Do you want to plan a hybrid event but feel uncertain what will make it a success? We will not discuss the difference between online, offline, and hybrid events here, but focus on the basic factors to keep in mind at hybrid events. And one of the main influence factors is to decide on going hybrid early!
You will save yourself a lot of trouble when not switching to hybrid in the middle of the event planning process, and avoid that your meeting will look like various components glued together to become hybrid, instead of intertwining and engaging with one another.
Does a hybrid approach make sense for your gathering? If so, design two paths along your event: one for the virtual and one for the in-person experience. Some people say everything needs to be combined and you shouldn’t plan any content that excludes one of the attending groups. I only partially agree with that as sometimes it even makes sense to separate part of the event content, as certain sessions will only be appealing for the in-person attendees while the online viewers may want to follow other content.
Interactive networking sessions mostly work best for the audience at the venue, unless you let everyone network on a virtual platform. However, it is not necessary to force everyone to network online. Instead, you could offer your online audience to watch virtual-only interviews with industry experts – or to take a break until the sessions on stage resume. Consider to offer different content in your agenda, targeting either online or offline attendees, or both.
Equally important – if not even more – is keeping every content engaging! While in-person attendees might snooze through tiring sessions but are otherwise stuck at the venue, you face the loss of your online audience as it is much easier for them to drop out entirely and not even return after an insanely unengaging monologue. Avoid this by creating the two different paths. The virtual one does not need to include all of the onsite elements. Instead, allowing for more breaks and giving them time to leave their laptop is much more important to keep them focused during your event. Ask yourself: how long can I efficiently follow a conversation on my laptop screen? Be open about the two paths prior to registration and advertise them differently. The online path could be the reduced learning path with less socializing compared to the offline path which will be more active.
Alternatively, you can reduce sessions lengths for both audiences and offer additional content during those breaks at the venue. I cannot stress how much you and your audience will benefit from splitting the event over two days instead of packing everything in one full day, as we were used to do. If this is not feasible due to the onsite costs, consider to split the hybrid agenda at least for the online viewers and let them view recordings or attend online workshops on the next day while the others have consumed the entire content onsite in one day.
The online component of hybrid events has a major impact on attendee groups and from where they are joining your event. Or from where your speakers are presenting. Keep time zones in mind when you plan your agenda. It is important to remember whether it may be evening for your speaker while (s)he presents virtually at your early morning conference. Ask them whether they feel comfortable speaking live or if pre-recorded sessions could be a better fit. Oh, and make sure your virtual speakers know how to talk to the camera and be more of a TV show master to keep your audience engaged.
Another way to let your hybrid audience consume your content successfully is the offer of on-demand vs. live sessions. Let everyone decide when to watch a recording or offer live sessions multiple times throughout the conference to give them a chance to attend when it suits them. Not all content or session formats fit both options, so again, careful planning upfront will avoid lots of headache later.
Someone who contributes essentially to a hybrid event’s success is an emcee. Not anyone can take on this job though. A great emcee will animate and motivate the online audience via the chat, encourage them to ask questions, and integrate the viewers to make them actively participate from wherever they are joining. Do you have someone in your staff who can create the connection between your virtual attendees and the live event?
Most importantly is to dedicate at least one onsite representative to the virtual audience. That person will be the connecting bridge between online and offline, and makes the viewers heard onsite. You can choose whether to place that person at the back of the same room with the offline attendees, or in a separate room. The benefit of the latter is that the emcee can address the virtual audience via camera individually without the live audience hearing it.
While the in-person attendees gather prior to the hybrid event and chat over a coffee, the emcee can warm up the online audience and get them hyped and engaged. Or get their feedback during breaks and collect or answer questions which were not addressed during the session. Speakers could also join him or her ‘backstage’ and give an exclusive, virtual-only meet and greet. Introducing and/or moderating virtual-only sessions which don’t happen on stage is on the emcee’s list as well.
Another role of the emcee is to become the viewers feet during the show. Put a GoPro on their head or send a camera man with them, and they can literally walk through the venue for the virtual audience, guide them from stand to stand, and establish connections with onsite exhibitors and speakers.
Successful hybrid events use an online event platform or tool that allows for live polls and Q&A, browser-based or ideally via an event app. The app lets both audiences engage with each other and the event easily. Think about using only the digital Q&A tool to ask questions so that the in-person audience will have to go online and, therefore, is more likely to interact with the virtual attendees.
Last but not least, successful events live from great networking. Whether between both of the attendance groups or the personal contact to speakers and (sales) staff, implement a networking tool that works for all participants. As mention, if it is an event app that can be downloaded by the in-person audience, inform them about this upfront and allow time to do so. If the event platform runs better on browsers/laptops, set up screens in the venue to facilitate the exchange between online and offline attendees.
Think about networking options that allow groups to discuss and interact but also have space for individual one-on-one conversations without any interruptions. Proximity chats provide a great and natural virtual platform for all type of conversations. However, you might want to place headphones or dedicate separate, quiet rooms for these video conversations at the venue to increase successful exchange.
Take some time to sit down and place yourself in both attendance paths. How will your experience look like digitally and in person? Did you notice that at home there is no lunch magically appearing? Virtual attendees may need time to prepare something while the live audience can already start networking while easily grabbing something from the buffet. Think about basics like these and find solutions that make the attendance of your hybrid event comfortable for everyone. Then your hybrid event is automatically on its way to success.
Have a wonderful day!