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While nothing could prepare the event industry for the changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are plenty of things that can be done to help prepare for life after the virus.
Hybrid events, events that include both in-person and virtual elements, have been a rising trend for the last several years, but restrictions on gathering in recent months have made them a possible solution for current or future events.
While lockdowns and stay at home orders are in place, virtual events are the best alternative to postponing or canceling an event altogether. But, as things start to loosen up and return to something resembling normal, a hybrid event could give you the best parts of a live event as well as the benefits that come with having a wider audience tuning in online.
Obviously, every event organizer wants to pull off a successful hybrid event but to do so, you need to be ready!
Things to Consider When Preparing for a Hybrid Event
Because hosting a hybrid event essentially means managing two audiences simultaneously, pulling it off takes some careful consideration.
It is essential to know exactly what your event goals are, schedule each session thoughtfully, protect in-person attendees, engage the remote audience, and ensure the hybrid experience is a valuable one for all participants.
Here are some things to consider and some steps to take that can help you in meeting your expectations for the event as well as those of your attendees:
Determine your goals and KPIs
Before you can fully dive into the event planning process, you need to know what it is you hope to achieve and determine how you will measure success or failure.
First, ask yourself the following:
- Why are you holding this event in the first place?
- What are your short term goals? Long term goals?
- Do you know how to provide industry knowledge though a hybrid conference?
- Are you promoting cutting edge technologies in a physical trade show supported by access to virtual trade show elements?
- Are you hoping to increase awareness of your event brand or is turning a large profit your primary objective?
- How will the digital elements contribute to these goals?
Once you have these questions answered, you can begin to look for venues, plan out content, choose a virtual event platform, and develop the event agenda.
A hybrid event is more than just tacking on a webinar or two to a physical event, it needs to have a purpose and direction. Today’s audiences are sophisticated and if your event is formless and aimless, you will find it hard to foster interest and engagement from both your in-person and online audience.
Assess venues for safety practices
In the planning process, be sure to put the online event elements away for a second and pay very close attention to the set up for the physical event details.
You need to find a venue that will house the in-person sessions. Given how much things have changed, you will not only need to find an event space that is allowing events of your scale, but one that will also keep your attendees safe.
A great way to keep things as safe as possible is to look for a venue with a GBAC Star Facility Accreditation. This program was put together by the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) and trains facilities in biorisk reduction, proper cleaning and sanitization techniques, and ensures access and use of PPE.
This accreditation can help you and your attendees feel safer at the live event by knowing that the venue staff and management are all trained and working to reduce the spread of the virus and to keep everyone as safe as possible.
Beyond safety, look for a venue that can accommodate your technological needs as well. You will need proper lighting, proper staging areas, proper access to electrical outlets, and a fast wifi connection.
Choose the right event technology
For the virtual component, you will want to make sure you have all the right technology in place. This obviously means cameras, lights, microphones, projection screens, and projection capabilities.
But it also means a virtual events platform. With the right platform, you can merge the event components with ease. Using a tool like Accelevents, you can seamlessly manage all ticketing and registration while facilitating participation and networking across physical and virtual sessions.
Look for an event platform that:
- Offers 24/7 live support
- Provides real-time registration and sales data
- Can integrate with social media platforms
- Offers live streaming video
- Has chat features (video and text)
- Allows for networking sessions
Plan for engagement and networking
At a physical event, it is inevitable that people will meet one another. But when you host a hybrid event, things can get a little more complicated.
Certainly, the people attending in-person will meet one another, but what about virtual attendees? How will they network with each other or people at the event?
In order to keep the virtual audience engaged and provide them with the same value physical attendees are receiving, you need to actively plan for it.
Consider adding things like event gamification to create a shared sense of competition that applies to all attendees or host both physical and virtual cocktail hours.
To try and get attendees to engage with one another, consider using social media. Live-tweeting your event, for example, is a great way to get people commenting and sharing with not only other attendees but possible people from all over the world.
Make sure that you leave time in your agenda. No, you do not want a bunch of dead time where people have nothing to do and can disengage from the experience, but you do want to leave people room to collect themselves and think over what they just learned. Understand that there might be a slight lag and processing things coming in from an online attendee may be slower.
All event staff and presenters should be sensitive to the online audience and ensure that the event pacing accommodates their needs.
Put a team together
To be successful with a hybrid event, you need to put together a great team. Virtual elements may present some unexpected roles. Among your typical in-person event support team, you will want to include:
- A strong facilitator: More than just an emcee, this person will actively get the online audience involved. They will not only take questions from the people in the room but check for questions from digital attendees as well.
- Tech support: Yes, you will need tech support for the physical event but you will also need to employ some individuals that are well versed in your online platform and can assist users should any problems arise.
- Social media moderator: If you are using social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook to connect your audiences, you need to have someone monitoring the platforms. They can get rid of any inappropriate comments and deliver posted questions to the facilitator.
- Technical producers: It is a good idea to have individuals on hand that have experience with audio and visual production. This will help to keep video quality high for remote attendees. These people can also help to troubleshoot the equipment in person if necessary.
Prepare speakers and presenters
One of the most important things you can do to prepare for a hybrid event is to prepare your participants. Speakers and presenters need to fully understand what is expected of them. Hybrid events are novel for most people and speaking at one is different from speaking at an event that is completely live or completely online.
Make sure that your speakers understand the time frame. If they run too long or too short it really messes with your event agenda. If you are presenting live streams, attendees will expect to see that live stream at the planned time. Someone may log in at 1pm because they were expecting to see a specific presenter. If that is not who they see, they may just log off and not return.
It is also important to remind presenters to acknowledge the online audience. It can be easy for them to focus on the people right in front of them, forgetting the folks at home. If this happens, it can be a disaster for attendee experience and engagement levels. So, make sure each presenter is aware of where the cameras are and that they engage with it, and seek comments and questions from the virtual audience.
If they forget to check-in, the event facilitator can step in to help.
Do a full rehearsal
Before you launch the event, do a complete run-through of the day, top to bottom.
A rehearsal can help you determine if the camera placements are ideal, if you have the right lighting, how long presentations are likely to take, and ensure that everything is working properly with your presentation equipment and virtual platform.
The results of the rehearsal will help you determine what needs to be shored up and where any potential gaps are in planning and support.
If 2020 has taught us anything so far, it is that anything can happen. And to that end, preparation is one of the main keys to being successful at a hybrid event.
By following the steps in this article and using a reliable and comprehensive platform like Accelevents, you can create a unique and enduring experience for every attendee! When you are ready to get started, contact us to learn more!