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Are multi-city meetings the way forward?

Multi-city meetings allow us to bring together people from around the world to meet instantaneously, without needing to leave their home cities; but is it the best option for conferences?

It’s an exciting format that potentially offers substantial savings in travel and accommodation costs, not to mention the countless hours spent organising it.

The ability was demonstrated in a recent conference, which was attended by a number of intrigued conference organisers.

The two-day event linked the London meeting alongside attendees in The Hague, Brussels, Lisbon and Torun. Each venue had its own moderator to optimise engagement at each hub, while speakers addressed the audience from every location, splitting their attention between their local audience and the web cameras.

The conference was carried out almost flawlessly, but it seemed to lack a key ingredient; engagement.

While we in London got the opportunity to speak with one another – either in networking opportunities or throughout the programme – there was a distinct separation between us and attendees in other cities. Apart from a brief online interaction during one workshop, there was no obvious way to meet the international colleagues.

This engagement issue could be addressed by expanding the use of the online system so delegates could use it to communicate throughout the conference, and this was suggested by many of the London attendees. But introducing oneself online and trying to build a rapport will never be as good as face to face – it almost feels a bit pen pal-ish.

The cost saving arguments for online, multi-city meetings also may not hold much weight when you consider the bigger picture. While saving on travel and accommodation bookings, you’re multiplying your meetings cost by five – so that is five times the venue hire, five times the AV costs, and five moderators instead of one. I’m not a meeting planner and have never had to look at an RFP, but I imagine these costs are not insubstantial.

Further, venue pickings become even slimmer when you have to put high speed, large band-width Wi-Fi at the top of the priority list. And the attendee list is limited to within about a two- or three-hour time zone – any more will throw lunch breaks and start and finish times – which rules out meetings with colleagues in Australia.

As you would expect, there were also minor hiccups where microphones wouldn’t work, webcams went momentarily blank or moderators spoke over one another, but these will become more practiced with time and as technology gets better and faster.

In fact, the potential for multi-city meetings is exciting when you consider how Virtual Reality will change the format. One delegate said she could see the advantage of multi-city meetings for very small conferences, where every second person had their own camera.

I agree, and I look forward to hearing how event organisers implement more technology into conferences. But I don’t see multi-city meetings replacing – or even remotely threatening – the traditional meeting format.

Source: Editor’s Blog: www.meetpie.com

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