Engagement graph for meetings and events

I saw a woman crying on TV. She was moved by seeing a pack of wolfs from a helicopter above a snow landscape in the Yellowstone National Park. I was not moved by watching the same pack of wolves from her helicopter on my TV screen. It was beautiful and impressive to see, but no tears, not even excitement. You may recognize this. It demonstrates the difference between ‘being there’ and experiencing it LIVE versus being remote and watching a recording, LATER, on a screen. A few years ago, I was moved when I saw a few coyotes in the middle of a large flat golf course in Phoenix Arizona. These wild animals were rather far away but I was there myself. It happened then and there and it moved me.
A few weeks before I saw the wolf pack on TV, I was watching a live Multi-City Meeting from a client on a topic I don’t know anything about. Despite my ignorance on the topic, and despite the fact I was only watching it, alone and on my laptop, I noticed that I was excited. I was moved by these people fiercely discussing their topics, although they were in different countries. I felt more impressed with the dynamics of this meeting than with seeing the wolf pack on TV. I noticed that I felt more connected with this meeting than when I watched a recording of a similar meeting. This is the difference between LIVE and Later (watching with a delay aka ‘on demand’).
If I would be connected Live / real time with the helicopter searching for a pack of wolves, I would be much more excited than I was now ‘just’ watching the recording. 
So there are two key dimensions to the experience of things and the level of engagement in events. These dimensions are relevant to meetings and how we do the virtual/remote component of hybrid meetings.
These dimensions are Time and Place and I have combined them here in the engagement graph.
It is obvious that ‘seeing it live’ is more engaging than ‘seeing it later’ and that ‘being on site’ is more engaging than being on-line. The most engaging being on site at a live event. This is the ‘natural way’ of experiencing an event. Until a few decades ago ‘live and on-site’ was the ONLY way humans ever experienced events; for many thousands of years… 
The least engaging is to watch a recording of an event or presentation after is happened: ‘on-line and later’. It is not possible to express and compare the exact value of each way of ‘consuming’ an event, but it is safe to say that there is a significant difference. And on that value scale there are many ‘formats of consumption’ that each have their own position on this scale. See graph II. It is clear that watching a live webcast behind your laptop is more engaging than watching a recording later but Less engaging than watching it live in a group.
The FRESH17 Multi-City conference and other engagement factors
When we look at the FRESH 17 conference that went Multi-City, there are a few key elements at play that make a Multi-Hub event the format closest to a live event on the engagement scale.
TIME: It is LIVE at all times.
PLACE: Participants are both on-site with their own speakers and on-line when speakers are presenting from another hub.
  • As speakers are distributed among all hubs, each hub becomes a live event for at least part of the time.
  • As each hub has a group of people that are in one place the feeling of being there is high.



OTHER factors:
Technical components play a part too. They have to do with the intensity of the connection. 
Visual: If you see all sites permanently with multiple cameras that are operated this gives a higher level of connection than with less visual support. 
I see everyone and everyone sees me.
Sound: if all participants can speak at any time and a microphone is within arms reach so they will be heard by all this feels more empowered than when you need to ask permission and wait for a microphone or even worse, have no means to speak at all. 
I hear everyone and everyone hears me.
Format: Group size at each hub and the number of hubs also influence engagement, more people and more hubs lead to less engagement and less and smaller hubs lead to more engagement. Empowerment: When all hubs are equal, have a speaker, a panelist and equal technical support participants are more engaged.
Classical engagers: All ‘classical engagement improvers’ become even more important in a multi Hub environment. When we distribute 10 presentations evenly over 5 hubs, still, every participant gets 4/5th of all presentations via the video connection and only 1/5th is on-site, in the participant’s space. This means the balance between presenting and Small Group Activity becomes even more important. No speaker should speak for more than 10 minutes before switching to a discussion moment followed by feedback. (just to give one example of Small group activity). It is also proportionately more important to have good slides and dynamic speakers.

LIST: ENGAGEMENT factors in Multi Hub meetings


There are many factors that can make the consumption of an event or a meeting more or less engaging. If we agree that having engaged participants is generating more ROI (though learning etc.) it is well worth paying attention to it. We need to realize that on-line and later consumption will never replace on-site and live experience. So only if they come at an acceptable cost and a good quality they will add value to the events we organize.

This article was written by Maarten Vanneste.

Maarten Vanneste has been active in the Meetings Industry since 1982 when he founded his company ABBIT. His background is Meeting Design, Production, AV and Technology. As the author of the bestseller book ‘Meeting Architecture, a manifesto’ (2008) he was the founder of a movement developing education for the disciplines around meeting design. 


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