For more than 20 years, Mary Ann Pierce has been navigating the world of hybrid meetings. As the founder and CEO of MAP Digital, she primarily works to fulfill the digital needs of investment banking clients. 

When Regulation Fair Disclosure was mandated by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2000, it prevented public companies from conducting selective disclosure to certain shareholders—meaning all material information had to be made available to the public.  

“We were hybrid before we knew the term hybrid—that was a disruption that did not affect the rest of our industry, because it didn’t have that regulation,” Pierce said. 

Since Regulation Fair Disclosure, Pierce has had a bit of a hybrid head start, with her steady list of investment banking clients using her company’s MetaMeetings platform to host secure hybrid meetings and other virtual conferences and events.  

“There might be 10,000 people onsite, but there are may be 40,000 accessing the same content or sessions,” Pierce explained. 

What Hybrid Will Look Like for the MICE Industry 

Mary Ann PierceWhen COVID-19 hit and brought with it shutdowns and canceled and postponed meetings, Pierce said MAP Digital was inundated with calls from worried planners wanting to know more about hosting virtual events. (She was even named a Meetings Today 2020 Meetings Trendsetter, nominated for her generosity in sharing her virtual knowledge.) From March 2020 through mid-July, Pierce said the MAP Digital team produced nearly 400 live webcasts remotely for global financial institutions. (Photo: Mary Ann Pierce, founder and CEO of MAP Digital)

When face-to-face meetings return, many experts agree virtual won’t go away, as a hybrid meeting allows organizations to capture even more engagement, whether attendees are in a ballroom or behind a computer screen.  

As fall approaches, and planners have likely experimented and even exceled in the virtual marketplace, what does Pierce, a hybrid veteran, think the future holds for hybrid meetings in the MICE industry?  

1. A venue or planner should consult a third-party digital partner.

As venues and planners prepare to host safe hybrid meetings, it’s likely they’ll face a plethora of digital and technical considerations. “There’s no playbook,” Pierce said. “The venue needs to go out and partner with a company like MAP Digital or other companies. But we also can’t do everything. So I think you’re going to see a rise in partnerships.” 

[Related: 5 Key Steps for Building a Hybrid Events Model]

2. Hybrid productions will be something akin to scripted TV.

Virtual attendees will expect more from a hybrid event than a standard shot of a speaker in front of a camera. “You’re really going to see something more like scripted television, where it’s going to roll in an introduction, then cut back to a session room, then cut back to the main stage,” Pierce explained. “[Attendees] want more interactivity, because they want to keep engaged. A [live attendee] doesn’t just sit in a ballroom for three hours, right?”  

3. Venues will have to be more generous in their pricing.

To attract back planners for the live portion of a hybrid meeting, Pierce said venues will need to re-evaluate their pricing models. “For example, since there might be less live attendees, a planner is not going to need a lot of food and beverage,” Pierce said, adding: “The industry needs to look at the planner and needs to be as helpful as possible.” 

4. The hybrid meeting landscape for MICE professionals will require collaboration and innovation between the planners, venues and third-party digital partners.

Venues will need strong connectivity and internet infrastructure as well. “It’s not like this is all brand-new technology,” Pierce said. “It’s putting together another mousetrap. It’s a different process, and I think that venues can take a big lead in doing this.” Although hybrid is currently the buzzword, attendees still know there’s nothing quite like meeting face to face.

A robust slate of content and a strong relationship with a third-party digital partner can even help convert first-timer attendees who are participating virtually into live attendees at the next meeting.  

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