Face-to-Face or Virtual/Hybrid Meetings: The Pros & Cons
There is a place for both, so rather than the question being a trade-off between the two, let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of face-to-face (F2F) and virtual meetings.
The last 12 months has seen the shutting down of face-to-face (F2F) events, and with uncertainty when live events will return, virtual events have seen huge growth in all industry types.
Virtual events offer great opportunities and features that can certainly benefit companies, however there are strength and weaknesses and challenges in delivering a successful virtual event.
Webinar - live online presentations during which participating viewers can submit questions and comments
Webinars have the benefit of being able to host any amount of people from a smaller group to several hundred people. Using a good software option, which can have varied capabilities including file sharing, screen sharing, polling, Q&A functionality, live streaming and good levels of security.
Webinars work well for shorter meetings where limited attendee interaction is anticipated. Financially they are a good investment and participants can of course join from anywhere. Webinars work well for meetings of around 60 minutes.
Depending on the number of people attending, participants may not be visible to the hosts, social contact and interaction is very limited and it may be difficult to maintain viewers attention.
Webcasts can be thought of as a television broadcast, normally a video is distributed to attendees/viewers over the internet. Webcasts normally offer the chance for video playback and recording facility but allow for very limited interaction between presenters and attendees. Having said that even in a F2F event there can be very limited opportunity for interaction between presenters and audience in a live conference event.
Strengths: Webcasts work well for shorter presentations to large numbers of people, they are quick to set up so for time sensitive presentations or the requirement to deliver urgent information to bigger groups, webcasts work very well. Video playback is another advantage particularly where companies have attendees in many different time zones, where some participants are not able to attend the live webcast. Webcasts are a cost-effective method with no F2F requirement.
Weaknesses: The limitation of webcasts are similar to webinars, participants take a very passive role so it can be difficult to maintain interest which is further limited by the lack to ability for audience interactivity.
A video conference is when participants in different locations are able to communicate with each other with online video and sound. Video conferences are the virtual equivalent of a group of people sitting around a conference table.
All participants can see each other in a video conference, so there is some, albeit limited social interaction.
There is no time limit with video conferencing and it does require two-way interaction between audience and presenters, so do have the feel of a more F2F style set up.
Video conferencing systems offer an impressive range of options including breakout rooms, polling, screen sharing, and recording capabilities.
Video conferences don’t work well for training sessions and limited interaction between participants may not suit depending on the number of people and the level of interaction expected or required.
Virtual Event Platforms
Virtual events have come along way and do the best job at recreating many features of F2F events. These features can include a full event website with registration payment processing, an event main stage for keynote addresses, multiple breakout rooms, networking options, exhibitor booths, attendee profiles, sponsorship options, engagement options, social media connectivity, and others.
Strengths: Unlike webinars and webcasts, they focus on the event rather than the presenter.
Challenges: Best practices are still being worked out and the effectiveness still undecided when compared to a F2F event.
Benefits of virtual meetings over face-to-face:
· Lower cost
· Lower environmental impact
· Speed of set up and delivery
· Easy recording and online distribution
· Greater and more international attendance
· Better metrics
Virtual events of all types have seen explosive growth due to the travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic. During this time, we have seen innovation as people of all ages and backgrounds start to use these formats but, in the events arena,, many best practices are still being fine-tuned. When F2F events re-emerge as we transition out of the pandemic, virtual events may still play a substantially larger role in the delivery of events.
A hybrid event is a meeting that combines a “live” in-person event at a physical location with a “virtual” online component for remote attendees.
Strengths: Hybrid events can be the best of both worlds. All the cost and effort put into bringing speakers and attendees together in the same place for a live event, can be spread out to a much larger audience at comparatively not much additional cost. As F2F events slowly re-emerge after the pandemic, it is likely that hybrid meetings will be a significant part of many events.
A challenge for hybrid events is that a F2F audience attendee is likely to have a very different experience than the virtual attendee. The sensory input and networking opportunities are much greater with F2F than virtual. Attention spans for remote attendee interacting with a screen tend to be much shorter. In order to keep their attention, the production values should be well managed with television show production values as a model. In essence, the challenge for the event managers is making a satisfying, compelling event for two very different audiences. This makes for a more complex meeting taking more time and resources.
Some event organizers have expressed concerns that hybrid events will cannibalise F2F events, that hybrid events will reduce the onsite event attendance. However, studies indicate that this is not the case and that hybrid events should be seen as an extension to F2F events and not a replacement.
Face-to-Face (F2F) Events
As the name implies, this involves meetings where people meet together in the same physical location. Strengths:
Meetings take people to a more focused environment with fewer distractions. Attendees can be informed, entertained plus the social advantages of getting people together, relaxing, getting to know each other and knowledge sharing.
The opportunities for networking, brainstorming, and relationship building are usually far greater at F2F events than online. For an exhibitor, it is often the best way to meet so many qualified buyers in such a short time and for visitors to have a more hands on approach to understanding products in an exhibition environment.
Meetings provide a richer, more targeted, and more focused learning experience than nearly any virtual meeting.
Challenges: There are costs involved with F2F events such as travel, room rental, AV, catering, onsite staff and more.
However, once the disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic have passed, the benefits mentioned above can often be very well worth the costs. F2F meetings bring people together, provide significant points of business interaction, and very significant economic benefit to venues and event stakeholders. Because of this, F2F in some form will remain a viable option well into the future.
Contact us for all your event needs, whether face to face, hybrid or virtual www.bridgeevents.co.uk