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Update, April 2012: AssociCom makes some good points about extending the lifecycle of a conference using blended learning, while Jenny Mackness looks at what makes participation at a blended event work.
Event Camp Europe (Eventbrite | website) on 9 September was presented as an opportunity for event professionals to “learn about hybrid events through actual experience”. A hybrid event can be defined as an event which “combines a ‘live’ in-person event with a ‘virtual’ online component”. Hybrid events are also known as blended events, stressing the blended learning aspect.
The virtual experience
One factor which differentiates a hybrid event from an amplified event is the extent to which the remote audience is integrated into the event, with opportunities for active participation and interaction with the live audience.
At #eceu virtual emcee Emilie Barta (voila!) worked like a trouper on behalf of the 160 who signed up for home/office participation. A virtual emcee sounds like a rather more glamourous event amplifier…
Anyway, the virtual programme extended from 9 – 18:15, longer than the on-site programme which started at 10. There were white space slots, plus a countdown clock so people knew the system was working if they tuned on while nothing was going on. No stone was left unturned to make the virtual audience feel welcome throughout, with shots of the room during questions etc. Efforts were also made to bring both audiences together, such as a PeopleHunt/GuessMyPersona app based game and a streamed Swedish PT session.
All this was exciting at the start, but surely I was not alone in ducking in and out – one hour is enough for full concentration on a stream for me. And what’s the business model – for #eceu virtual participation was free, so does the live sub the virtual? I’m not sure I would pay (much) for one hour’s attendance or for access to recordings of sessions.
A further issue is whether live participation suffers when this level of effort is being put into the virtual audience. For example, live attendees had to duck under a camera and were asked to move around the room with care. See integrating online and face to face participation in a community of practice for how participation differs for the two audiences.
In addition to the live and virtual audiences there were also six remote pods (in Sweden, Poland, Belgium, and the Netherlands, plus one in Croydon and one at the venue itself), using Google+ Hangouts to connect. There was a maximum of 15 people in each pod, serviced by two PCs, one running the conference stream and one for the Hangout. They were also sent wine for a hybrid wine tasting session and catering was subsidised. Some unofficial pods also sprang up during the day.
Almost immediately after the event the weekly Engage365 chat looked at how it went, with lots of feedback re the pods:
- not enough engagement; the pods themselves should provide (more) sessions
- white spaces needed for local content, or the option to mute the stream
- Google+ Hangouts offered a powerful and engaging experience, interaction better than Twitter
Interesting – maybe the way forward for ‘global’events, although there are questions re responsibility and managing expectations.
The technology required to run a hybrid event is not trivial or cheap. On this occasion the venue seems to have not been completely fit for purpose – there were connectivity problems and wifi access in the room was poor, preventing tweeting. Mediasite was used for streaming, but only offering a broadcast and no chat (less load heavy – chat requires multiple connections). This affected the level of interaction between the three audiences.
A #eceu Twub was set up for chat. This looks very similar to Tweetchat, but has the advantage of offering potential for a hashtag community over the longer term (six people joined up on the day). It also offers automatic translation of tweets (not much used until prompted).
All in all the content seemed rather to pass by unnoticed! Two reviews from Jez Paxman and Gallus Events, who attended live, outline a number of practical issues which seemed to dominate proceedings, while Experiences of a remote attendee, posting on Event Camp Twin Cities, states that the amount of things going on meant there was not enough focus to get fully engaged. The general conclusion seems to be to keep a hybrid event as simple as possible while catering for multiple audiences.