As someone who builds hybrid events for clients of all shapes and sizes, I foresee 2022 being the biggest year for hybrid events so far. With no end in sight regarding this pandemic, we’ll all be asked—whether we’re professionals of this process or not—to build one.
So to begin, what are hybrid events?
Hybrid events are a mix of in-person and virtual components. You most often have an in-person program for those who can attend at the location, and a virtual program for those who can’t. The art is in combining the two aspects seamlessly. I know, I know. It sounds tricky. But this article will help you with some high-level tips to make designing hybrid events during this upcoming year a bit easier.
THE MAIN CHALLENGE WITH HYBRID EVENTS IS THE APPRECIATION ASPECT
Without special attention in the design process, the people attending virtually will feel like they’re in the third row, not the first row. So a big question for you as the planner is how you give the digital people a first row experience. The truth for now really is that you need to think of the digital audience first; if you don’t put the digital audience first in your design process, they will feel like third row. So design for them. Put them at the front of your mind as you think of all aspects of your event, from top to bottom, start to finish.
GIVE THE DIGITAL PORTION OF THE AUDIENCE WAYS TO INTERACT AND INFLUENCE OUTCOMES
The physical people who are attending can interfere—through their physical presence, they can change the way the event goes. They can have side conversations, get food, ask questions, affect the room with their mood and laughter, and so on. Also, importantly, they can drink alcohol.
One of my learnings as a hybrid event planner is how much digital audiences dislike seeing the physical audience drinking together. It seems like a small thing, but it really matters. If you’re going to offer drinks to your physical audience, consider sending bottles to people at home or just keep the cameras off for this part of the event.
LET THE DIGITAL GUESTS ASK THEIR QUESTIONS FIRST. AND GIVE THEM OTHER PERKS
Letting digital guests ask their questions to speakers before the physically-located guests really has a positive impact. It lets these guests (often the portion of guests who outnumber the physically-located guests) feel special and appreciated.
Also, think about ways to give the digital guests other perks. Put screens in the physical space where you show the digital people’s faces. Seriously, put them on the stage. Let the physical people see the digital people. Lastly, don’t just treat the digital people like an audience. Treat them like presenters. At some point during the program if not even more often, let them present information to the entire group. They’ll appreciate this, and this is how they deserve to be treated.
BE AWARE THAT A DIGITAL AUDIENCE IS LESS PATIENT
People in a physical room can wait five minutes. A digital audience cannot wait in front of the screen for five minutes. So, if you make them wait, they’ll walk away. They’ll essentially leave the conference, because for them, the conference is the width of their screen. For a physical conference goer, the conference is the width of the building – so a coffee, the bathroom, a side conversation – are all still within the conference.
Let me emphasize this again – you lose the digital audience faster. To remedy this, you need a moderator who keeps them attentive. Be prepared with jokes. Have a backup plan for a minimum of 15 minutes if there is any possible reason you could have a delay (there are always reasons for delays.) Keep the waiting people in mind and keep them entertained.
HAVE SOMETHING THAT UNIFIES EVERYONE
This could be a program pamphlet that you print and send to everyone by mail in advance. Or you could send t-shirts to everyone. If you do that, use Zoom or Teams to take a picture of the whole group. Because these two groups are separate, it’s so essential to build bridges. The more tactile, the better. Send cupcakes to everyone’s home with a candle to celebrate a company birthday together. Even meal vouchers go a long way. Unify the group through visual cues. For example, ask everyone to wear the same color or hat. Be creative here—the stranger or more awesome, the better.
Lastly, as someone who does this professionally in many contexts, I cannot tell you how important it is that the same agency manages both the digital and physical event. I’ve been in situations where the agency running one side will literally be like, ‘huh, we didn’t know about that,’ regarding an activity scheduled into the event —they were totally not on the same page.
No matter how professional, program organizers will experience difficulties in coordinating themselves when there’s not an overarching leader. So choose an overarching leader, or agency, who is aware of all parts. We’re here to help you when you need us. We’re red lab, and we work with clients (startups and huge, multileveled corporations) all around the world in every time zone.
Like I said, I predict 2022 will be the year of hybrid events. Let’s keep getting each other ready.