The Internet entered the conference room out of sheer necessity. It has become a common part of all conference venues and provides the twenty-first century way of conducting events, as well as reporting from them.
Nowadays, many events have an integrated approach, having the audience and presenters both in situ and online. This blended aspect will inevitably become the norm. From our long term experience in delivering blended events and connecting the global audience to Geneva, we had a number of recurring observations, which can be formulated into good practices for successful outcomes. In this blog, we will focus on the preparatory phase of a blended event, which is essential for it to run smoothly.
Be suspicious of event organisers who present technical aspects of blended events as an easy feat. Naivety when it comes to technology is a recipe for disaster. The most commonly-heard institutional approach is: ‘It has to be simple, because we use Skype all the time’. This is usually based on wrong assumptions. It is not difficult, but it is not easy either. Indeed, the massive adoption of voice calling, teleconferencing and telepresence applications makes it look like a daily routine. However, the degree of preparation for online elements is similar to the organisation of the in situ aspects of your event. Online participation needs to be part of the agenda. All of the aspects should be taken into account. You need to have a dedicated person for online participation. Obviously, without the expertise, an organisation cannot excel in it. This does not have to involve a lot of time and money, it just requires someone with sufficient knowledge and commitment.
You need to tailor your event to the specific crowd. We did not come up with a one-size-fits-all solution that fulfills the needs of all events. Tailoring should be based on the size of the audience, as well as the level of interaction between the online and physical space. In certain cases ‒ you need one solution for the online remote hubs ‒ and another for individual presenters. One size does not fit all.
Technology matters, but people matter the most. Teachers, presenters, moderators and everyone involved in a blended event needs good preparation. This drastically affects the results. The first layer should be technical (setting up the orientation sessions, stress tests and dry runs), the second should involve the clear procedures for both online presenters and the in situ part of the team responsible for online participation. All members of staff (e.g. the online moderator, online participants, tech personnel) should know their role and the exact sequence of events.
Usually, things go wrong on the organisational level. Technology is rarely responsible for major breakdowns (that is, of course, if you have tested everything in advance). Even when the technology does break down, the in situ crowd is much more inclined to forgive technical problems than organisational problems and poor personnel management problems.
When it comes to organisation, you can never be overly-prepared. Whatever you prepare, things could still go wrong. Have a backup plan, have two backup plans! Spare equipment, spare people, draft a plan B scenario. All of this will help you feel secure, and deliver an effective blended event.
Finally, one piece of advice for the event’s online participants. We use online collaboration tools on a day to day basis for casual events, talking to our peers, friends, or families, so we understand that this can be done in a easy – relaxed way. Nevertheless, an online participation room – even if it is your bedroom – is a still a conference room. The same rules apply for online participation as for participating in situ. You need to behave and dress accordingly (for video interventions), listen to what everyone has to say (not just jump in with your comment), turn your microphone on when speaking and off when you are done. The ethics of event behaviour should be transposed to the online part of the audience.