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Hybrid events are predicted to be one of the big event trends of the next few years. A hybrid event combines a traditional “live” in-person event with a “virtual” online component.
Whether you are an event manager planning your first hybrid event or a speaker preparing for a presentation with an online audience you need to think carefully about how to communicate effectively and engage with remote participants, as well as those in front of you in the room. This post looks at some of the basics to consider.
Although the technology and capability for web streaming has been around for many years hybrid events are gaining popularity as technology becomes slicker and more accessible.
Virtual attendees demand and deserve more. If you are planning an online event and truly want to engage and involve virtual attendees a simple web stream is not enough. A true hybrid event needs to work harder.
Tips and good practice for speaking to a live audience still stand when presenting to an online audience, but there are also a few extra elements to have in mind.
Event Planners and speakers also potentially need to work harder to hold the attention of virtual delegates and compete against the distractions of the home or work environment to keep them tuned in.
Special thanks to online event guru Paul Cook from Planet Planit for his valuable input to this post.
Preparing for a Hybrid Event
1. Be Prepared
With a hybrid event information such as slides, video and other background information need to be prepared, loaded onto the web streaming portal and tested in advance. The exact requirements will depend on the system and provider but ensure that you understand fully the deadlines and complexities which will be required and how much flexibility (if any) there is for changes.
Event Managers must ensure they clearly communicate deadlines to speakers with plenty of notice and explain why it is so important to receive the absolute final copy by this date.
Speakers please do plan and respect the Event Planners deadlines to ensure technical success and avoid last minute panic.
Ensure you are clear about where the cameras are located and ideal positioning on the stage, including camera black spots to avoid.
As an Event Manager take extra time to make sure that your speakers are comfortable and well briefed. Even experienced presenters may be a little nervous about being live streamed for the first time.
Speakers should be able to talk through and understand the technology with the Event Planner and Technicians. Ideally there should be time to privately practice presenting the first few slides to the room.
3. Strong Facilitation
Have a strong, well briefed facilitator who can be the key link between both the live attendees and virtual delegates. Better still, have two distinct roles; a specific host for the online audience (a ‘Virtual Emcee’) and the traditional conference Chair.
If you have two dedicated roles ensure that you provide detailed briefing notes so it is clear who will manage and say what and at what time. Agree signals and protocol for the Virtual Emcee to be able to contribute feedback, questions and comments from the online participants.
4. Acknowledge the Online Audience
A simple mistake many presenters make is not acknowledging the online audience. Take a few moments during your introduction to look into the camera and specifically welcome the virtual attendees, as well as those physically in the room with you.
Ensure the live audience knows that the online audience are a big part of the hybrid event too. Brief the Chair to explain to them what is going on. Ask the Host to add interest by disclosing how many online participants are watching and which countries they are from. Mix questions from the room with the perspective from virtual participants.
5. Think Specifically About the Online Perspective
When planning your events you will always think carefully about the experience and journey for different groups of people. Use the same process for your online audience. Plan carefully for continuous content during any periods when the conference is on a break. Schedule in interviews, feedback and additional behind the scenes content; never leave your online participants looking at an empty conference room!
6. Use Social Media
Social media and most commonly Twitter is a great platform to connect your attendees and facilitate conversations and feedback, whether or not they are there in person at the event or viewing remotely.
Ensure you have a robust and well communicated strategy so people know how to get involved and to encourage plenty of activity. Download the Social Media for Events eBook if you need further guidance on this.
7. Keep to Time
You probably work hard to keep all your events close to time but this is even more vital when providing a live stream. Similar to TV scheduling your audience may log on specifically to catch certain presentations, speakers or snippets of information at a particular time and confusion will be caused and people will simply switch off if the web stream doesn’t match what is advertised on the programme.
8. Engagement and Interaction
Don’t shy away from interaction but ensure that it is planned and managed well to include all participants and for an appropriate amount of time. Appreciate that the online response may not be as immediate as from those within the room so do allow for the thinking, action and response time of remote attendees.
Take into consideration that many viewers will be watching alone and so cannot discuss with their neighbour/colleague as actual delegates at the event can. Virtual attendees can of course still be asked to think and respond via the comments tab or publically via social media.
If it is important to include participant discussions consider how this information will be fed back to everyone to make it inclusive. Table discussions will not convey well to the online audience unless there can be feedback of the highlights from each table and then everyone can benefit from the feedback.
When the discussions are going on maybe the Virtual Emcee could give a few minutes of thinking time and then invite a knowledgeable and pre warned delegate to share some thoughts on camera for the benefit of the online guests whilst the table discussions are going on in the background.
Polls, voting, submitting questions are things that everyone can get involved in using the right tools This can be done via a dedicated web page which everyone can be signposted to or via the event app. This can enable very quick, visual feedback.
Remember that the Virtual Emcee can monitor and act as the voice for the online audience to highlight key feedback.
9. Dress Code
If you are presenting or likely to be on camera avoid wearing heavily patterned or striped clothing which may interfere and be too “busy” for the cameras.
10. Capture the Spirit of the Event
It is important to work hard to look after your online participants and to give them a valuable insight into the event. There are however many more benefits and value to physically attending an event in person which cannot be provided by viewing over the internet, particularly in terms of the networking opportunities, personal connections made and providing an immersive experience, as discussed in more detail in the Top 10 Trends Report.
Even when done really well a virtual event experience cannot equally compete with the real benefits of attending an event. If done correctly though running a hybrid event can broaden your audience and exposure, offer an international perspective and provide a richer experience for everyone involved.
There is some emerging evidence from a number of events of a high conversion rate from virtual attendees to actual loyal delegates at future events. It is questionable whether without this unique online insight they would be as motivated to become a real live attendee.
Hybrid events are becoming increasingly popular and more accessible as technology advances. Whether you are preparing to present to a virtual audience or planning a hybrid event for the first time I hope that these tips are useful.
Are you already running hybrid events? What other top tips would you add? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.