Multi-Hub Meetings

Multi-hub meetings. What are those and why should you care? Maarten Vanneste wrote a book on the future of meetings and he's here with me, in the studio.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Multi-hub meetings. What are those and why should you care? Maarten Vanneste wrote a book on the future of meetings and he's here with me, in the studio.


Hi Maarten, welcome to our studio. 


Good to see you, Kevin.


You wrote a book: Multihub meetings. And you're all dressed for the occasion, I see.


Yeah, I'm disguised as doctor meeting design. And multihub is all about meeting design. It's one format within the hybrid meeting formats. So, it's like a very small niche in meeting design knowledge.


But, before we dive into it. Can you just explain: what are multihub meetings?


A multihub meeting is, very simply put, groups that are in a video call. 


What's then the difference with just a video call? 


Just a video call would be individuals.

In a video call.


And it are groups... 


These are groups.

So, you have twenty people here, sixty people in Paris, eighty people in New York, fifty people in Hong Kong. And they are in one meeting. 


And why should you choose for this kind of format?


Well, there's many reasons. Increasing reach is one of them. An example of a case with eighteen cities in Spain. Where the reach increased from 150 to 350 participants. Because people don't have to travel. For a short presentation, an important presentation, people would like to travel but they don't always have the time. So, they choose not to go. 


But isn't it easier then to just call in from your home, directly? Like in a webinar? 


Yeah, but that's boring.

People fall asleep, people check out, people get distracted, people don't like it. A webcast, you know, even if it's well done, it's hard to stay focused, as an individual participant.

So, when you bring those people together in their city or in their region, in a group, then it becomes much more fun. The networking starts to work. You'll learn from each other as well. And it's just more fun as well.


But that also would mean that you would do some things online, for example the speaker.

But you also have, you mention networking. I suppose you won't do that over the video connection.


No, you would do the networking in a local environment. Which is nice. For example, if you're a company and you do this, your local representative would be in one room, only with the local customers.

So, if you're in a big meeting, with 300 people and you're the local supplier from Paris, for example. Or the local agent from Paris. You have to look for your participants, your local people. In a multihub meeting, that, obviously, becomes very compact.


It makes sense, what you tell. But why is it that we aren't doing that before? And just starting now. 


Yeah, and it's starting very slowly as well. I'm sure that we will reach a tipping point, at one day. But today, it's...

I think the technology evolved, so it's reliable now. It's been shown by some companies that they can do hundreds of these meetings without any failure. So, no drop-outs of, you know, a hub that is not connected or something. So, the quality of the internet connections is improved. 


The tools are better.


And the tools are better. The technology is compact.

So, there's a lot of things that happened, have evolved, innovation, that make it possible to do it today.


What makes a multihub meeting a really great multihub meeting?


Well, I think there is four essential components. That make people say at the end: it felt like we were really all in the same meeting.

And those four components are: first of all, the video. You have to have video image from all the hubs. And preferably that's always on. Or as much on as possible. So, on your screen, you would have 24 little videos, if you have 24 hubs. Or 6 if you have 6 hubs. So always video. Everybody can see everybody. And if I ask a question, everybody can see me.

Secondly: the sound. If I want to ask a question, wherever I am, I need to be able to use the microphone and ask the question. So that I don't need to ask permission or anything. I think that's essential.

So, if I feel I need to say something now, I can do that. If I feel I really have an urgent question, I can do this. So, one microphone for each round table, for example, is...


That's exactly the same thing as in a... When you're in an auditorium or something, you can always raise up and ask something. 


Ask a question, yes. So, it's just replicating this normal, single venue or single hub meeting.

Thirdly: you have to give the local group a time together. So, give them five minutes, or two times five minutes, during each hour, where they can talk to each other. So they do some local networking and learn from each other locally. So, that's the local engagement.

And then the last one is global inclusion. So, the global inclusion means that you have, at least, one question or one remark from each of the hubs. So, if you have twenty hubs, make sure that all of them have, at least, said something or have asked some question.

So: image, sound, local activity and global inclusion.


But, purely from a logistic point of view, how do you make sure...If you organize such an event, let's say you have three hubs: in Tokyo, New York and Amsterdam, for example. How do you make sure that it doesn't become chaos? That it's clear who will be talking.

Or what will happen if somebody wants to ask a question. How does that go?


Strangely enough it's just like a normal meeting. If you have 300 people in the room, people tend to be polite. Because they are seen by everybody else when they're not. They don't fall asleep for the same reason, because they are in an environment, which is putting some social pressure on them. So, that's a natural.

I've seen a little bit of chaos where two people, three people are talking, you know, in a debate. They were not giving each other enough space.

You see the same in a TV studio, you know. And these people are sitting in one room. In this case, it happened, but it was only once that I've seen it.

And it works like in a real situation. You have a moderator that says: let's listen to this person first and then, you know, move on to the next.

So, it's a matter of moderating this debate. 


Okay, it has some impact on the moderator. But is there also impact on the organizers? On venues, for example?


Yeah, I think organizers have more options now to, for example, leave the speakers in their hometown. I've seen cases where the organizer chooses three professors: one in Hong-Kong, one in London, another one in South-America. And they have a local group of people coming together around this speaker.


That's also much cheaper and more ecological.


Yeah, nobody is flying, except the technicians that might go to these hubs. Sometimes they are the only ones that fly. The speakers sometimes also come together in one hub. And then you have more, like, satellites. That are watching, but also engaged in conversation. Because there

is a lot of dialogue and conversation and question and answer happening between all the hubs.


Why did you write a book on this subject?


It's because I can. I've lots of experience with multihub meetings now. Very quickly, since 2016, through one company that I was involved with. And the client grew from ten to twenty to forty meetings over the past three years, so they really see that it works. They really see they save money. They really see they have an increase in reach. And that's why they are so happy, and they are increasing the number of multihub meetings that they do.

So, I had lots of experience, but I also knew about several cases. Through the meeting design institute and talking to other people, I could find different cases.

For example: six islands connected to Portugal. For example.

Or 40 countries from one pharmaceutical company with 4600 people, together in a multihub meeting for a couple of hours.

So, I have many cases in the book. But also, the second reason why I wrote this book, is to show the industry that we need these kinds of books as well.

I think, when you look at the books in the industry, and every once in a while, there's a new book coming out, they are very broad.

The first book that I wrote was meeting architecture. And this is a book about the discipline of meeting design, in a way. Through becoming a meeting architect, in a way. But that's a broad book and there's many people that write a broad book. Because they have lots of experience in many different things. And they write a book about many different things.

Now, this is a specialized book, because it's a niche within the niche of hybrid meetings. So, it's just one segment. And by showing that this book is possible, it's 250 pages and I'll leave it to you to judge, after reading it, whether it's a good book or not.

But I think we can, as an industry, produce more specialized books, you know? Niche books. And I think our students, that want to become meeting designers and meeting professionals and meeting architects, need those books. They need a library of different books that they can pick and choose. Because they want to become more this or that as a meeting designer.

And so, it's just a statement, as well as just because the knowledge was there.


If our watchers want to know more about this book, where can they buy it?


It's on Amazon. It's a print-on-demand.


Maarten, thank you very much for coming over to the studio.




And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.