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Overcoming the challenges of hybrid congresses


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Mark Carden believes hybrid events are important to continue the inclusivity of online events while ensuring conversations from physical events are not lost.
  • He estimates that a good hybrid conference costs nearly twice as much as a purely physical or online event.

Conferences had to adapt rapidly to COVID-19 travel restrictions, with hybrid meetings now mainstream as we return to post-pandemic life. This has resulted in increased attendance and diversity at medical congresses, however, it may come with a substantial cost.

Mark Carden, director of the Researcher to Reader (R2R) conference, summarised his learnings from running and designing pandemic-era meetings in a recent guest post on The Scholarly Kitchen. He found that, although online webinars are easy and cheap to organise and attend, many delegates miss the engagement, interactivity, and conversation provided by physical events. Some hybrid events do attempt to stimulate conversation, but good interactivity is typically difficult and expensive to implement. Recouping the costs can also be challenging, with some people reluctant to pay high prices after attending unsatisfactory virtual events in the past, and sponsors unable to distinguish between webinars and online conferences that offer true opportunities for branding and networking.

Hybrid meetings may be nearly twice the cost of a purely physical or online event, owing to the cumulative costs of audio-visual teams, venues, and software platforms.

The 2021 R2R online conference was fully interactive and focussed on providing attendees with the opportunity for conversation. Although it attracted fewer registrations and sponsorships than the previous in-person events, 98% of surveyed participants agreed that the online version of the conference was both valuable and relevant, and 80% thought that it was good value for money.

For 2022, the organisers of R2R plan to pursue the hybrid format to continue the inclusivity offered by online events. However, they estimate that hybrid meetings are nearly twice the cost of a purely physical or online event, owing to the cumulative costs of audio-visual teams, venues, and software platforms. They note that it remains to be seen whether this approach will be sustainable, or whether participants’ attitudes and expectations of quality versus price have changed. Indeed, in a 2021 article, Carden discussed the value proposition of conferences to organisers and attendees in depth, with the balance shifting as online events become more common and physical events less so.

According to Carden, the key to successful hybrid congresses will be:

  • good technology: use of online tools that allow free interaction with other participants
  • careful design: creating an attractive and intuitive environment
  • commitment to hybrid: making it genuinely hybrid for all participants, with access to real conversations.

We look forward to seeing how conferences evolve in the coming months and years.

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Do you prefer online, hybrid, or physical conferences?

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