While roughly 4,000 industry leaders participate in the Professional Convention Management Assocation’s annual Convening Leaders conference at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, hundreds more are experiencing the event from home.
The select sessions being broadcast to a virtual audience help to widen the reach of PCMA and, ultimately, lead to increased physical attendance, organizers say.
Mary Reynolds Kane, director of online marketing for PCMA, discusses how the group is measuring success with its hybrid event.
“We’ve taken a real hard look at how we’re displaying our meeting to people who aren’t able to attend,” says Mary Reynolds Kane, director of online marketing for PCMA and the lead behind its hybrid initiative. “A lot of the reasons we’re actually doing it is because we believe firmly in face-to-face and if you show how amazing your event is, then people will be more likely to attend face-to-face. That’s what we’ve been seeing.”
At the group’s press conference yesterday, Deborah Sexton, president and CEO of PCMA, reported that 112 virtual attendees from the 2011 show made the trip to San Diego for last year’s event.
The final numbers for this year are not yet available, but Sexton says the virtual event had more than 700 registrants as of last Friday, three days before session content kicked off. That preliminary number is about 30 percent higher than last year.
Sexton was able to provide an update at PCMA's town hall meeting on Wednesday, saying that over 550 people had spent "a significant" amount of time viewing Monday's virtual sessions.
“There’s a clear pattern,” she says, “I am absolutely convinced that digital events will drive attendance to face-to-face.”
The growth may be exciting for PCMA, but an increase in virtual attendance can be a double-edged sword.
Increasing virtual attendance of members could actually be construed as a cannibalization of its face-to-face audience, while non-member attendance is seen as an expansion of its reach. It’s something the online marketing team is keenly aware of.
“I’m not looking to increase numbers year-over-year,” Kane says. “What I’m looking for is for people to tell us that they loved it. If our whole goal is to bring people to our meeting, we don’t necessarily want that number to go up.”
Kane and other organizers argue that the benefits of hybrid events go beyond turning those viewers into physical attendees however.
Virtual chats held in tandem with the live-streamed sessions have been extremely productive, Kane says. She and her team have been using the chat to welcome people and make them feel comfortable, but also to moderate and move the conversation. It’s become an ongoing discussion that she equates to the lively, stimulating “hallway conversation” attendees often have between sessions.
“The chat has been the most important thing that we’ve done,” she says. “Anybody who’s not using a chat in their virtual events is really missing an opportunity to bring people together.”
PCMA plans to keep the community alive—both onsite and online—by leveraging that content and technology. It will repackage content from Convening Leaders throughout the year, reissuing sessions with a live-chat element that will include the original presenters.