I first heard the term ‘hybrid meetings’ back in May 2018 — I was
attending IMEX Frankfurt and met Maarten Vanneste, president of the
Meeting Design Institute. Vanneste had just published his new book, Multi Hub Meetings,
and was very eager to share this new model to the industry, having
recently organised the FRESH Meeting Design Conference 2017 as a
five-city multi hub event.
It was fascinating, and something completely novel (at least to me). Enamoured by Vanneste's vision, I took my copy of Multi Hub Meetings home with me to Singapore — where it languished on a bookshelf, untouched, for two years.
Enter May 2020: Coronavirus. Industry shutdown. Zoom fatigue — which
led me to finally read the book and reconnect with Vanneste (via Zoom).
I wonder, if more event professionals had read the book when it was
first published, would we have been better prepared to face the
“unforeseen challenges” brought on by the pandemic?
The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) was also
spruiking the benefits of digital events long before the coronavirus
forced us to listen.
The association recently hosted its flagship Convening Leaders
conference as a hybrid event and CEO and president, Sherrif Karamat, is
adamant that hybrid (or omni-channel) formats are the future.
“We need to expect all sorts of crises in the future, so
diversification of delivery is critically important,” he shared during a
recent interview. “I strongly believe in face-to-face, but if you ever
truly want to be global and engage audiences around the world, you must
be omni-channel. If you’re not, it will be very tough to engage a global
“The future of events is omni-channel — period. Yes, face-to-face
will be alive and well and Convening Leaders will still be in a
face-to-face format for 5,000 people, but we will also be putting on an
event for 15,000 to 25,000 around the globe. And we will have hubs,
likely in Singapore, Germany, the U.K. and Latin America.”
For Karamat, hybrid, multi hub, omni-channel, will simply become a “fact of life” for all events.
“Covid sped-up and allowed the world to accept omni-channel events,
but this is not something new. We just weren’t listening,” he said.
“A trend never moves swiftly. It’s the impact that ultimately catches
you off-guard because you were not paying attention. In many ways,
Covid happened for us… Because if we are not prepared to change, our
industry will go out the window and someone else will do it for us.”
Hybrid event studios are now popping up in hotels and convention
centres across APAC, but Karamat warns that we mustn’t get carried away
with the bells and whistles.
“We need to put our audience at the centre of event design before we
start anything. Think about who you are engaging, and what they want to
engage about. The audience is going to tell you want they want, and how
they want it,” he said.
Vanneste too is focused on customer centricity. Since Covid hit, he’s run a series of interactive masterclasses about online and hybrid meetings. He believes conversation and interaction are essential to successful meetings, regardless of the mode of delivery.
“Meeting planners need to be like Robin Hood — steal from the rich and give to the poor,” he explained. “The currency of meetings is time, so planners need to steal time from the speakers (the rich) and give it to the participants (the poor), so they can talk and interact in smaller groups. This is where the magic happens.”
Vanneste is also working on a method to measure and benchmark the ‘brain activation rate’ of attendees at conferences and meetings. This is an ongoing piece of work, but in the meantime, planners would do well to remember that consumption habits and engagement patterns have changed because of Covid — perhaps forever.
Moving forward, Karamat said customers will do different things according to the different connections they try to make. "If an event is omni-channel, we will be where the customer is, instead of trying to get the customer to come to us."