A Behind-the-Scenes Look at a Hybrid Conference

emdria-case-study-iconIn 2015, the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) enlisted the help of iCohere to expand their in-person conference to a hybrid conference. Leadership believed since the association is an international organization, a hybrid conference would allow people all over the world the ability to live stream conference events and participate in the live Q&A forums. During EMDRIA’s most recent hybrid conference in 2016, people from 17 different countries participated via online.

EMDRIA’s Continuing Professional Education Coordinator, Sara Sturtevant, was extremely instrumental in putting together the hybrid conference. She worked closely with iCohere’s Client Engagement Manager, Alex White. In a recent webinar hosted by iCohere, Sturtevant and White discussed some strategies they used to make the conference a success.

Main Goal

One of their main goals for a hybrid conference was to give their audience educational information in a simple fashion. Starting with the opening slide, Sturtevant used a creative mix of shapes and colors to produce a fun look and theme.

Continuing Education Credits

EMDRIA conferences provide Continuing Education credits (CEs), which are a primary reason some people attend. Information concerning the CEs was added to the welcome page. On that page, they also included the schedule of events, speaker profiles, and frequently asked questions (FAQs). Sturtevant wanted to send a message with this first page: “You are creating your own experience!”

iCohere Advantage

iCohere conferences allow audiences to interact and engage with presenters in real-time, while simultaneously encouraging attendees to join together and network. Sturtevant noted that feedback has shown her how pleasantly surprised people often are by the feeling of actually being at the conference. People initially only expect a presentation, but then discover they can be completely engaged with the presenters and other attendees.

Best-Practices for Event Registration

A key strategy used by EMDRIA is to create the registration form as early as possible, even before the conference site is finished. Doing so allows people to register and feel like they are part of the event even as the site is launched. Documents can be downloaded and viewed before the conference, so the audience can become familiar with some of the material being presented.

Additional information for the registration form might include learning objectives, CE credit information, which sessions will be archived, cancellation policy, and purchasing information. Some attendees want to participate for just one day, and some want to attend the whole conference.

Collecting Information for a Better User Experience

Sturtevant stressed the importance of having a section dedicated to collecting attendee profile information. If an attendee consents, some of their information could be used to group together people with same or similar professions to encourage attendee engagement and networking. EMDRIA could also offer ‘group-based privileges’ which allows certain groups to see pertinent forms and information that would be irrelevant to someone in another group. The administrator has extra options on how to craft strategic configurations.

Membership Perks

EMDRIA considers its membership base its number one priority. They decided to give attendees their material early in addition to step-by-step ‘how-to’ information. This would help the members feel as comfortable as possible, especially the ones who may not be very tech-savvy and may have never attended an online conference before. EMDRIA also added an ‘Introduce yourself’ button to encourage engagement.

Advantages of a Hybrid Conference

When asked what the main advantages of offering a hybrid conference were, Sturtevant immediately pointed out the ability to expand their reach worldwide. With an international membership, people from anywhere can participate as if they were in the same room as the presenter. Costs-savings is a big factor also. Instead of paying for travel, hotel, and restaurants, the price of attending an online conference would be a fraction of the cost of attending the conference in-person.

Another advantage of attending the online conference is being able to see more sessions than would be possible at the in-person conference. If two sessions are occurring simultaneously, an online attendee can watch one live and then watch the archive of the other one later.

The Virtual Event Audience

Often, people can’t attend an in-person conference for several reasons. Distance is the main reason, especially for those in other countries, cannot attend an in-person conference. Other reasons include company budget cuts, not being able to leave a client for a lengthy period of time, health issues, a local crisis, or caring for a family member.

Obtaining Funding for a Hybrid Conference

When asked how EMDRIA’s first virtual conference was funded, Sturtevant said they relied on savings from the organization to get started. To recoup those savings, they set the price of the online event to be $50-$75 more than the in-person event. And then for an extra fee, in-person attendees were allowed access to archives of that conference. Sturtevant noted they broke even the first year, increased their attendance by 185 percent the second year resulting in a small profit, and they are expecting a much bigger attendance and more revenue for the upcoming third conference.

Unforeseen Challenge

When asked what the biggest difference is between the in-person conference and the online conference, Sturtevant noted the necessary legal permissions they had to obtain from the presenters. Some presenters would only allow their presentations to be online through this conference, some did not want to be included in the archives, and some allowed unlimited access in almost any forum. Sturtevant underscored the importance of having iCohere’s help with production and “holding our hands during the first year or two.”

Sturtevant also stressed the importance of separating the registration for the online event from the in-person event, so guests do not register for the wrong conference experience.

Roles of Conference Organizers

When asked about some of the important roles required from having an online conference, Sturtevant noted the need for a ‘point person’ to oversee different pieces of production such as site set up, and software & platform. It is also crucial to have someone on the other end working with vendors and production. She stressed how helpful it was to have a ‘chat facilitator’ that was dedicated to connecting attendees with live people in the room. She said they found some of these chat facilitators by going to local colleges and recruiting some tech-savvy students that needed money. She added that another good source for chat facilitators is finding someone from within their own association membership that might be willing to volunteer.

Risk Factors for a Hybrid Conference

Lance Simon with iCohere said that in his experience, most people believe the biggest risk factor is the technology involved. But that’s wrong, he said. According to Simon, marketing is the biggest risk factor. You must generate interest without overloading your potential audience with too much information, or not providing enough information to pique their interest.

A Few Bonus Tips

In closing, some practical tips White and Sturtevant shared included: helping people from other countries interpret schedule-related time zone issues; posting schedules in several parts of the website to make sure it was never hard to find; posting sign-up links all over the site to make sign-up an easy process; posting speaker bios along with books and other materials the speaker might be promoting; encouraging online participation by offering special discounts or free shipping only to the attendees at the event.

Want to watch the EMDRIA webinar for funding and delivering a successful online conference?  Join the iCohere Academy for free and gain access to this ‘on-demand’ webinar and many others for free.  Join the academy here.


After registration:
Logon to the ‘iCohere Academy’.
Select ‘Courses & Webinars’.
Select ‘Secrets to Hybrid Conference Success with EMDRIA’.
Select “Click to View Archived Recording”.
*You may have to download ‘WebEx’ to view this. Don’t worry, it is fast and free.


This entry was posted in Concepts of Unified Learning, Conferences and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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