Vanessa Lovatt, Chief Evangelist at virtual events company Glisser, offers some guidelines for achieving success with hybrid events.
Eighteen months on from the start of the pandemic, the world isn’t quite ready for 100% in-person events.
However, there is a clear need for organisations to stop compromising and evolve from online-only forums. As event planners have discovered, their day-to-day video conferencing platforms have been unable to handle the demands of larger-scale, more formal company events.
It is also increasingly difficult it is to keep employees, partners, customers and investors engaged when they’re not in the room together and the exit is just a mouse click away. Finally, some elements of physical events – like networking – are just too difficult to replicate using online-only technology platforms.
The middle ground is hybrid events, open to both online and in-person attendees, which offer consistent quality alongside choice and control over how and where they spend their time. Indeed, a survey carried out earlier this year reported that more than two-thirds of event planners are embracing a hybrid events future.
So how best to plan a hybrid event that provides a meaningful, engaging experience for all attendees?
How to plan a hybrid event
1. Keep it simple
The rationale for your event, your goals and desired outcomes should determine which hybrid model you choose. Aiming high can be alluring, but introducing unnecessary complexity means that you will be attempting to deliver sessions and content which are non-essential to achieving your goals.
The key is to go right back to design basics and map out what each of your stakeholders desire from the event. For both in-person and online attendees, ask yourself who your event is for, why they are joining, and what they expect to be able to do after your event that they couldn’t before.
When the event agenda is drafted, match your content, sessions and features back to your original design plan. Sticking closely to these design principles will ensure your hybrid event remains as simple as possible, thus ensuring a greater chance of success.
2. Choose your tech
Identifying your event delivery tech stack and mapping clearly which technology solution does what, and how they may link to one another, is vital. You also need total clarity on what your role is in ensuring that the tech is able to perform, details on how tech solutions will integrate with each other, and what your role is in this integration.
This may involve crossing boundaries out of the normal event team, and perhaps consulting with the IT or web design team, or maybe the marketing function. Often the input of several teams is required for visibility, transparency, and a clear understanding of how the tech stack will deliver the event. You may have a registration system, a marketing tracking system, a CRM system, and more, all integrated for meaningful data insights. This can be complicated, so the need for ownership is vital. If you don’t have a tech stack owner, consider appointing one.
3. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
Rehearsing your hybrid event before the day itself is a must, as it will enable you to see and hear what works and what doesn’t, giving you an opportunity to improve on all aspects of the event before you go live. If you have speakers in the room and online, they will have different considerations, and how they interact with each other should also be taken into consideration. Hiring an experienced moderator and using a seamless hybrid event platform will help to streamline this process. And a comprehensive rehearsal will ensure everyone knows what’s expected of them.
Delivering a hybrid event means you have two audiences to consider too. Use this rehearsal to ensure that both will enjoy the event, especially important if the online audience is watching (and interacting with) the live event.
4. Ensure audience equality
Audience equality is a significant challenge for hybrid events. No one wants virtual attendees to feel like second class citizens, particularly when there is a simultaneous live event element between in-person and virtual audiences. The key is to ensure your streaming plans and your engagement levels are of the right standard:
- Ensure you have high quality streaming for getting your content to a virtual audience; this may need to be two-way if you are planning any roundtable conversations
- Use engagement tools that genuinely unite and synchronise the experience between online and in-person viewers.
For a high-quality hybrid event, a production company is best placed to handle the live streaming of any content. Don’t forget to consider the latency of the platform you‘re streaming your content through: all have their pros and their cons. Be sure that you understand the details around live streaming delivery well in advance so that you can prepare your moderators and speakers to handle any latency issues that may arise.
The second area of focus is audience engagement and synchronising activity between in-person and virtual attendees. The best way to do this is to use a core event platform that enables both audiences to contribute and engage with the sessions in the same way, at the same time, with engagement tools that are embedded into the event platform itself.
The careful design and project management of your event, along with the appropriate selection of core suppliers, will enable you to create a smooth, seamless and truly engaging hybrid event. While the future of physical events remains uncertain, hybrid offers the perfect solution for financial services organisations to bring people together, wherever they are.
Vanessa Lovatt is Chief Evangelist at Glisser, an award-winning tech platform powering unique company event experiences, anywhere.