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It’s a story we’ve heard all too often this past year — COVID-19 causes an event to be canceled or postponed.
After its wildly popular World Education Congress (WEC) event was postponed from June, Meeting Professionals International (MPI) set out to boldly host a four-day hybrid event with no pre-recorded content and an online experience that matched or beat its physical counterpart.
MPI leaned on Freeman to help bring this vision to life and stick to its mantra, “we take risks so you don’t have to.” Their bold approach paid off. Here are four actionable ideas that worked for WEC and could work for your event, too.
From the start, MPI wanted to create a new type of event for the industry: a broadcast experience that focused on directly engaging the digital audience while offering the live audience something special.
So how exactly did MPI WEC bring that broadcast vibe to life?
The in-person audience was treated to a VIP studio experience that was filmed just like a broadcast show. Emcee Deena Blizzard completely understood the vision for the broadcast. Because of her virtual presence and following, Blizzard intrinsically knew how to connect with the audience at home by working the camera, chatting with digital attendees from around the world, and digging into the interactive chat. She provided a great connection point between the two audiences, kept the energy high, and lent a bit of levity to the program.
For added engagement, much of the broadcasting technology was featured in the ballroom versus backstage to give attendees an up-close look at how it all came together. On top of that, a broadcast desk was also set up in the common space area — this desk served as a way to tie the keynotes and education together, host 1:1 interviews, dive deeper into the design of the event itself, and cover COVID-19 protocols for viewers.
The digital audience tuned in via the Freeman OnlineEvent Pro™ platform and a two-picture feed: the live, in-studio broadcast along with a stream of any graphics displayed.
TAKEAWAY TIP: Don’t be afraid to try new tactics and shake up your strategy when it comes to both digital and live audiences. What works for one may not work for both, so creativity is key (and technology helps!).
The vision was to break down the barriers between the live event and digital event, so that everyone saw the same thing and ensure that the digital audience did not feel like they were missing out.
However, rather than streaming every single part of the event to the digital audience, the focus was on creating some shared moments — keynotes, for example, were live streamed from the venue, but included exclusive post-event interviews for the digital audience from studios built on-site at the event. Digital participants also received a devoted agenda designed just for their virtual experience.
Each audience had completely separate education, allowing the presenters to focus on delivering the best content to the intended audience, as well as for the digital audience to respond and interact with each other.
There were broadcast updates throughout the day as well as time for fun: musical performances, at-home exercise classes, digital networking, and more. Digital attendees also had the option of turning on their webcams to participate in the Fan Cam experience. During keynotes and awards, these attendees would be featured on the big screen to clap, wave, and participate live.
TAKEAWAY TIP: It’s okay that your two audiences have slightly different experiences — it creates an opportunity for you to think outside the conference space and find new ways to engage that keeps up interest, energy, and interaction.
MPI should be applauded for excellent pre-event communication. They went above and beyond to ensure that both sets of audiences knew what to expect and were prepped and ready for an excellent few days of connection and learning.
One week prior to the event, on-site registrants received a “know before you go” email with information about the check-in process, weather, attire, event schedule, conference app info, transportation details, safety precautions being put in place, and how to make the most of their time at the event. Even though these attendees were very familiar with in-person events, it was important to the MPI team that information was abundant, and they could proactively ease any uncertainty or fear.
MPI also wanted to prepare in-person attendees to be as health-conscious and careful as possible, sending a pre-registration kit that featured a branded mask, badge, hand sanitizer, wipes, and duty of care documentation.
Virtual attendees also got a detailed rundown so they were familiar with the event platform, knew what they could expect from the experience, and understood how to stay engaged throughout the multi-day event.
MPI also started communicating the “Reunite for Recovery” messaging about the hybrid event in June, four months before the event took place, to build excitement and increase registration leading up to the event.
Even a special message from emcee Deena Blizzard was shared to get participants pumped up.
TAKEAWAY TIP: Preparing your attendees ahead of time with everything they need, from important information to key health and safety gear, makes sure that everyone is on the same page when the event begins. Communicating upfront creates a smooth attendee experience, no matter if they’re in person or online.
MPI had a number of protocols in place to ensure a safe in-person event. It published its duty of care safety protocols in advance of the event to keep all attendees aware of what to expect. These included:
Additionally, InHouse Physicians, a global provider of integrative medicine and employee health solutions, provided an on-site clinic and offered rapid-response coronavirus tests upon request.
MPI, in a display of absolute transparency, also published a post-WEC COVID-19 report.
TAKEAWAY TIP: Prepare for a safe event by putting protocols in place well ahead of the event and communicating them transparently to your attendees. Having resources and health-focused amenities at your event will create peace of mind.
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