By: David M. Brudney
Member of Laguna Strategic Advisors

I’ve been writing the past couple of years about hybrid meetings – – the evolution of and demystification of hybrid meetings and its impact on face-to-face meetings.

Paraphrasing Mark Twain, I’ve written, “the accounts of the death of face-to-face meetings have been greatly exaggerated.”

The Great Recession coupled with the AIG Effect not only led to millions of dollars in cancelled or deferred meetings, but also helped push corporate America into the use of new technology as a means of replacing those meetings.

However, the advent of “hybrid” meetings – – online presence complementing and enhancing physical events – – is putting to rest concerns that face-to-face meetings might be reduced even further or possibly become obsolete.

Online, virtual event technology – – what does that mean for all of us technology challenged? Well, it’s a meeting wherein speakers, suppliers, and participants join in via online at the physical, face-to-face venue. Those connected to the event can be anywhere – – from Montana to the Moon, for that matter.

Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) – – drawing an attendance of nearly 4,000 members earlier this year to its annual convention in Orlando, FL – – continues to embrace hybrid innovation with a record-setting 700 plus unique registrations who joined the event from remote locations. That hybrid audience represented more than 18 countries.

Hybrid Complements In-Person Events

“This year’s hybrid audience was bigger and more engaged than ever before,” said Mary Reynolds Kane, PCMA’s online marketing director. “With moderated discussions, hybrid attendees from around the world contributed their own questions and comments to spark conversation both online and on-site.”

I wrote a follow up piece to my original hybrid article after attending PCMA’s 56th annual meeting here in San Diego. I wanted to check on the progress of PCMA’s further commitment to hybrid meetings.

Progress is indeed being made – – based on both participant feedback and record- breaking attendance figures.

“The 2012 meeting proved PCMA’s continued pursuit of innovation and willingness to take risks has been embraced by both its face-to-face and hybrid engagement attendance. Additionally, the 2012 meeting realized a year-over-year 9% increase in professional planner participation,” according to a PCMA post- meeting press release.

Total attendance for PCMA’s San Diego meeting was estimated to be 3,750, just under 11,000 rooms, and a total economic impact for San Diego estimated at US$13.3 million, according to Andy Mikschl, Sr. V.P. Sales, San Diego Convention Center Corporation.

Virtual Meeting Participants Influenced to Attend Face-to-Face

PCMA boasted further that it has “dispelled the virtual cannibalization of face-to-face audiences myth.” More than 300 registrants in San Diego indicated “they were influenced to attend face-to-face by their previous participation in a PCMA virtual or hybrid meeting.”

Again, according to PCMA, of those 300, 112 had never attended an annual meeting before – – or had not done so in the past 6 years.

PCMA credits its event’s success to expanded hybrid broadcast coverage. The San Diego event’s program included multiple general sessions, a masters series, 2-hour long learning lounge sessions – – plus daily interviews with conference speakers and industry leaders.

Nine of the 64 concurrent sessions became hybrid broadcasts. Based on PCMA’s expanded content, time spent by participants engaged in hybrid events increased greatly – – 225 users spent more than 10 hours compared with 109 the year before. Total hours spent by participants in sessions increased by 60% (from 3,123 in 2011 to 5,123), according to PCMA.

The Virtual Edge Institute’s Summit was integrated at San Diego – – VEI’s sessions running parallel to PCMA’s regular sessions. As further testimony of virtual’s appeal, more than 33% of Convening Leaders registrants indicated their intent to incorporate VEI sessions into their schedule – – thus reinforcing the value of providing meeting professionals with virtual and hybrid education.

Competing with Free Internet Events

Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) used a relatively inexpensive hybrid model – – striking a balance between virtual and physical or in-person events – – necessary to serve a key member group that could not attend this year’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

“Delegates from all areas, members and non-members alike, could experience the conference remotely for a flat rate of $39,” wrote Sarah Beauchamp in the April 2013 issue of Convene (a monthly publication by PCMA).

HIMSS, Beauchamp continues, found an inexpensive hybrid model that strikes a balance between a virtual and in-person events. This model competes with the plethora of free online events.

“Hybrid events are, no doubt about it, evolving,” said JoAnn Klinedinst, HIMSS’ vice president of professional development. “We reflected on the fact that many virtual events are no cost. We knew that there was a middle ground – – from charging hundreds of dollars to giving content away, the strategy was somewhere in between.”

No Longer Fear Virtual Event Technology

“Meeting professionals no longer fear that virtual event technology will cannibalize their physical programs”, wrote Maxine Golding in Conference Direct Meeting Mentor Online ( “Instead, they project that online components of meetings will help organizations and corporations broaden market reach and deepen value to all constituents – – members, customers, suppliers, (and) partners.”

A good example of hybrids already in place was PCMA’s annual meeting in Las Vegas in 2011. PCMA 365 – – its virtual experience – – featured live interviews, general, plenary and selected session streaming and moderated chat. The event concluded with many of the meeting manager attendees staying on for the co-located virtual “summit”.

“We’ve reached the tipping point,” said Michael Doyle, executive director of the Virtual Edge Institute. “It’s now a given that you need online presence with your physical event. Together they drive business engagement and create new revenue opportunities.”

Attendees were able to customize their education experience due to VEI and Learning Lounge sessions running for a variety of lengths – – from 15 to 90 minutes in duration.

Doyle cautioned they were still in the early stages of developing this “powerful tool.”

A Look Inside the Numbers

And where would the lodging properties be without the face-to-face meeting events?

205 million people attended 1.8 million events in 2011 just in the U.S. alone, according to the Conventions Industry Council. Those 1.8 million events represented more than $263 billion in direct expenditures.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) study:

  • Hotels are direct recipients of 80% of the $263 billion
  • These meetings involve 250-million overnight hotel stays
  • The industry directly employs more people than the broadcasting and computer telecommunications industries, the truck and rail transportation industries, and the computer systems design and related services industries, among many others
  • The U.S. M.I.C.E. industry (meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions) directly supports 1.7 million jobs
  • Corporate and business travelers are the driving force of the U.S. meetings industry
  • Meetings contribute $14.3 billion in federal tax revenue, and $11.3 billion in state and local tax revenue
  • $106 billion contribution to GDP

  • The PWC study also profiles those 1.8 million events:

  • 52% corporate/business meetings
  • 25% conventions/conferences/congresses
  • 12% trade shows
  • 4% incentive meetings
  • 7% “other meetings”

  • The Conventions Industry Council (CIC) projected that in 2013 organizations will operate with greater efficiency as a result of the use of smart event technology. CIC also forecasts that organizations will incorporate better attendee engagement management that will in turn allow its businesses to grow.

    “A Given that You Need Online Presence with Your Physical Event”

    “We’re very fortunate our leadership feels strongly that the association has to be on the leading edge of meeting trends and that our members allow us to continue to take risks,” said Deborah Sexton, PCMA President and CEO. “If attendees leave here excited about trying something new – – changing it up – – that’s what it’s all about,” said Sexton.

    No doubt host city San Diego had something to do with both the attendance and the success of PCMA’s event. And just as Indianapolis should benefit from hosting scores of future conventions thanks to Super Bowl XLVI, so should San Diego benefit from PCMA. “We identified 600 future definite bookings over the next 6 to 8 years due, in part, to PCMA meeting here in 1996,” Mikschl said.

    Trickle-Down Effect

    Is there a message here? You bet. The merging together of online components with traditional face-to-face meeting formats bodes well for the future of off-site business meetings – – the mother’s milk for so many group-oriented hotels, resorts and conference centers.

    PCMA’s bold adventure and success should serve as nothing less than a call to action for all hotels that cater to and benefit from conventions, conferences and small meetings. What PCMA has experimented with at its large annual gathering may soon – – if not already – – become a standard for all hotel venues. More and more meeting and event planners – – mindful of the PCMA’s example and success – – will begin introducing hybrid models in order to enhance and improve upon meeting experience results.

    Let us hope these new hybrid meetings flourish; they’re a win-win for hotels, groups, suppliers and customers. And please, let us not hear again that physical events, face-to-face meetings will be “gone with the wind”.

    And let us hope, too, hotel sales associates have learned from their tough selling experiences of the recent past and are smarter, better prepared, and eager to solicit, capture and satisfy this anticipated increase in meetings and event demand.

    Hoteliers need to be prepared. Learn what you can, identify virtual, online event suppliers, and make certain your property is receptive, adaptable and hybrid meeting friendly.

    As Published