Hybrid events have made a huge progress and became much more popular over the past year. The reasons are quite obvious: large in-person gatherings were and often still are not possible, many attendees were incapable of traveling, and a lot of new event platforms and tools have launched that allow for a more engaging and interactive execution of hybrid event formats.
While hybrid events have made it possible to still meet for a certain amount of people and network with the online audience which tuned in from home or the office, there comes a big challenge with them: how to connect the online and offline audience? I have seen numerous events where either the event content was still organized in a way that caters well for the live audience but absolutely ignores the viewers, or the event setup was kind of holding an event for the attendees present at the venue and a separate version for the online audience.
Well, that is not exactly what hybrid events are about. This may be an easy version to still host your event in general, but you may want to place more focus on combining both audiences to achieve the most beneficial outcome for everyone involved. Let’s take a look at five different hybrid event examples and the opportunities for a joined event experience of online and offline attendees.
The classic hybrid event with in-person attendees and online audience
This type of hybrid event hosts the meeting in an event location and was probably forced to reduce attendee numbers on-site. To be able and allow all invited guests to attend the event, (at least) a live stream is set up for those who watch from home or wherever they sit around the world. Now, regardless of the content and how many people are attending live vs. virtually, there are a few options I would like to highlight when planning the structure of this event.
Silent conference sessions
First, remember that the agenda for both types of attendees is slightly different. While there is still the possibility for attendees at the venue to walk around and network during coffee breaks, this may be a bit more difficult for online attendees. This often depends on the event platform you chose to run your event on and which options it provides besides of watching the live stream.
One option to implement in your agenda is silent conference sessions. These are sessions which can be presented by a speaker on stage or from a person recording from another location or studio. Viewers of the stream can now continue listening to this session while the networking break is going on or take a break by themselves at home. And at the same time, live participants can choose whether they want to listen to the presentation via headphones – thus, silent – or go to network or visit exhibitor booths. Like this, live attendees who wish to follow the session can still do so despite the noise of the networking around them. Questions during silent conference sessions will be submitted via the event app or tools like sli.do. These sessions will also provide an alternative for those guests in the location who don’t feel comfortable to network up close and want to keep their social distance.
Create a Truman Show for the online audience
Another alternative for the viewers can be to create a kind of Truman Show for them during coffee breaks. While guests on-site can network with each other, this break can provide the online audience the option to get in touch with exhibitors or explore the meeting space themselves. Either take the moderator or a separate staff that gets in touch with the viewers via a camera man who follows him wherever he goes. By speaking directly into the camera he or she creates a direct connection to the online audience as if in a 1-on-1 conversation, and the viewers can now direct him or her throughout the space. Whether letting the moderator ask questions of the audience directly to the exhibitors or show up close what has been set up at the location, maybe giving them a ‘personal’ presentation of the new product or letting them peak behind the scenes. The camera perspective switches between showing the moderator and the first-person perspective, as if the viewers would be walking through the hallways themselves, having a chat here and there.
Second screen for event interaction
Last but not least, I would encourage you to make use of the second screen – which is the mobile phone – both for live and online audience. Any event interaction will increase because there is no switching of tabs and being scared to click the wrong button and lose the live stream, while at the same time the main screen gets more space to display the video stream. Both audiences can enter their questions via the event app or online tools so that no preference will be given for live questions because the entire audience can upvote the topics they want to hear about. The same goes for polls and other interactive tasks that will always represent the entire event audience instead of only the virtual attendees.
Hub and spoke method at hybrid events
The hub and spoke method basically means that the event content is created possibly in one (mobile) studio and streamed to different locations. It lets small groups of people connect with speakers from other locations and merges in-person with virtual event format. This hybrid event setup will allow small teams watch a live stream or broadcast together instead of individually from home. This comes in handy when in-person gatherings are still limited to a certain amount of people. But it is also a great way to have teams which are spread over a country or continent tune in together, bringing back some social aspect to the events.
The hub and spoke approach also allows that speakers can present from different locations instead of one green screen studio or the company’s headquarters. And another benefit of this format is that the small groups of people attending the conference or company meeting together can do some activities offline as well. Just plan some team building time in the agenda and then provide each team with tasks, challenges, or other creative and interactive activities that get them moving and have a little break from continuously following the live stream.
Choose your stage and watch broadcast together
Another setup for a hybrid conference uses themed stages, well-known from large exhibitions and congresses, and sets these up in different locations, preferably in walking distance. Contrary to the hub and spoke method where teams have their fixed locations to watch the live stream, the audience at this form of hybrid event can choose where they want to go to watch the sessions at the different stages. Now, the stages here are not having speakers standing and presenting or discussing topics, instead huge screen-filled networking areas are set up.
Dedicate different venues or meeting spaces to one topic (designed and decorated in different themes) so that like-minded experts and attendees can easily find each other. To keep the attendees feel connected with the conference at every single moment, regardless where they are in the hotel or event locations or even in the city during their own breaks, use on-the-ground reporters and strategically placed cameras to broadcast in the event app. From guest interviews to original content, provide them useful and engaging content to stay in touch with the conference throughout the entire stay.
Take a walk while listening to the event session
Whether combined with hub and spoke, used at a live event, or even to break up virtual conferences, consider implementing audio only sessions in your event agenda. This could mean that the small team watching the live stream will leave the meeting room, put on their headphones, and listen to the next session while going for a walk. Especially long online events can cause Zoom-fatigue quite fast. Sitting in front of the screen, whether alone or in a group, is quite tiring and focus levels will drop. Take the screen away, change the setup for a bit, and make the audience move and possibly get some fresh air while still listening to your content. This will give the attendee time to relax their eyes, get their circulation going for better attention, and the possibility to mingle with other attendees as well. Besides, this audio only session does not necessarily be business content but can also include a mindful meditation walk or fun comedy workout. Whatever your audience may need to boost their energy levels.
Hybrid team building activities
As our fifth example for hybrid events I want to give you a quick idea of how to let offline and online audience connect in a more playful way. Gamification and competition is always a great motivator and success factor to get diverse teams into communication and growing together. Teamwork also works between groups of people who are attending either digitally from home or live at the venue. You might just have to give it a little push to make them used to it.
One way of uniting in-person and virtual audience is by giving them a common goal or quest. Co-creation can be facilitated with whiteboard tables at the event location where live attendees as well as online audience can access the same canvas and brainstorm product ideas or draft first ideas for different topics. Tools like miro or mural are great for having multiple people accessing and changing the canvas at the same time.
Let your live attendees become the feet of the online participants. Whether in groups or as buddy pairs each, the viewer can direct the person on-site to go where he wants, film the on-site experience, test products, or guide him or her through the venue. Combining this with a virtual scavenger hunt will awaken the competitive spirit in everyone. Give the online audience tasks, questions, or challenges that can only be solved using the live attendee to check details on-site that help answer or fulfill the tasks.
I hope this gave you some inspiration for your next hybrid meeting or event. And if you feel you’d rather get support from a production expert in this field, we are happy to assist you. From training speakers and bringing broadcast quality to the table to choosing the right platform – Cottage Tent Event is your go-to event manager to make your event more professional.
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Have a wonderful day!