Hybrid for a #WIN: Tips for Expanding the Reach of Your Conference from PCMACL

PCMA Convening Leaders Live home screenI attended PCMA’s Convening Leaders conference for the first time this year – from the comfort of my home office. PCMA invited members to participate in their CL Live hybrid experience for free which made registering a no brainer.

Learning experience designers know full well the live learning environment and online learning environment differ so greatly in terms of learner expectations and delivery features that hybrid learning bridging the two is still lodged in the “final frontier” format category for many organizations. This year PCMA teamed up with Mediasite to design a meaningful networking and learning space bridging the miles between members.

What can we learn from their work? Here’s what impressed me:

Live stream chat. Meeting designers are a chatty bunch and we were able to jump into a robust conversation about the content being presented, interact with colleagues from faraway, and meet new industry contacts. The chat was moderated by PCMA staff who answered tech questions and passed along content questions to presenters. The chat stream was monitored during sessions to ensure remote attendees were a meaningful part of the conversation on site. That’s key. The chat connected the virtual audience to the Calgary experience.

Hybrid only content. When content streaming is tacked on to the live experience – just shooting video feed footage across the miles to our desktops – audiences may as well watch recorded capture. At PCMACL they designated a space onsite specifically for developing hybrid only content where they interviewed speakers, debriefed sessions, facilitated “Tech Spots” for vendor demos, and even talked about the behind the scenes decision making process designing the hybrid experience for this event. The speakers had laptops queued to the chat stream so they could interact directly with the virtual audience. And because the “glass box” hybrid central newsroom was located in a conference traffic area, virtual attendees could see the buzz and be seen as a part of the overall event experience. Pssst: the glass studio walls also served as a high profile sponsorship logo opportunity.

But wait, there’s more! A stand out moment for me was during a breakout session. Typically when sessions break for table discussions, virtual attendees are left listening to the conversation hum but are not part of it. Not at PCMACL! The staff moderator in the room pulled one of the speakers aside to facilitate Q&A with the virtual audience. Audience members asked questions in the chat – the moderator posed questions to the speaker – the speaker looked into the camera and interacted directly with remote attendees. Intentional. Easy. A fully integrated experience.

Thoughtful engagement opportunities. Engagement was clearly a priority in the design of this hybrid experience. It was a come-as-you-are and choose-your-own-adventure networking and learning space. The event portal encouraged virtual attendees to create a profile (much like you would in a conference app) so you could more effectively network with others. The designers expected the remote participant may be toggling screens so built in desktop notifications alerting us when sessions were about to begin. The all-in remote crowd enjoyed earning badges for accessing session resources, participating in chat, completing their profile, and attending sessions – PLUS their accomplishments were displayed in a leader board. And what’s a conference without a happy hour? Virtual attendees need not feel left out! PCMA prepared a virtual happy hour to keep the networking popping. I also appreciated how the portal not only facilitated online engagement, but engagement with the attendees in Calgary. Hybrid participants could at any time access “what’s happening” video clips of conference attendees sharing nuggets, connecting the live and virtual audiences.

Overall, a great example hybrid experience for other associations to model their own. A few tips to take it to the next level:

Personalization. I would have loved the option to customize my presentation screen panes – maximizing and minimizing (not hiding but choosing which objects are more prominent) the widgets according to what I was currently attending to. The video thumbnail on the presentation screen served as an obstacle. And because it was so small it wasn’t often legible. Allowing for the speaker feed and slides feed to be separate panes I can manipulate in my viewing space would elevate my remote learner experience.

Searchable/Browsable attendee listt. It was possible to browse the alpha virtual attendee list, but the software limited the display to a small number of listings that had to be browsed by page. I could see some of my industry colleagues were present in the live stream chat and wanted to engage with them in other ways. The amount of time it would have taken me to page to their profile listing was prohibitive. Building out a better searchable and browsable interface would significantly improve the impact (and use) of this tool

Mobile takeaways. Since I’m accessing the content on a device, I’m expecting more mobile ways to interact with resources. Can we integrate a twitter feed into the portal alongside the chat? Can the keynote prep links to his site, book, and PDF resources to engage the remote audience? Can we integrate virtual audience polls to further engage the live and remote audiences? Accessing content on a device suggests particular allowances for consuming, interacting with, and sharing content. Adding mobile considerations will only strengthen the digital dotted line tether of the remote attendee to the conference experience.

Let’s count this venture a success! Interaction was easy and fun. The remote attendee was “included” in the event experience. Hybrid-only content amped up access value. And while the virtual experience was robust, it was not the full conference – whetting the virtual attendee’s appetite for the full live experience.

I’m interested in your insights from this or other hybrid learning experiences you’ve participated in. What works? Where are the pain points? What opportunities can we strive for to harness the power of hybrid?


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