2021 07 22 A Conversation about Hybrid Events (Fireside Chat)
2021 07 22 A Conversation about Hybrid Events (Fireside Chat)
https://asa1cadmoremedia.blob.core.windows.net/asset-15b3861e-72f8-4a8d-be0e-e9ec7b193900/2021 07 22 Fireside (Trimmed).mp4
SAM BURRELL: And then I will start us off. Right, OK, so. Welcome to this Society Street event on Hybrid Events. (This one isn't, this is just online -- but we are TALKING about hybrid events.!) So, thank you very much for coming along for the ride. We, the four of us here, are going to be discussing the challenges presented to us by hybrid events, and talking through some of the possible solutions, things that we've seen, ideas that we've had.
SAM BURRELL: Because we know that many of you are thinking about putting on hybrid events, either next year or possibly the year after, and are trying to grapple with some of the practicalities of how you do that. So, not strictly linked to income diversification, but we think that this is actually another strand that societies need to be -- have been forced to think about.
SAM BURRELL: And it's a question of how we take that forward from here. So that's enough blather from me. I want to say a quick hello to our guests today, and thank you for coming along to join us. We've got Violaine, Theresa and Laura, and I'm just about to ask them to introduce themselves and to tell you why they've been thinking about hybrid events. And then we'll jump straight into some, hopefully, interesting discussion.
SAM BURRELL: So why don't we start with Laura.
LAURA SAWYER: Hi my name is Laura Sawyer. I am the Executive Director of the International Communication Association. We're headquartered in Washington DC. Our members are approximately 5,000 University professors, researchers, students, PhD candidates, in the field of communication research, all over the globe. 89 countries. And we actually started exploring the idea of hybrid conferencing over a decade ago.
LAURA SAWYER: Tried a little bit of it. Didn't work out-- nobody wanted it. It was just one small track. And so we abandoned it for a while, that was before I was with the organization. I've been there six years. But even more recently, before the pandemic, we were getting a lot of feedback from members that they felt guilty about carbon footprint of going somewhere far flung, every year, depending on where we were.
LAURA SAWYER: Our conference floats around the globe. So we were getting all that, and then the pandemic just, sort of-- we were doing all this fact finding about, OK, what are the best practices and what will we maybe do, some time in the future. And then, boom, future is here. So yes, we've been completely virtual the past two years because of COVID, and we will be hybrid for Paris in May.
SAM BURRELL: May 2022. Right, so quite soon. Theresa, how about you? Sorry, sorry. Theresa, how about you?
THERESA CROSSLEY: Hi, I'm Theresa. I'm the head of Education and Maternity Cover at the British Society for Haematology. So we are a membership organization, primarily based in the UK, for haematologists. A lot of our members are clinicians, but we also have a lot of scientist members and nurses, and anyone working within the field of Haematology. And we have traditionally had a face-to-face, annual scientific meeting in the Spring of each year, which has been very well attended and very well liked.
THERESA CROSSLEY: And then, obviously, same as Laura, pandemic hit, suddenly everything changes. We've done two virtual ASMs now, one later on last year, and then one in April just gone. And it actually increased our delegate numbers by a few hundred, which was great, because it did mean that clinicians and interested people from all over the world could join in, whereas they couldn't before.
THERESA CROSSLEY: So moving forward we would like to try hybrid events. Our first one is April next year, so we're sort of in the middle of planning different formats and things, and just seeing how it goes, really. We have a strong contingent who still really want that face-to-face element, and still really want to get together with their colleagues from all over the UK, and network and socialize, and do all of that.
THERESA CROSSLEY: But we are now really trying to cater for our international members, or non-members who are just interested, and also people who can't make a face-to-face conference because of work or costs or caring responsibilities, or, as you say, trying to make it work for all the audiences.
SAM BURRELL: So both of you guys are right in the belly of trying to sort out how you're going to take this forward. Violaine, tell us about-- I know you've been on Society Street events before, but tell us anyway, again.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: So hi, I'm Violaine Iglesias. I'm the CEO and co-founder of Cadmore Media, which is a vendor that launched three years ago into streaming, and specifically supporting the streaming media needs of societies. And like everybody else, we were thrown into the world of virtual events in 2020. We've been supporting them. So I bring the perspective of a vendor, here, who is trying to guess what people are going to need in the future.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: I'm in no better position than anybody else, really, it's all guesswork. But it's been really interesting, because we talk to all of our clients and prospective clients about their plans, and we also bring ideas, and we try to transform that into technology. So more questions than answers, obviously.
SAM BURRELL: But I think that's the case-- that's all of us, isn't it, Violaine? More questions than answers.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: With that being said, it's a really interesting time for trying to define this, because we know nobody's done it before.
SAM BURRELL: I guess that's one of the questions that we'll come to in a second is, can you define it? As in, is there such a thing as a hybrid event that hits all the bells for everybody? And just a quick word to people who are listening, so we're just about to kick off into a-- let's do a quick brainstorm of the major issues that, probably, we're all trying to grapple with, with hybrid events. I know you guys are going to have some ideas, as well, please pop them in the chat.
SAM BURRELL: We'll contribute on the chat as well, and if there's anything that we don't get to touch on through the course of the conversation, anyway, we can talk about it in the Zoom Q&A session after this session finishes. So please, put your questions and comments in the chat and we'll engage with those, as well. But you three, so what do you think-- if I said to each of you, and I'm sorry, I haven't prepped you for this, so that's mean, but let's do it anyway.
SAM BURRELL: What are your top two concerns about-- or top two questions that you're grappling with, at the moment, when you're thinking about hybrid events? And see if we've got the same ones or different ones, and maybe start there. So Theresa, why not start with you this time?
THERESA CROSSLEY: I think, our two trickiest parts that we've discussed, so far, are probably, how to make it work for our sponsors, and how to make the exhibitors-- make sure that they get the engagement they need, and they still want to be at our conference, both the face-to-face part and the virtual part. And then also, I think, we described it as the Venn diagram.
THERESA CROSSLEY: If you've got the virtual components over here, and the face-to-face components, and then there's this magical part in the middle where everyone feels included, and is engaged with your activities and what you're doing. And figuring out what that overlap is and how you manage to engage both the virtual and face-to-face delegates together, is possibly-- [INTERPOSING VOICES]
SAM BURRELL: Well, I was actually just about to ask that. Are you actually trying to achieve that? Are you trying to achieve engagement with each other, at the same time?
THERESA CROSSLEY: A slither, yes. It's almost like three meetings, really. It's the face-to-face bit, the virtual bit, and then we're trying to figure out if we can do this bit in the middle where everyone is involved. And it might be that we can't do that, or it might be that it's too hard, or it might be that we try various different things and it completely fails.
THERESA CROSSLEY: But we're trying to see if there is an overlap that we can use to see that all the delegates can be included together.
SAM BURRELL: Laura, what are your top two challenges? Are they the same, are they different?
LAURA SAWYER: So I mean, it's not that I'm not concerned about the first one that Theresa said. I'm obviously always concerned about sponsors and exhibitors, because that's some of our income. So that ties in with one of my concerns, which is financial sustainability. We are a nonprofit, obviously, and I would like not to bankrupt the organization by biting off more than we can chew. So we have to be careful of what we promise, in terms of-- I just had a meeting with my executive committee last week, and I had prepared a slide deck of-- I mean, chock-a-block with text.
LAURA SAWYER: I hate doing slides that have a lot of text on them, but there was no way around, here are all of the things you have to consider. And so all of these pros and cons, and making sure that we don't over promise and under deliver, in terms of what hybrid can be. And even defining what hybrid means, right? Is it, first you do the virtual part for two days, maybe, and then you do three days of in-person, and people just choose which one to go to?
LAURA SAWYER: Do you have them submit to two separate conferences? We went through all of this. We decided on a unified conference, not two separate tracks. But again, there's that, as Theresa said, where is that small, in the Venn diagram, where is that very small sliver where, maybe we have one room that live streams just the main things that are, sort of, conference-wide, like the presidential address and the opening plenary, and things like that?
LAURA SAWYER: We also have to deal with translation, because a lot of French scholars actually don't speak English at all, which is unusual. For places we've been in the past, we've just used English for everything, even though we're an international organization. It's been the lingua Franca. But my main concern, always, but especially with hybrid conferencing, is inclusion and accessibility.
LAURA SAWYER: We have members from many, many, many different ethnic backgrounds, and many different countries and levels of Wi-Fi access, and also people at various stages of their careers. Some have funding and some don't. And so we have to be very careful to-- As Theresa said, one of the great things about having virtual conferencing the past two years was that we were able to bring in people that have never attended ICA before.
LAURA SAWYER: So we had regional hubs this past year. We had 12 different locations that we gave grants to, $5,000 to $10,000, to do their own conference at the same time as ours, so that they had some live things. Only if it was safe, from a COVID perspective. Many of them wore masks and just got together 40 to 50 people. And then they also would partake of, as a group, sessions that we were streaming out virtually, and then talk about them.
LAURA SAWYER: And so we brought in 50 people from Uganda who've never gone to ICA before. So for the next year we want to make sure that we have that, but then we also are getting more from them. We want to stream in things that they are submitting. Because it was more one directional, this year, so we want to be able to open a portal between those two things, and have the people who are physically at the main conference be able to hear a scholar from Uganda talk about something, live.
LAURA SAWYER: So that's one of the things we're trying to make happen, and I need to--
SAM BURRELL: Wow, that's quite challenging. Yes. That's quite challenging-- Violaine, you've been speaking to lots of people about what they're trying to achieve with their hybrid conferences. What do you think the two biggest issues are?
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: I was lucky, because I'm coming last, so I had time to think about it. So I would say, one thing is that there are four types of stakeholders for each event. You've got the organizers, the attendees, the presenters, which in some cases are roughly the attendees, and then you've got the exhibitors and sponsors. I think I'm going to concur with Theresa, here, in saying that satisfying exhibitors and sponsors online is really difficult. So that's really one thing is, not only does each society have a different idea what event is going to mean, but then their constituents also have a different idea.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: And then the second thing, I think, in this case, is going to be breaking habits. Everybody has been doing conferences roughly the same way, forever. And really deconstructing what a conference is, to make sure that you take the right elements of online and the right elements of in-person, and you put that together into something that's going to make sense.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: It's going to require a lot of convincing. And I think, at this point, talking to societies, there are some that just say, we're going to go back in-person, we're not interested. Online is hard, everybody hates online, this is not great. This is a small proportion, but there are actually societies that are saying that. Whether it's going to stick, I don't know. And then you've got other societies who are thinking, OK, let's start from scratch.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: What should we do? But then there's the thinking, and then there's the convincing everybody that this is the right thing. And it's a lot of change to swallow in very little time.
SAM BURRELL: There's also a timing issue, there, isn't there, is that I think that-- I mean, I know that I've been thinking about deconstructing conferences and working out what the different elements are, and how you can best meet those needs. And as you say, sometimes that can be done better online than necessarily in person. But if you've got an event that you need to put on next year, and actually, you've got all these stakeholders that you're going to bring along with you, bringing the stakeholders along with you can take you two, three years, before everyone's going, OK, maybe we should try that.
SAM BURRELL: And so there's the practicality of needing to put on an event in 2022, whilst also going, we should be thinking of-- I mean, I guess the question is, is there something here about, suck it and see? In a kind of, actually we need to do an event, so we're not going to be able to pull something together that's perfect by April 2022--
THERESA CROSSLEY: We're definitely trying. We're definitely throwing things into the hat. We're definitely organizing it with the assumption that some things won't work, and that we're just going to see what works, see what people don't like. And that it's OK if some parts are a failure. Yes, we'll just see what happens.
LAURA SAWYER: Same, I mean, our regional hubs that we did this year for the first time, that was by the seat of our pants. Just last minute, threw some money out, got people to give applications, and we were like, OK, you're approved. And whatever regional hub means to you is what it means, because we don't have any rules or best practices. We've never done this before.
LAURA SAWYER: You're inventing it. And several of them did it several different ways. Out of the 12 that we approved only 10 actually happened, because some of them hadn't actually gotten permission from the venue they were going to use before the-- And so there's definitely-- now we're like, OK, now we have-- we did a survey, and so we'll see for next year.
LAURA SAWYER: And I actually said, we have to have a committee that handles these, because it's too much for staff to take on. I mean, one of the big concerns with this is we have six staff, so it's impossible to fully run and fully pay attention to an in-person conference and a virtual conference at the same time. So that's a big concern. I don't want to burn my people out.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: It's double the work, but is it really going to be double the rewards?
LAURA SAWYER: Right.
SAM BURRELL: Well, and there's also the piece, the third piece, there, Violaine, that you were saying, is kind of reinventing it. I mean that takes time as well. So if you've got six people and you're trying to do an event that's online and in-person, and at the same time, you're trying to work out, from first principles, what the best way to do it is, that's a lot of work.
LAURA SAWYER: Yes, and that's been the big challenge for me, with-- I'm very cognizant of what a strain it is, because it is for me, to reinvent our meeting every year. And we have done it a different way the past three years. Whereas, we used to have like, OK, we've got our schedule, we just do the same thing, it's like clockwork. And now we're just constantly reinventing, and this year we're reinventing it again, because it's not totally virtual, it's going to be both.
LAURA SAWYER: And there's so many questions to answer, and you have to rewrite your FAQ, and you have to reprogram scholar one, the submission system, and then you have to talk with your-- with Cadmore about what you're going to do, and what's possible to do, in terms of live streaming and things like that. And just the thinking of that can be very fatigue-inducing for staff.
LAURA SAWYER: And so I'm really cognizant of just trying to give them breaks, too, where we just, no thinking today. Let's just go through our emails. Because it's very taxing, mentally, to constantly be reinventing.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: And I think, I just wanted to add on the practicality of things, because we've been thinking, too, about how to deconstruct a conference. And roughly, I think it's actually very simple. The answer is, content is probably better delivered online, and then it's better to see people in real life than in Zoom. So that principle is easy, but that being said, what you're trying to solve is a situation where some people are not going to be able to come.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: So I think there's friction between what would be good in theory, and what's actually going to happen. And that's why no solution is going to be perfect.
THERESA CROSSLEY: Yes, because I would have said our third most trickiest part is that thing of, we have a social program at our annual scientific meeting, which is easy to figure out, really. But then, do you provide a social program for online, or do you not? Or do you try and incorporate that in some way, so that those people are still getting some of the social elements, and not just the content? But that's even-- we tried for the virtual event, and it was nice that we provided it.
THERESA CROSSLEY: But it wasn't very well attended, because, obviously, you have the distractions of home and other work, and all the things that you have when you're not in a space where that's all you've got to do. Yes, I'm still struggling with the fact that we're going to try and get people to actually do the networking and things of the face-to-face, as well.
LAURA SAWYER: Yes, we had the same experience. We had 3,500 attendees, which was great. But for instance, we did a couple of pub night-- pub quizzes, and we did a few virtual receptions, and there were eight or nine people at each of those things. And that's when everyone is virtual. I mean, if you're going to also have in-person stuff going on, you're going to have two people walking around a Gather.town thing, and it becomes a little sad. And so you want to make sure that everybody has a good experience.
LAURA SAWYER: But the analogy that I used when I was talking to my executive committee was, you can have a Zoom call like this, and have a great conversation, and you can have a great conversation if everybody's sitting in a room. But if five people are sitting in an actual room, and one person is calling in via Zoom, they can't hear what other people are saying, the other people don't include them as much in the conversation.
LAURA SAWYER: So that's just a microcosm of that, writ large, what a hybrid conference is. And so the very existence of either side makes the experience worse for the other side.
THERESA CROSSLEY: Maybe that's one of those things that gets left. Maybe that's one of those things we have to accept isn't going to work with the technology as it is, at the moment.
SAM BURRELL: Well, I think it can. I think some of it happens. I mean, one of the things that I, when I used to go, 800 years ago, when I used to go to conferences in actual person, I was quite noisy on Twitter, because I am-- OK, I periodically am quite noisy on Twitter. And I actually found, even in person, using Twitter as a way to meet people who were interested in the same things as I was, worked really well.
SAM BURRELL: I mean, clearly, it's a self-selecting group. I got to meet the other people who were noisy on Twitter, who were engaged with the same things that I were. But you'd find each other at the reception and go, oh, you're the person who was saying-- So I think, I guess, where I'm going is, I think it would be wrong to write off the idea of doing any kind of networking for online, or as part of an online hybrid, because I think there are ways that can be done.
SAM BURRELL: And actually, I want to pick on Violaine. I said I wasn't going to pick on people. I'm just about to pick on you Violaine, because I know that you've been exposed to a whole bunch of different organizations who are doing all kinds of interesting things. And so I wondered if you could share with us some of the things that you've seen people doing that you thought was interesting.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: What I've experienced is that, actually, you have to think about how to make it better online. So if I'm going to a pub quiz, online it's not fun because there's no beer.
LAURA SAWYER: It's just a quiz.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: The online experience is not going to be as good. But if you think about networking, and the purpose of networking, you can actually organize it. And in that case, what you do is you do actual meet ups and speed networking, and you register for a session where the goal is to meet other people. And then it's better to-- because you don't need to do that weird dance of, you get into Gather.town and you-- it's really weird.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: I don't know if you've done it, but you click on that button and then you just pop in the conversation and you say, hello, and it's just weird. And you have to pretend that you're not there to network, especially the vendor, forget it, but you have to pretend that you're just seemingly moving into the conversation, which just doesn't work.
SAM BURRELL: I'm cringing, it's just-- no.
LAURA SAWYER: I just happen to be a pixelated icon, for fun.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: But if you just-- if you know what you're getting into, and if you're doing one-on-ones, for example, small groups that-- I think that's really important, is to have smaller groups. And you say, all right, there's going to be-- you go into this room and then you introduce yourself. And you talk for five minutes each, and maybe there's an easy way to exchange information. And then you move on to the next thing, where you get in the room to pursue the conversation.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: But I think there needs to be a purpose that's mostly work related, and that's more straightforward than the fake networking that we do at conferences, too, where you pretend that you're not really interested in talking to the person because you might want to work with them. Just being more honest, I guess.
SAM BURRELL: It's fraught. It can be fraught, can't it?
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: Yeah, it's awful, too, in person.
SAM BURRELL: Some of the best networking that I've seen happen in this last couple of years has been, actually, the Zoom calls after a session on an online conference. Because when you do that, the people who come are the ones who have been engaged and interested by what's happened, and you quite often end up with a group of somewhere between-- well, we have-- the ones I've been to have been between 12 and 20 people, which is just about manageable.
SAM BURRELL: And so it's a little bit awkward, but it's also been quite good discussion, in a way that you don't often get in person, because in person, the Q&A after one of those sessions, you have, always, the person at the front who goes, this isn't really--
LAURA SAWYER: More of a comment.
SAM BURRELL: --a question. And everyone in the room is going, oh, man, take the mic away from that person. Whereas if you've got a group of 8, 10, 12, 20 people on Zoom, it somehow feel-- I mean, I guess you need a chair to moderate it a bit, but you're more likely to get a discussion between people who are interested in following up on some of the stuff. Whereas those big rooms with lots of people in, somehow don't always work as well.
SAM BURRELL: So I think, Violaine, you've got a really good point there, about being very explicit about what you're trying to do, and it takes some of the awkwardness away of either, trying to do socializing online in a slightly weird, cringey fashion, or indeed, socializing in real life, sometimes in a slightly cringey, awkward fashion. Laura, I wanted to pick up-- I'm just keeping an eye on the time because we could talk about this all day long.
SAM BURRELL: One of the things you picked up at the beginning, which I thought was really interesting, was about the financial sustainability of looking at hybrid. Because there's another side here, isn't there, that goes, we could invent the most amazing, wonderful hybrid, all singing, all dancing, bells and whistles, does everything, conference.
SAM BURRELL: Because we've got this bottomless pit of money that we can spend on it. So I guess there's something there around what-- what do I actually want to ask is, what have you prioritized, and how significant has that been in your decision making?
LAURA SAWYER: I mean, so far we have not prioritized the money. We've prioritized the experience and the inclusion and the accessibility, but that is not sustainable, year after year after year. I mean, you have to, at some point-- you have to, at some point, recover, from COVID and everything that has happened. I mean, thank God we have reserves, so we're not concerned about going out of business imminently, but it's also a real concern, because our conference has been the crown jewel of our budget.
LAURA SAWYER: It brings in the money, and it's getting to where publications, our journals, don't bring in as much money. And that whole model is changing with open access coming in. So it used to be that our journals brought in all the money, and the conference just broke even, and that's flipped in the past five years. And now it's going to flip again, or it has already flipped during COVID.
LAURA SAWYER: So for us it's difficult, because we also have a situation where I've gotten word from some of our members that they've said to the people who hold the purse strings at their universities, "By the way, just heads up, I'm going to ICA and it's in Paris this year, so it might be a little more expensive than usual. Blah, blah, blah." Although we got a great room rate, but just -- Paris, like, a croissant is more expensive -- and they've been told, "well, is there a virtual option?"
LAURA SAWYER: And if they say, "Yes, it's a hybrid conference", their university has said, "Well, we're not paying for you to go. We won't pay for your hotel, we won't pay for your flight. We will only pay for your registration for the virtual option." And so we have to be careful to think about the money from the members' perspective, as well, because we don't want to hamstring our own members by having this super cheap virtual conference that's $50, and then the in-person conference is $400, because then they won't be able to come.
LAURA SAWYER: The people who have told me this are actually very hotly tenured professors. They're not people who are precariously funded, historically. So that's a real problem, and one that we're trying to work out. And for us it actually-- people staying home harms the association greatly. Because you end up, not only-- even if you charged the same thing for registration, people staying home means you are paying attrition to the hotel, you're not meeting your contracted-- because we sign these four or five years in advance-- you're not meeting your contracted hotel obligations for how many sleeping rooms you're going to fill.
LAURA SAWYER: And then, if you don't fill those sleeping rooms, not only are you paying attrition, but you are also not getting free meeting space. Because that's usually how it works if you're in a hotel. You book all these rooms for sleeping rooms, and then you get free meeting space. And so then, you're paying out the nose for meeting space, as well. So people are like, oh, well, but virtual is cheaper because you're not feeding us.
LAURA SAWYER: But that's not actually true, and virtual platforms are not free, either, so it ends up compounding the problem. We're just trying to thread that needle to where we are being as accessible and inclusionary as possible, while at the same time not bankrupting the organization. So we're just being very careful about what we promise.
THERESA CROSSLEY: We've definitely had conversations around, how do you make it so that virtual delegates get a really good experience, but people still want to, and have a reason to, be face-to-face, and can justify that reason to the people paying, and all those sorts of things. You need to make the face-to-face better, but not so much better that the virtual delegates lose out, and that's a really hard balance, I think. And also, I think that we just don't know-- it's going to take those few years, isn't it, to figure out who is going to stay away, and just stay with virtual, and who is going to come face-to-face.
THERESA CROSSLEY: And we've got exactly that problem with our conference next year, in that we've got a big venue, but we've no idea how many people are going to turn up. Or how many people are going to be able to turn up with the situation that it is. So then you have to have all these-- you talk about reinventing, you've got to reinvent about four different conferences for each year, because we don't know whether we're going to be able to fill an auditorium, or whether we want half an auditorium, or actually, everyone's going to fit into the store room round the back.
THERESA CROSSLEY: You don't want it to feel big and empty if you don't have as many people, face-to-face, as you thought, but you've got to have space for people if they do turn up. And trying to figure out all these different models of how you're actually going to fit a completely unknown number of people into a space.
LAURA SAWYER: Yes, and it is interesting, because we had lots of people clamoring for-- when Greta Thunberg was at the height of talking about climate change, we had a lot of members who were clamoring for, "we need a virtual option, we need virtual option. " But now, since we've been forced into virtual, people are like, "this sucks." I mean, it does, it's not as good-- no matter how good a virtual conference is, it's not going to be as good as being there in person.
LAURA SAWYER: And so they're like, "You guys did a great job but we never want to do this again." And so the people who are going to stay home are the people who have to, I think, for health reasons or budget or whatever, or just the inability to be mobile in some way. And so you want to give them-- I think for us, as Violaine was saying, you want to increase the reason to go face-to-face.
LAURA SAWYER: And what can you do? And so, actually, what we have decided-- and again, we're just making it up as we go along, is to have this flipped classroom model, where the virtual people are going to get everything they got this year for ICA '21, which is prerecorded. And even if you're coming in person, you still have to prerecord your video and proofread your transcript.
LAURA SAWYER: We just decided this on Thursday, Violaine, so we haven't had a call with you since then, but hey, surprise. And so it'll be, basically, the exact same thing we did this year that was totally virtual, but then, in addition-- but then, when you come in person, the conference then transforms from being the old-school conference where everybody stands at a podium and does their one directional speech.
LAURA SAWYER: And then somebody says, "this is more of a comment than a question", and there's five minutes for people to be, like, "here's my question" and then, on the fly, the author answers one question each, because there's four people on the panel, and it's a 15 minute Q&A. That's not a deep, enriching interaction, right? And so we're reinventing that, and saying, now, we're going to get-- we have 33 different divisions, so we'll give planners the option.
LAURA SAWYER: If they want to do old-school, that's totally fine, but we are saying, "we encourage you to think outside the box." God, I hate that term. I can't believe I just said that. We're going to synergize. Corporate speak. When you get there, you actually are coming into a session where, maybe 5 to 10 authors who had similar types of papers that you've already watched on video, because those came out three weeks before the conference.
LAURA SAWYER: You come in and you have an actual conversation. Like, 20 people are having an actual fishbowl-type conversation, and you're actually networking, and you're finding future collaborators. And so if we can provide that more enriched experience in person, then that's the answer, right? And that does what Violaine said, which is finding the crux of what's best about each thing and highlighting that.
SAM BURRELL: And it increases the value proposition, as well, so that, in fact, those people who have to make the case to their employers about why they should be spending more on going to the in-person, it's because when you go to the in-person you get these things that, with the best will in the world, you cannot get online. Because I think that's the issue, isn't it? I mean, even when you take into account the climate change angle, is that, there's a lot about in-person meetings that are not necessarily desirable, right?
SAM BURRELL: There's a lot of stuff that doesn't have to be done that way, but there's some stuff that, frankly, face-to-face is the best way to achieve it. And, Violaine, it was the point you made at the beginning, is that you want to distill it down to those elements that really deliver bang for the buck that you do in person.
LAURA SAWYER: Yeah, and I think one thing we need-- one thing we need to do is-- one thing that's on my to do list is writing the paragraph for people that's like, here's how you explain this to your University about why you need to go in person, if you want to go in person. And here's how you explain this other choice. I think our members-- I talked about staff being burned out, I think our members are burned out, too.
LAURA SAWYER: We're not their only conference, and so they're just doing these online conferences over and over again. Every week it's something else. I see my members tagging other-- this week, I'm at AIR, this week I'm at NCA. And they're exhausted, because they're not actually going on these trips and checking out, and having a beer in the hotel lobby and going out to dinner by the sea. They're at home and their kids are still talking to them, and asking to use the printer, right?
LAURA SAWYER: And their universities aren't giving them time off to do it, either, so they're still teaching their classes, or taking the classes if they're students. And so everybody's just completely burned out, I think, and so yes, you have to do some of the thinking for them, to-- I want to make it as easy and stress free as possible, for all of our attendees to decide what they want to decide, and then just operationalize it.
SAM BURRELL: I'm going to-- I'm just aware of the time, probably need to start wrapping it up. So one of my favorite-- I'm just going to give you one example and ask you guys to comment on this. It's one of my favorite ones, one of our clients. We had a long conversation with them about how they were going to manage their next event, which should have been a hybrid event, and we talked about all the pros and cons, and what it was they were trying to achieve.
SAM BURRELL: And it was a lot about the social stuff, and they have a really good party, and it's really important. They have lots of early career researchers who get to go, who are funded by the society, and it's really important for them to meet all of the bigwigs. And it's cross-disciplinary, blah, blah, and really important. But the online thing that they did this year was so successful.
SAM BURRELL: They got so many more people coming than they normally get. They had a real sense of realizing that their potential community was much bigger than they had appreciated, and that there was this pent up demand from their community to have access to the kind of content that is in their conference. And with them, we worked through some various options, and they've concluded that they're going to do an online conference every other year, and an in-person conference in the middle.
SAM BURRELL: And they're not going to try and do hybrid, because they think the two things are completely different, and they deliver different things. And so, Theresa, I know we talked about the difficulty of all of the different segments of people that you're trying to keep happy within a hybrid conference. So that's how they've resolved it. Now, it doesn't resolve the sponsors and exhibitors questions for the online part, for example, because that's still a big issue, but it solves some of the problems that they've come around to.
SAM BURRELL: So I guess I just wanted to have a quick whip round, and a, kind of, how do you think hybrid's going to roll out over the next five years? Do you think we're still going to be doing hybrid in five years' time, or do you think we might have moved to something different by then? I'm going to finish with you, Violaine, because you've seen so much more than everybody else. So I'm going to start with Laura, again.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: Thank you.
LAURA SAWYER: So I work with a company called Experient/Maritz on hotel contracting. So they have actually found-- I just had this conversation on Friday with Elisa Stewart, who is my person there, and she was saying they've actually found that, the field, as a whole, like, conferencing associations, that people are only finding 10% pick up on an actual people wanting to do hybrid stuff.
LAURA SAWYER: And then, I think, a lot more people are craving the old way, as you said. That they're just like, "I'm just going back to the way it was before, because that worked." And so I think, I mean, I imagine that in the next-- like, this coming year, May 2022, and then maybe the year after that, we'll definitely be hybrid, and then we'll see how many people are actually using that and engaging with it.
LAURA SAWYER: I think we can't decide too far in advance about that stuff. Because so much changes in the world, right, like global warming and stuff like that. So it's difficult, too, because we actually contract five to six years in advance. So we could not switch on a dime, and just go every other year, at this point. Though I do find that very attractive, to just do one thing at a time.
LAURA SAWYER: No multitasking. That would burn my people out less. My concerns with that, though, are the loss of momentum for certain people, if they're only coming every other year do they really-- I mean, our people know, every May, June, there's an ICA, and they look forward to it, they put it on their calendar, and they're loyal to us. And if we were only every other year, would those loyalties be pulled elsewhere?
LAURA SAWYER: I think we could only really do that if everyone in our sector was also doing that. All the communication associations, AEJMC, IMCR, NCA, if they were all doing every other year, maybe, but if this organization is going to provide you an every single year, steady thing, you're going to be more loyal to them. That would be my concern.
SAM BURRELL: Theresa?
THERESA CROSSLEY: Yes, I think I agree with all of that. I also think that, for our audience, I think that having it every other year would probably just segregate those two audiences. So we would end up with an international audience for virtual, and I don't think any of our UK-based clinicians or scientists or whoever, would watch much of it live every other year from a virtual conference. They'd watch it on demand later on, but you wouldn't have any engagement.
THERESA CROSSLEY: They wouldn't be at the Q&A and all those sorts of things. So I think you would then just be providing two different audiences, two different events, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but probably not what we will go for. I think, for the next couple of years, we are probably going to try the bells and whistles approach, and throw a lot of things at the wall and see what sticks.
THERESA CROSSLEY: And even if that streamlines down to a more traditional face-to-face conference, but with more prerecorded lectures so you don't have to have everyone sat in the lecture room, and then also-- I forgot what I was going to say. Yes, just making the virtual offering probably a little more streamlined. So, perhaps just the prerecorded lectures, plus some Q&A opportunities and maybe-- not put less effort in, that sounds very bad, but just streamline the virtual event to suit the audience that's there, but it is a much smaller audience.
THERESA CROSSLEY: So I would imagine that our members-- I think they like to go, and because most of them are UK-based it's slightly less of the energy usage issue. And they are absolutely burned out, as well. They're all health care practitioners, and they are on their knees at the moment. And I think the need to be in a room and have a drink or a meal with some colleagues who understand what they've been through, is really important.
THERESA CROSSLEY: And I don't think that's going to go away. So I think, yes, I think it will always be a mixture, now, but I think that the online part of it will shift and change to settle down into a more streamlined approach.
SAM BURRELL: Violaine?
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: So yes, I do think it's going to stay hybrid. I think it's going to-- honestly, it reminds me a little bit of where accessibility was a few years ago, where it was something that societies were thinking of maybe doing. They knew it was coming, but they were shoving it aside, and now we're seeing a lot more interest in making sure that they follow accessible practices. And I think it's going to be socially unacceptable not to have a virtual option for many conferences.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: It's just going to have to be something that you do. Now, how much effort you're going to put into making that a good experience is a different story. I also think that, coming out of the pandemic, we all want to go party forever, every day. When they opened restaurants in France, I went to the restaurant for lunch and dinner for two weeks, because we had been closed since October. And I'm like, you know what, I'm just going to cook tonight, because it's nice to.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: And I think there's going to be, like-- the pendulum is going to go this way and then it's going to come back. And people are also going to realize, well, actually, you know what, flying this much isn't great for the environment, for my health, for my well-being. What I do think may happen is that events split, so that, instead of having things that-- I think people who are trying to do everything at once, they're going to get burned out.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: So if they try to do a concurrent hybrid and virtual, that doesn't seem very sustainable to me, whether it's financially or just for members. Because if you do that, there's always one conference that's going to be better than the other, and then you have, maybe, one-- you've got staff who can do one, but not both, et cetera. So I think, maybe, down the line you could have things like, OK, imagine you could have all your presentations published on a regular basis, like video preprints.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: You would just publish them-- I know we've talked about this before, Sam. But you could just publish the presentations on an ongoing basis, and then the conference is all about discussing the latest research and doing the networking, like Laura was saying. So you could have new models, but-- Oh, I wanted to-- one last thing, I think it's going to depend on the discipline, too.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: We're finding a lot of difference between the different disciplines. And, for example, the ICA is probably more international, and also more open to new things. And engineers, for example, want to go back in-person, in the same way that they were doing it before. So you're going to have a spectrum, I think, for the foreseeable future, which puts us, as a small vendor, in a great position because nobody knows what they're doing.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: So that means we can be agile and follow.
LAURA SAWYER: Come with me. Let me help you.
VIOLAINE IGLESIAS: No, it's true, you have to be.
SAM BURRELL: Guys, I'm going to have to wrap this up because we've been talking for ages now. It's been so much fun. Thank you so much for your time, we really, really appreciate it. And for those of you listening, I'm sure you've got millions of questions. But, happily, we are going to be having a Zoom call after the session, so I hope some of you will be joining us there to talk to us more about some of this stuff.
SAM BURRELL: So thanks so much for your time, everybody. Thank you, Violaine and Theresa and Laura, and thank you to you guys who are listening. And we will speak again soon, I hope.