush, DES, is director of experience marketing for PCMA.

Convene Editors