Event Camp Twin Cities: A Q&A About the Hybrid Conference

If you follow the #eventprofs hashtag on Twitter, you're likely aware of an event that happened just less than two weeks ago, Event Camp Twin Cities. The Minneapolis gathering for event professionals was an exploration of new ways to communicate at events -- and, appropriately, it featured a robust component for those attending online. I was unable to attend live, unfortunately, but I've been checking out the replay and have been impressed by what the organizers put together. I chatted with event technology consultant Sam Smith, one of the co-founders of ECTC, about the hybrid show.

M&C: Can you tell us a little about Event Camp and, specifically, what you wanted to accomplish with Event Camp Twin Cities?
Smith: Event Camp was born online from the Twitter group #eventprofs -- it started out as the first face-to-face meeting of that community. Now, Event Camps that are talking about social media, technology and innovation are popping up across the country.
    Event Camp Twin Cities was designed to be an innovation lab. We wanted to create a low-risk environment where people could try new things without needing to take the risk in their own events. So, we purposely included many different and new interactive formats to engage face-to-face and remote attendees. Also, we experimented with décor and seating arrangements.
    Our goal was to send people home with at least one new idea that they would go try at their events. Hopefully, they would do it 10 times better than we did at Event Camp.

M&C: How much of your audience was live and how much was remote?
Smith: We had about 75 people on-site in Minneapolis, another 25 in remote pods in Dallas and in Basel, Switzerland. And 550 people watched online.

M&C: What specific tools did you use to engage with the remote audience?
Smith: We designed a remote experience that was separate from the face-to-face experience. In doing so, we had a separate program for the remote attendees, a virtual emcee (Emilie Barta), and three "Behind the Sessions" programs, where speakers and attendees were interviewed during breaks, and we did intros before each event section. Also, the conference publishers tweeted out speaker sound bites from the sessions under the @EventCampTC Twitter ID. Those sound bites appeared in the #ectc10 Twitter stream.
    The virtual audience had access to the slides, video and audio from the event via Sonic Foundry. We used the Intefy platform as the virtual front door, where attendees could see the virtual program, Twitter conversation, and speaker sound-bite tweets and watch the program.
    During the event, we used Google Moderator to get people in the face-to-face, pod and remote audiences to collaborate and work together on group projects. We used PollEverywhere for the audience-response system. Twitter was used for all other group communication.

M&C: How effective do you think your approach was in pulling in the virtual audience?
Smith: We cracked the code on creating interactive hybrid and virtual events. Some people have called our event the best virtual event to date. We had people skipping lunch and canceling appointments, so they could stay and watch the event. Hundreds have been watching the replay online. Some people said that they would have paid for this experience. Others actually sent us money.
    Here's one quote from marketing specialist Traci Browne's blog: "At 6 p.m. when the camera stopped rolling and the event closed down, I realized for the first time I was alone in my office. I looked around and wondered where the 174 people had gone."

M&C: Do you have ideas about how to do this differently the next time around?
Smith: Part of our plan was to create an innovation lab -- a lot of what we did was raw and untested. We do have ideas on how we can take this experience to the next level. We want to sit back and see what others are going to do with what we have showed them. It is now their turn to take these ideas and innovate on them. We will see what they are doing and then turn it up a notch for next year. You will have to come join us next year to see what we have up our sleeves!

M&C: Tell me about the team that put together ECTC.
Smith: Ray Hansen and myself were the founders of the event. My specialty is using technology to create interactive experiences for attendees. Ray has a strong background in audience-response systems and production. As two tech guys, we wanted to create communication experiences that engaged people. That's what we did, but we had a lot of help along the way. The event would not have been nearly as successful without the hard work and dedication of our speakers, the contributions of our sponsors and the handful of volunteers that stepped up to take ownership in this process.