Lance A. Simon, VP Client Solutions
So you – agency staffer or third-party meeting professional — put forward the concept of a hybrid conference and your management rolls out the red carpet, applauds you and off you go. Right? Maybe. But if that isn’t the case (and often, it isn’t), what are the key issues and push-back that you will run into?
1. Lack of executive sponsor.
The first is lack of an executive sponsor. Early on, you need to have someone in a senior level position who is willing to endorse your efforts. If you don’t have that, you are unlikely to be successful with implementing a hybrid conference program– these other obstacles will be much harder to overcome without a champion.
2. Cannibalization fears.
The concern that people may not attend your physical conference because a virtual alternative is available is a real issue that you need to be able to address with management. The bottom line is that the upside of overall attendance increasing through the virtual channel is much greater than the risk of on-site attendance decreasing significantly. And in some cases, on-site attendance IS decreasing regardless. Often times cannibalization is raised as FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and you need your executive sponsor to say – “Let’s give this a try and see if your cannibalization fears are real.” In fact, a hybrid conference option may save a meeting from being cancelled!
3. IT/Security approvals.
IT can be helpful but they can also get in the way of making new virtual strides. You need to include them early on in the process and make sure that they are comfortable with the technology arrangements. There is also a vast difference between conferences that deal with top-secret or sensitive information and/or health record-related information. These conferences require special care. But the majority of conference sessions do not contain top secret materials.
4. Marketing / Communications lead time.
Related to the cannibalization issue is marketing and communications. You must have a partnership on communications that allows you to get the word out about your virtual conference in time, or else all the work may be done with a much lighter impact than should have been possible. Some people may tell you there’s not enough time. Well, that might be true, but the decision to attend a virtual conference takes MUCH less lead time for participants than the decision to attend in-person.
5. Internal resistance, FUD, head-in-sand
…and of course you will run into our old friend “FUD” — fear, uncertainty, and doubt — from people who simply don’t have any experience in this area and would rather not try something new than have an opportunity for new challenges. One suggestion is to enroll any non-believers in a virtual conference and attend it with them, show them the impact it can have, and set up discussions with agencies that have implemented these programs – and break down the FUD.