Our Worx Group Managing Director, Jessica MacRoberts, shares her thoughts on hosting a simulcast conference.
I recently took my team leaders, Gerrit and Peaches, to the Leadercast 2018 Lead Yourself Conference. It’s the world’s largest one-day leadership event, but it’s completely simulcast each time it happens, which means that 100,000 attendees can participate at over 700 locations in 20 countries, all tuning into the same feed of content no matter where they are. 2018 marked the 18th year of the annual event, and simulcasting has changed the way that people are able to ‘attend’ events like this – after all, thousands more guests benefitted from the experience than the mere 150 that the venue was able to physically hold in Atlanta. Just another example of how Tech is affecting the events industry.
This increased accessibility means that simulcast conferences are undeniably growing, with big hitters like SWSX simulcasting some of their sessions, and even South Africa’s own Design Indaba having a heavy simulcast element. With so many examples around, attending Leadercast 2018 got me thinking about the benefits of this type of knowledge dissemination event.
Hosting a simulcast conference has definite cost saving implications for organisers: you’re able to maximise on selling tickets to a single event without space or safety constraints; you only have to pay single speaker fees; and you can even get international speakers without having to factor in costs like travel and accommodation. But, how do you ensure that this type of conference provides just as much value for the attendees as it would if they were all sitting in the same room?
We live in an increasingly digital world where we are becoming programmed to do other things while we watch television: A news channel will have ticker tapes and different feeds throughout their programming, and we’re all constantly connected to Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Candy Crush… we no longer just sit and watch TV. So, how do you create a conference that prevents people at a simulcast event from just behaving the way they do when they’re sitting in front of a screen at home? Conversely, people are generally more polite in person, and we find, far less likely to just be absorbed by their phones when they’re at a live conference with a live speaker than if they were just watching a screen. So, the challenge is, how do you host a conference which is purely screened and has no live interaction, but ensure that this programming doesn’t just click in and the whole audience gets lost in their devices?
It’s a tough conundrum, but my basic suggestions would be the following:
- Ensure that your speakers are engaging and captivating – this is even more important than it’s ever been at traditional live conferences.
- Their content also needs to be short and sharp so that they can deliver their message before anyone is tempted by their devices.
- Be weary of the room feeling too much like someone’s living room. Even though you need people to see the screens, don’t let the room be too dark, and although your guests should be comfortable, don’t let them be so comfortable that it’s hard for them to stay awake.
There’s another big question that comes into play when organising a simulcast conference. If guests are going to consume everything from a stream, I believe that you need to make it worthwhile for them to go through to a venue to watch it (as opposed to watching online from the comfort of their home or office, which would assumedly result in a cheaper ticket because the overheads would be even less for the organisers.) For a truly successful conference, you still need to create experiences and enable connections, and doing this while guests are sitting at home isn’t easy. To this end, my advice to conference organisers would be that you need to ensure that there are valuable experiences for the audience at the simulcast venue. Can you perhaps include some live local speakers among the streamed content, or a live MC to pull the day together? Are there any out of the ordinary experiences that you can create beyond a standard conference venue seating plan, menu, or set up? And is there value in the networking that the guests do, and if so, is there an innovative way that you can enable and encourage this? Watching a simulcast from home or work and not getting distracted takes a lot more self-discipline, so you’re likely to find that guests will actually be happier to have a specific venue to come to in order to get the most out of a conference, but put some thought into the additional experience value you can create here.
Simulcast conferences can be hugely beneficial to all involved and, when planned properly and thoughtfully, increasingly digital doesn’t have to mean decreasingly impactful.