How Seamless Events Helped Me Pull Off a Hybrid Meeting
A Guest Blog Post by Jim Plymale, Vistage Chair
As a chair of two Vistage peer advisory groups, I have one measure of my success: setting up and facilitating meetings that deliver value to my group members. Meetings are notoriously hard to do well during the best of conditions. We ask our members to set aside an entire day to work on their business rather than in their business. As a former member of Vistage, I know there is NEVER a good time to take an entire day away from your business, and I know from personal experience that if my members don’t consistently walk away from those meetings having received extreme value, they won’t continue their membership.
That brings us to the current moment. Ever since March, our meetings have moved from in-person meetings held at our member’s businesses to virtual meetings held over Zoom. In most typical “in-person” Vistage meetings, there is a mix of outside speakers who try to have interaction with members to keep them engaged. In the COVID-19 era, achieving that level of interaction in a virtual “Hollywood squares” meeting room with 12 – 15 attendees has been challenging. Nonetheless, that’s what we have to do. The main takeaway from that experience is that we see less participation and engagement than we would in an in-person meeting. As we strung together 5 months of these virtual meetings piled on top of the countless video conference meetings all of our members were attending, we reached the point of “Zoom fatigue”.
The Challenge of Holding Events During COVID
In response, my members were begging me to find another way for us to safely meet in-person. We used our most conservative member’s safety concerns as our benchmark. Ultimately, we decided to have the meeting outdoors with enough space for social distancing. Some additional challenges were (1) a speaker was unable to travel to join us in person (2) three attendees who needed to join us remotely: one from a nearby city, one from Montana and one from Spain and (3) an in-person speaker presenting concurrently to the in-person and remote audience. Beyond the presentations, my members get great value out of interacting with the speakers and each other – not just a question and answer session but a chance to have conversation. It was a daunting challenge, and I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t losing sleep about how to pull it off.
Introducing the Hybrid Event
Fortunately for me, Laurel Miller is one of the members of my group. Laurel is the CEO of Seamless Event Solutions. She immediately understood the challenge we were facing. For over 20 years, Seamless Events has been solving the audio visual and production challenges of event managers who are dealing with the same problem that I was facing (but on a much larger scale and with more at stake). She explained that this type of “hybrid event”, where you have both an in-person audience and a virtual audience, is quickly becoming the new normal in the event industry. Laurel and her team knew every challenge I was about to face, and they stepped in just as I was about to reach my limit of sleep deprivation.
I really had no idea how much planning and experience is required to successfully conduct this type of meeting. Laurel and her team went on site to the meeting venue and helped me understand exactly what needed to be done in order for our attendees to maintain social distance and still be able to see, hear and interact with our virtual speaker. They “seamlessly” handled the technical aspects of the event – monitors, speakers, microphones and cameras. I was most impressed by the thought they gave to the human interface with the equipment – thinking through where monitors, microphones and cameras should be positioned so that everyone could have the high-quality experience we expected to deliver.
It was an all-around excellent experience. Seamless Events made sure every phase of the meeting went off without a hitch. The net result was a very delighted group of meeting attendees who were able to rebuild those personal connections that have been so missed and, at the same time, get a respite from their Zoom fatigue. It was also a great experience for me. I was able to focus on facilitating the meeting rather than dealing with the technical issues that could have easily derailed the whole experience for my members. And, I learned what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a Seamless Event.
My advice to anyone who really cares about the quality of your meeting attendees experience is this: don’t leave it to chance – let the experts do what they do, so that you can do what you do. Your attendees will thank you for it.