By Jake Steinman, Founder and CEO, NAJ Group
I want to share our experience from eTourism LABS on March 14-15 in Philadelphia–where over 30 percent of the speakers had flights cancelled due to a late winter blizzard that dumped up to a foot-and-a-half of snow in parts of Pennsylvania, shut schools, cancelled flights and wreaked havoc. We learned several things that you may want to pass along to your convention sales team, hotels or anyone who works with organized meetings.
On Monday, March 13, as I was flying to eTourism LABS conference and logged on to my inflight Wi-Fi, email alerts began popping up every 10 minutes from presenters whose flights had been cancelled. By the time I landed five hours later, it appeared that 17 out of 43 speakers were not going to show. In short, it was every meeting planner’s nightmare. Meanwhile, attendees and the remaining speakers began emailing and calling us to see if the event was even still going to be held.
We contacted our hotel procurement expert to see if it was possible contractually to cancel and she responded that our agreement indeed contained her favorite “f-word” (Force Majeure) so we could cancel at any time since airlines announced that 6,000 flights had been cancelled the day before the storm. Well, I can tell you it wasn’t my favorite f-word! The hotel pick-up manifest showed that most of the attendees had arrived, so we decided to live stream speakers in and hope for the best. It was now 14 hours until show time.
Our team—Sofia Williamsson in San Francisco and Florian Hermann on-site in Philadelphia—immediately moved to upgrade the hotel Wi-Fi to ethernet level and began communicating with speakers about their abilities to make their presentations via Skype. They then worked with the hotel’s AV team—who knew nothing about Skype– to practice toggling between Skype and live presentations.
The next morning we determined that all but six DMO and Attraction attendees somehow found their way to Philadelphia and, by the end of the day, delegates from all three tracks reported no serious Skype delays in the program—though quality of transmission varied depending on the strength of the speaker’s Wi-Fi connection.
We want to help other meeting planners and schedulers with what we learned from our own live streaming experience with eTourism Labs in Philadelphia by sharing the following:
Nine Things We Learned:
- Attendees’ Expectations. Attendees are very understanding as long as you provide them with a plan of action. We gathered everyone together after breakfast to announce the following: (a) There would be 17 Skype presentations and to expect uneven connectivity; (b) Lunch that day would be on us and DMOs and attraction attendees would receive a $400 credit towards any of our other events, and (c) If it was necessary to terminate Skype presentations due to connectivity problems, attendees would use the extra time to discuss the previous topic.
- Hotel Flexibility. The hotel was in a flexible mood about adjusting F&B and room night minimums.
- Technology. Skype Video call technology has advanced a great deal both in features and call quality since it was purchased by Microsoft.
- Upgrade Your Bandwidth. Upgrade to the fastest level of Wi-Fi possible at your hotel. They probably won’t charge you for it.
- Test Presentations. Test the presentation and connection in advance. The Wi-Fi on the remote presenter’s side also needs to be strong. We found that the presenters with the strongest W-Fi connections came across the clearest. You should advise them to test Wi-Fi strength in various locations from which they will be broadcasting.
- Be Your Own IT support. Don’t expect the hotel AV staff to know anything about Skype or to help in connecting you to presenters. Instead, work with them to quickly toggle presentations between remote and in person.
- Streamline Presentations for Digital Viewing. Two of our remote presenters were able modify their PowerPoints to make them more visible on Skype. By eliminating charts, graphs and tables and including slides containing fewer words, their presentations resulted in greater clarity and effectiveness. Their original presentations would be made available later to anyone completing our post event survey.
- Record Presentations. Though we did not use this function, one can easily record a Skye presentation for future distribution by going to the “More Options” button and choose “Start Recording.”
- Recognize Trade-Offs. One drawback: Skype presentations with embedded videos had problems transmitting sound. We had the presenters send us links to videos and had to toggle between the two by minimizing the video and Skype presenter.
Other alternatives to Skype are Google Hangouts, Facebook Live, Periscope and even Apple Facetime, which can all be used if you’re desperate and just need a talking head. (Note that Turkey’s president, Recep Erdoğan, repelled an entire military coup using Facetime.)
Everyone from our team agreed that attendees bonded more with each other as well as with presenters and sponsors, as the sense of shared hardship due to Mother Nature’s elements was outside anyone’s control.