Hybrid congresses: virtual add-ons for live events

Hybrid congresses are a mixed form of real congress and virtual content. They give organisers the opportunity to radically increase the number of participants and at the same time minimise their costs, while the participants can join in without any constraints as regards location.

The further advantages that hybrid events offer, when they are worthwhile and what a hybrid congress might look like in practice are the subjects dealt with here by Anton Bürgisser, head of Event Technology at the Congress Center Basel.

IFA Congress 2015 | Congress Center Basel | Ausstellung | Impression.

What actually is a hybrid congress or a hybrid event?

In the case of a hybrid congress or a hybrid conference, a virtual part is added on to the event taking place on the spot. In other words, it is a mixed form comprised of a real congress and virtual content. In this way, other people can participate without actually being there. An event that is held in the Congress Center Basel, for instance, can be fed live into the internet and the participants can log into it wherever they happen to be, using a computer or mobile device. Apart from that, contents from persons not physically present can be transmitted to the Congress Center through a video link, for example lectures and presentations by speakers. Technical systems such as Cisco’s WebEx can also be brought into play for interactive sessions at hybrid congresses, during which all participants can join in. They are then able to communicate, to work together and to access information and other content.

What other advantages do hybrid congresses offer and when do they make sense for organisers?

Hybrid congresses are a suitable format for all international conferences. Organisers are able to increase the number of participants and extend the outreach while, at the same time, minimising their costs. People from all around the world can simply participate online and decide which contents to consume without having to invest time in travel. And, in addition, experts, many of whom often have a very busy schedule of appointments, can be switched in as speakers from the outside. One further advantage is that the entire contents can be saved digitally and played back later as on-demand content. Moreover, an attractive platform can be offered to sponsors, on which they can place their contents more effectively.

Hybrid congresses and meetings offer innumerable possibilities. What matters at the end of the day, however, are the customer’s declared targets. For that reason, we agree on the targets with the customer beforehand and then provide a concept and the equipment for attaining them.

What do hybrid congresses look like in practice?

Recently, we had CLINAM, the European Foundation for Clinical Nanomedicine, here as our guest with around a thousand participants. A hybrid parallel event dealt with health policy and had 25 on-the-spot participants along with organisations from 18 countries, who joined in online. The speeches delivered in the CCB were streamed online, and the participants who were connected up were able to participate interactively.

And another example: an international company recorded webinars with 25 speakers on our premises in rooms specially branded for the purpose. These were looked at by about 500 of the company’s employees throughout Europe. The discussion was also transmitted live from the Congress Center into the internet, and all the participants were then able to join in.

Both customers met their targets 100% and were delighted, as you would expect.

Do hybrid congresses have any disadvantages as well as advantages?

What is virtual cannot, of course, replace the personal contact and live experience of congresses and exhibitions. On top of that, data protection and data integrity need to be sorted out.

How do people participate in hybrid congresses?

Either in person locally or virtually. In the latter case, they log in using a website or app. There are also interactive sessions, during which all the participants play an active part and might, for instance, be able to share their screen contents with others.

How can the participants engage in networking if they are not really present?

There is no problem with that using social media and messengers like WhatsApp or Skype. Even the classical exchange of visiting cards works virtually, for instance through an event app. All that is missing are personal conversations.

Are you observing a trend towards hybrid events at congresses and meetings?

Yes, there is an increasing demand for hybrid events, because organisers no longer necessarily want to have participants travelling round the whole world. Instead of that, they want to be able to offer both, the real part and the virtual part. At present, the demand for the real part is still growing stronger. Customers come to the Congress Center Basel, because they like it with us here and because they like being in the city of Basel. Nonetheless, for more and more organisers, the additional virtual possibilities constitute a further factor in the decision-making process when it comes to selecting a location, and they are thus an important locational advantage for us. Moreover: should it ever happen that there is a demand for completely virtual congresses and meetings, then we are equipped tohandle those too.

In what way is the Congress Center Basel equipped for hybrid events?  

Technically, we are state-of-the-art and can offer all the possibilities to our customers at any time. In addition to all the facilities for congresses and meetings held on the spot, we offer, among other things, the equipment for streaming, interactive sessions using WebEx and event apps and also video equipment for live production and on-demand content. That, of course, is done in combination with an extremely powerful internet connection, without which nothing will work.

The Congress Center Basel – Switzerland’s largest conference centre in terms of surface area – is located right in the centre of the city, directly alongside Messe Basel. The rooms are comfortably appointed and equipped with the very latest technology. The halls of Messe Basel and the rooms of the Congress Center Basel can be combined permitting an exceptionally high level of flexibility.