Expanding audience base
Creative Technology Hong Kong MD, Justin Choy said: “The biggest advantage is to simultaneously expand both your audience base as well as your presenter base. Regardless of which side, there is a high barrier of entry to attending an event in-person due to travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, health reasons etc.
“By enabling both attendees to view the event and presenters to contribute virtually, you can overcome these obstacles and create a more content-rich and popular event.”
Flexibility of re-watching presentations
Virtual events and live streaming allow participants to view content on demand. Marina Bay Sands VP of conventions & exhibitions, MICE, Ong Wee Min, said: “It drives the possibility of longer-term engagement opportunities within the professional community where stakeholders could leverage upon to co-create new possibilities.
“Audience can also reshare the key takeaways of these presentations on their own social media platforms, driving engagement through continuous dialogue. This is a great way for companies to boost their visibility and awareness on social media.”
Improves accessibility and inclusivity of meetings
Added Mr Ong: “There is much talk in the industry highlighting the need to make venues and events more accessible to people with disabilities (PWDs). With hybrid meeting models, event organisers can ensure that PWDs are given the same opportunities to access content that would traditionally be discussed in physical settings.”
“If you pivot over to the virtual world by having a virtual environment, there are additional advantages that have previously never been possible. First and foremost, there is zero waste because the entire environment is done virtually; there is essentially nothing to build and nothing being thrown away. This is by far, the most eco-friendly way to hold an event,” said Mr Choy.
For companies such as Creative Technology that use VR, they can create environments that would otherwise be impossible in the real world. Examples include putting the speaker inside an auditorium that has a five-storey-high ceiling in the heart of Hong Kong, or placing presenters that are physically in opposite sides of the world into the same virtual space.
The amount of analytics from online platforms is astounding and clients can track user engagement, location, viewing time, just to name a few. The data will help events to restructure and improve over time without needing the audience to fill in a feedback form.
For Shanghai Sinoexpo Informa Markets International Exhibition Co, hybrid events have enabled its sponsors to try innovative promotion through livestreaming the sale of products. Said overseas marketing executive, Food & Hotel Group, Aliya Deng: “Consumers can snap up discounts with just one click through their mobile phone. We tried to help our exhibitors/sponsors to livestream sell their products during the events.”
CEO of India-based Meetings and More Girish Kwatra said that hybrid meetings will help with planning with “almost any budget”, and enable delegates to do HD video conferencing from their desktop from anywhere. He added: “As virtual is the new norm, all companies are adapting to this, and meetings are happening through this medium.”
Getting sponsors onboard
It may be harder to get sponsors if they cannot be convinced that they are getting sufficient exposure. Yusno Yunos, CEO & founder, Evenesis said: “It could be compensated by having a digital presence, but this also depends on the type of technology deployed for the event to enable the sponsors to receive similar benefits as opposed to a physical event.”
Online meetings need to be shorter due to distractions from the attendees’ devices. Said Mr Yunos: “If not managed well, hybrid meetings can cost more than having a physical meeting due to the type of event technologies deployed when it involves 3D virtual exhibition, virtual conference, virtual networking.”
While virtual events extend reach, the challenge remains in online engagement and building trust. Most believe that this is hampered as there is less spontaneity in the virtual world and delegates are far less likely to meet and interact at such events.
Meetings and More’s Mr Kwatra said the lack of personal connection and seriousness in virtual events, coupled with time zone differences would cause the event to have “less excitement compared to the grandeur which is promised at live events.”
Food & Hotel Group’s Ms Deng said that for events which are centred around F&B, trade buyers and distributors need to taste and feel high-end products, so there are limits to what hybrid events can do.
Need for heightened safety protocols
Organisers will need to ensure all health and safety checks are in place in the physical venue. “No organiser would like to be the first one to organise a hybrid event that causes another outbreak in the country. It’s all about weighing the risks involved in having a portion of the event on the ground,” said Mr Yunos.
Coordination becomes more complex
It is more difficult to manage online experience for attendees that are accessing the meeting from various locations in the world.
But in addition to the network connectivity, “the logistics and manpower multiply when it comes to holding a hybrid meeting, eg: to assign dedicated person-in-charge and technicians to monitor both offline and online environment,” said AsiaWorld-Expo’s CEO Irene Chan.
“Holding hybrid meetings is not as simple as setting up cameras to turn offline content and the current form of presentation online. Organisers have to take care of both the in-person and online audience,” she added.
Apart from spending resources for a physical event, the organiser also has to incorporate extra expenses to select a suitable online platform, adopt live-streaming equipment and facilitate effective discussions for offline-and-online engagement.
Ms Deng said: “For the virtual part of hybrid events, security and stability are not guaranteed. Video conferences based on Windows operating platform and PC architecture, are more vulnerable to viruses and hackers, and are not suitable for long-term operation.”
Meeting planners will want to have free WiFi at venues. GlobalSign.in founder and CEO, Veemal Gungadin, said: “It is going to be a must at venues organising business events, and where international delegates would attend.
“But venues should also need to equip themselves with a dedicated Internet connection that can allow a high bandwidth with low latency video upload for live streaming purposes. This line should not be shared by attendees or staff.
“Next, is to cater for the ability to have a great sound, hence the need for high-quality microphones. Wireless lavalier microphones appear great on camera and minimise ambient noise due to shifting.
“In cases where there is a Q&A, remote listeners will also need to hear the questions. So, wireless handheld microphones and microphone runners are required. And, of course, on-site technical support.
“It is important for venues to have staff who know how all of the equipment works and all of the information that an organiser’s AV and streaming partners will need to know. When filming, the staff should keep an eye out for changes in focus or lighting, or anything that would be disruptive or noticeable to a remote audience.”