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Meeting planners: Imagine not having to worry about your hybrid tech working

By April 5, 2022 Projection

Here’s a look at how technology integration took center stage at AGU’s hybrid Fall Meeting.

If you’re planning (or have planned) a hybrid meeting, you know that the number of technologies and tools available from which to choose can be daunting. (After all, the number of digital event solutions has quadrupled since 2020.) But the choice of tech is only the first hurdle, and it’s a relatively small one. The bigger, more challenging hurdles come as you and your team must connect your chosen tech – from registration and attendee engagement tools to event platform – behind the scenes to deliver a seamless and positive attendee experience.

While every new meeting brings its own challenges (as we industry veterans are well aware), these tech-centric obstacles can be especially daunting because the tools have – for the most part – not yet been designed to integrate seamlessly. That means, on the backend, teams must create workarounds, build/plug into multiple APIs or design custom solutions. And, like everything in the meetings world, if not executed perfectly, these efforts can have a negative impact on attendee experience.

It’s hard to find the words that can capture the complexity of today’s tech landscape, and the feats of strength, ingenuity, creativity and problem-solving that are required to pull off a hybrid meeting. With the number of tools required, the behind-the-scenes picture is often one of “duct-taping” digital tools together in order to share information and data necessary to the meeting’s execution.

At Projection, we saw the toll this complexity was taking on our clients – the meeting planners and meeting teams – as well as all the vendors and technicians that were working together to make the meeting a success. In true Projection fashion (one of our core values is ‘resourcefulness’), our team got to work on a solution. Built on the foundation of our content management platform, ProjectionNet, we are able to integrate all of a meeting’s digital tech tools such as abstract management, conference app and streaming platform, and create one hub from which all of these tools’ data can be managed and shared.

While we have customized ProjectionNet for many other meetings, a great case study is The American Geophysical Union (AGU) given its complexity and size.

Hybrid tech integration in practice: The American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting

AGU’s vision is a thriving, sustainable and equitable future supported by scientific discovery, innovation and action. To support that vision, the team is always looking to create a meeting experience where collaboration, sharing and innovation take center stage – and everything needed to support that experience disappears seamlessly into the backdrop.

To make that a reality, a focus on digital-first is extremely important. Like many organizations, AGU is leaning into digital transformation, and its annual meeting is part of those efforts.

The right (or wrong) hybrid tools can make or break the attendee experience

Time and time again, we have seen teams choose tools based on another organization’s meeting, or what the attendee experience looks like through a particular platform, for example. Unfortunately, teams very often do not choose the tools based on their defined business strategy and how that strategy needs to be communicated through an association’s meeting.

The right tool(s) for a meeting often do not easily integrate or work together, which can cause complexity and additional work for the planning team at best, and frustrating or catastrophic outcomes for the attendee and the planner at worst. (This is the reason we’re seeing so much merger & acquisition activity in the space, as platforms and tools try to address this complexity. But it’s important to remember that when one company buys another, you might get “parts” you don’t want. Just because your preferred platform company acquired one with a registration tool doesn’t mean the latter is right for your meeting.)

Fortunately, AGU’s team knows that having the right tools for their meeting goes beyond a seamless attendee experience; it supports their vision and strategic goals. In order to have the flexibility to choose the right tools, the team needed to prioritize the integration of those tools.

Effective tech integration is critical for today’s hybrid meeting environment

With a focus on tech integration, AGU was able to choose the best tools for their annual meeting without having to worry about them working together (or not). And, for a meeting as large and complex as this one, that was vital; the 5-day fully-hybrid meeting had 56 locations where a speaker could present physically or virtually and 9,000 presentations delivered (with each session recorded, captioned and presented to both physical and virtual audiences).

As AGU’s AV/tech partner (and integration coordinator), we began meeting with the vendors of all the different tools – registration, abstract management, presentation management, learning management, virtual platform/app, content delivery network (CDN) and Zoom – three months before the meeting. We created a production schedule to guide all the work that needed to be done and outlined a “map” for the integration between the seven different partners.

When it came time for execution, ProjectionNet was the hub to which all other tech partners connected. By understanding the specific needs of each tech provider, we could massage the data, set up individual APIs and share pertinent information and data across the entire hybrid event infrastructure. On the AGU side, this meant they could make real-time changes in one place and have that change implemented across the network.

The result was a seamless backend and attendee experience. The AGU meeting team could rest easily knowing the tools were working together behind the scenes to create a positive and exceptional experience where it mattered: the attendees and presenters.

While the backend never receives the accolades or attention the front-facing components of a meeting do, it’s the infrastructure, process and organization that enables a positive attendee experience. For those attending AGU’s meeting, it also means no barriers to the science. With today’s meetings taking place across the physical-virtual divide, it’s critical that we put as much emphasis on the foundation on which the experience is built as the experience itself. Otherwise, it is akin to building a gorgeous house out of posterboard; it will simply fall over once a slight breeze passes through.