How should we be defining the different types of online events? I talk a lot about “amplified” events, but many conference producers will use the word “hybrid” instead. Often we are describing essentially the same set of activities, whilst at other times the term hybrid is used to describe a running and virtual and a traditional event on the same topic concurrently.
I have been pondering this for some time. Is it just a case of two competing terms trying to occupy the middle ground between traditional and fully virtual events or are there differences that need to be teased out?
In an attempt to answer this question, I present my first draft suggested definitions for amplified, hybrid and virtual events, which I hereby open up for discussion. I must stress that my intention here is to keep the definitions simple and high level, without getting into the techniques and tools currently in use.
An amplified event is a traditional event with an online presence on the side. This may be supported by the event organiser or driven by the audience themselves. The emphasis is on spreading key messages and conference resources through social and professional networks to generate greater awareness of an event and encourage online discussion about the issues raised. This activity increases the impact of an event across time and space without fundamentally changing the live experience.
The event itself is really designed for an audience that is physically present, with the online dimension as an optional extra for those who wish to engage in this way.
A hybrid event is designed from the outset to involve two audiences: physical and remote. The programme is developed so there are opportunities for direct interaction in all aspects of the event for both of these audiences. This could include dedicated breakout sessions for online delegates or a complete programme of fully integrated sessions. There may also be a mixture of physically present and remote speakers.
The online and physical audiences are both actively engaged with each other and the conference experience is designed to favour both equally.
A virtual event exists entirely online and does not represent any physical gathering of people. Small groups of delegates may choose to experience the event together in person, but the majority are expected to participate in the event from their own computer terminals.
The programme for a virtual event will reflect the variety of settings, distractions and technical skills affecting audience members and will normally be coordinated within a specially designed online space.
An Online Event Spectrum
Whilst writing these definitions, I was aware that there is actually a degree of overlap between each of these types of online events. One of the roles I often play at an amplified event is what Andy Powell recently termed a “virtual chairperson” part of which involves being an advocate for the online audience in the conference room by relaying their questions to the speaker. Does bringing the online audience’s voice into the room in this way make the event a hybrid? I would argue not, as any member of the physical audience could bring along questions from colleagues to relay in their absence. The nature of the event has not been changed.
However, this could raise the case for a spectrum, rather than a series of distinct definitions. In many ways, I think this would make things easier for traditional conference producer, who may want to dip a toe in the water, but do not necessarily want to overhaul their models of working. Amplifying a normal event may be a good introduction to creating increasingly more hybrid and then fully virtual events in the future, effectively preparing less technically orientated audiences (and conference producers!) for the possibilities of online events.
Amplification For All
It could be argued that both hybrid and virtual events can also be amplified events, as amplification is simply a mechanism for spreading the key messages and resources from an event using social networks. This supports the need for separate definitions, as if hybrid event can be amplified, it must be intrinsically different in some way from a standard event which is amplified.
It will remain important for hybrid and virtual event producers to be aware of amplification as a principle for growing an audience and disseminating information – which, after all, is what a conference is all about…