Susie Harwood
Jan 18, 2019

The future of virtual meetings

Could multi-hub meetings be the next best thing after face-to-face?

The future of virtual meetings

The logistics, cost and environmental impact of bringing together hundreds of people from multiple countries to meet in a single location remains a challenge for international businesses that run live events for staff or customers. 

Virtual conferencing, webcasts, webinars, and more recently multi-hub meetings, have all been mooted as alternative solutions. But despite significant advances in these digital technologies, they can never replace the “personal connection that only a live event can deliver,” says Lisa Hopkins, managing director, Asia Pacific, BCD Meetings & Events.

However, what multi-hub meetings do deliver where other solutions don’t is the crucial face-to-face element. Maarten Vanneste, founder of Belgium-based ABBIT Meeting Innovators and author of Multi-hub meetings: Groups meeting groups, describes a multi-hub meeting as a conference or event where groups of people attending a face-to-face meeting at one location are joined by groups at other locations. They are all participating in a single program at the same time, but connected by (high-density) video and sound.

This means delegates get to interact face-to-face in their own hubs, as well as see, hear and engage with attendees and presenters in other hubs, theoretically combining the best of both worlds. 

The basics

But is it really that simple in practice? Getting the right technology in place and making sure it all works is, of course, essential. Organisers of multi-hub meetings need to have the utmost of confidence in the technical infrastructure at the venues they select as their hub locations.

“A couple of years ago, confidence levels in the technology were not strong, but I think a lot of the infrastructure issues have now been resolved,” says Sam Lay, senior director, Asia Pacific, CWT Meetings & Events. “Meeting venues and hotels have invested in their infrastructure and there is a lot more confidence, especially in markets like Singapore, Seoul, Japan and China, although there may still be some bandwidth issues in tier 3 or 4 cities.”

Vanneste adds that it’s important to have technical support. “Where people go wrong with multi-hub meetings is trying to do it in a cheap way without back-up. As soon as you start doing it in groups, you need to fly in technicians with the right equipment to each hub location, which has a cost attached, but it’s a lot cheaper than flying hundreds of people to meet in a single hub.”

Make it engaging

Solving the technology issue is one thing, but running a smooth multi-hub meeting and making it engaging is another challenge entirely. “You need good facilitation,” says Lay. “The great thing about live meetings is the interaction and body language speakers get from the audience. It is harder to read audiences who are not in the same room.”

Vanneste agrees. “It can be difficult to get interactions going in a normal meeting, and it’s as least as challenging if not more so in multi-hub meetings,” he says. 

 Where people go wrong with multi-hub meetings is trying to do it in a cheap way without back-up. —Maarten Vanneste, ABBIT Meeting Innovators 

He adds that speakers and facilitators are often more nervous about multi-hub meetings, so it’s important to provide training and support to give them the confidence they need. Making it easy for the audience to interact also helps people from different locations to feel united. 

Vanneste gives the example of a meeting for oncology professionals organised by ABBIT, which saw 75 surgeons, chemotherapists, and radiologists meet in three locations: Hong Kong, Seoul and Buenos Aires, for a two-hour meeting, with a chair facilitating from London. 

Attendees could vote on questions using an audience response system, while a text-based discussion system allowed for virtual conversation among attendees. Post-event feedback scores were impressive with overall quality of interaction at 83% and effective use of time at 86%; while 87% said the program achieved the intended objectives and 90% would recommend
this type of event/interaction. 

What are the benefits?

As with normal meetings, there needs to be a clear objective in order to measure ROI from a multi-hub meeting. “It goes back to what the client wants to achieve, be it saving cost, growing audience size, exchanging ideas or getting a specific message across to disparate teams,” says Lay.

Implementing multi-hub meetings can be beneficial if cost savings or expanding reach are among the objectives. ABBIT estimates that the oncology meeting saved roughly €100,000 (US$115,000) in travel and accommodation costs, but perhaps more importantly saved about 90 ‘out-of-hospital’ days for the attending specialists, meaning several dozen operations and other treatments were not affected. 

Vanneste also cites an example of a client meeting that used to attract around 150 attendees when it was held in a single location, but jumped to 350 when it adopted a multi-hub approach.

As more organisations implement Strategic Meetings Management (SMM), multi-hub meetings could also help cut costs. While Lay believes that companies focused on strategically managing their meetings can use multi-hubs to save on cost, he also thinks that clients are likely to use multi-hubs to complement rather than replace their face-to-face meetings.

BCD’s Hopkins adds: “Where we see the real benefits of hosting such events is when the message is internally focused—for a large group of employees, across a large area, like Asia Pacific and with a similar time zone.”

Vanneste believes the potential for growth in multi-hub meetings is huge. “We will see an increase in business once people understand it is possible, and it will be new business––meetings that otherwise wouldn’t have taken place,” he says. 

“Short international meetings are difficult to justify because of the cost, but they are now possible in a way that’s not boring like a webcast. If done well, participants of a multi-hub meeting will feel like they are all in the same room.”


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