AAO Public Programs Network Call (6/3)

At this member check-in, 20 participants from 18 organizations shared recent experiences and upcoming plans for virtual, in-person, and hybrid programming. Participants were asked to discuss their greatest challenges, concerns, or curiosities around hybrid programming as well as ensuring public safety for large gatherings. By and large, most organizations are currently planning on offering a combination of virtual and in-person programs this fall, but most shared a hesitation to commit to truly hybrid programs, for a number of reasons including cost, staff resources, and costly technology upgrades.

Several members noted that their organizations have been experimenting with the virtual program prices, offering donation options in conjunction with free programs, and even special giveaways like downloadable PDFs to tours or other content all to drive audience participation. Regardless of financial performance, most organizations reported significant increases in registration numbers for virtual programs versus in-person event pre-pandemic.

Several call participants reported surveying their stakeholders earlier in the spring to assess comfort levels and general readiness for in-person programs. Results showed that most participants were, at that time, still hesitant to join a seated, indoor in-person program, but were eagerly anticipating the return to outdoor events like walking tours.

Most organizations agreed that a virtual component to their overall programming plans would be in place for the foreseeable future, citing a new, global audience and participant expectations for the continuation of virtual programs. Call participants discussed various reasons for hesitation around hybrid programs—events presented to a live audience and simultaneously streamed to a virtual audience—citing barriers that included cost for additional AV hardware and software, and dedicated AV staff; time and resource drain on existing staff; and a potentially lower-quality experiences for both audience types. Several organizations cited success overcoming some of these obstacles by creating programs held in partnership with one or more fellow architecture organizations—both expanding the audiences reached and the number of staff who could support the event production.

That said, some solutions were being investigated by member organizations, including:

Owl Labs—360-degree camera, mic, and speaker device to create immersive experience for hybrid teams. Hardware purchase plus monthly subscription. Users offered mixed reviews, including lag issues and camera angles that offered insufficient detail/zoom power for those outside the room to effectively participate.

Conference.io—the go-to audience participation/engagement software, enabling a virtual audience to connect with a live presenter. If a large audience were to use this app it might require internet bandwidth upgrade in your lecture hall.

Vmix live production and streaming software—professional level, but may be cost prohibitive for many organizations.

QSC—Delivers a seamless meeting experience for in-room and remote participants at the same time. This may be a more affordable option, as it can run well on cloud-based platforms like Zoom.