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Hybrid events… in case you needed a reason

February 6, 2013

About ten years ago, I was working at a hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when I got the call from the keynote speaker… his flight was canceled and he wouldn’t be able to attend the conference. Our banquet captain at that time came up with the plan for us to do the presentation via speaker phone, and we advanced the PowerPoint slides for the speaker. I can’t say that it was a great success (the sound in particular was pretty bad), but it was better than the alternative: no keynote. Fortunately, we now have much better (and often affordable) options available to us today to bring in speakers virtually from pretty much anywhere with an internet connection. For a great example of this, see Adrian Segar’s post on bringing a keynote in via Google Hangouts.

Flight Cancellations and Delays: The Numbers

So how bad is the situation? It’s easy to point to major climate events such as October’s Hurricane Sandy that grounded over 17,000 flights, but what about the average day? In examining the data from for the past 30 days, the numbers are really astounding and signal the importance of having alternative arrangements in place.


Note: these numbers are estimates. They were generated in the late afternoon Pacific time zone and may have changed by the end of the day. Also, global data is not signficantly higher than the combined numbers for the three identified regions, so there may be flights from other regions that are not included in the data.

How Do Hybrid Meetings Help?

Hybrid meetings combine live and virtual meeting elements. They enable a live meeting or event to include a virtual audience or even virtual speakers. For me, the most effective ones also allow for real time, two-way interaction between the live and virtual communities, often through the use of social media. Hybrid meetings can help to mitigate the impact of flight delays or cancellations that result in speakers or attendees being unable to attend in person by providing an alternate way of participating.

How To Prepare

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for a speaker being unable to attend your event due to flight cancellations, delays or other unforeseen circumstances:

  1. Select your platform in advance: Whether you are using one of the free services such as Skype or Google Hangouts, or partnering with one of our industry’s great event technology companies, have a platform selected in advance. Collect account information for your presenters in advance so that you can easily and quickly connect with them.
  2. Check your bandwidth capabilities: Not all venues will have the bandwidth needed to live stream a presentation. To determine this, I recommend the Convention Industry Council’s free and easy bandwidth estimator.
  3. Train your speakers: Provide your speakers with an orientation prior to your event. This is a great opportunity to discuss the needs of your specific audience so that the presentations can be tailored to them. Ideally, offer these orientations using the platform that you would use to bring them in virtually if the need arose and review the backup plan with them.
  4. Know where to go: Many airport lounges will have quiet areas or small private rooms where presenters can go to do deliver their presentations. Have a list on hand of where to go for the major hub airports for your destination.
  5. Pre-load your presentations: Ask your presenters to send you a copy of their presentations in advance so that these can be pre-loaded on your platform.
  6. Have a live facilitator: Have someone designated in advance to be a live facilitator for a virtual speaker. This person will be responsible not only for onsite logistics, but also for engaging both your live and virtual audiences and facilitating communication amongst them and with your speaker.
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