As we learned in our day to day living, some lessons and habits from the pandemic are here to stay.
We know, we know, we are all tired of Zoom meetings… but consider whether or not an element of virtual meetings could remain in conjunction with your in-person meeting. In event terms – consider a hybrid event.
A hybrid event is a meeting, event, or conference that combines an in-person component with an online or digital experience. Below we will review some considerations when planning or deciding if you should host a hybrid event.
Strategize your goals Like every event you plan, take some time to sit down and write out your event goals. When you look at the purpose of the meeting – whether it be networking, getting work accomplished, training, etc. – you may determine some elements of virtual would be more beneficial to utilize while other elements of in-person would be better. Write these down and develop a unified event goal. Use these event goals for the virtual audience and the in-person audience.
Consider hiring help Planning a hybrid meeting means planning 2 simultaneous meetings - one virtual and one in person. While a lot of the content is the same and the experience is designed to be similar, you will need to fully plan and execute two separate events. You will need two separate dedicated teams to ensure each event happens without a hitch. This may mean more staff than you currently have, different expertise than you have, or simply the need to focus on something else. You have heard the old adage, “hire out that which you don’t like to do.” Well, this is true for a hybrid event – if you love the in person side, hire out the virtual side, if you love the virtual side, hire out the in-person side. A little help can go a long way when running two simultaneous events.
Create similar, but separate, agendas Speaking of simultaneous events, the next important consideration is your agenda. Look very critically to determine which content, sessions, and work needs to be accomplished by those online and those in the room to meet the unified event goal. But also think about the separate goals. Remember it is much easier to stay alert at an in-person meeting than a virtual one. Plan your agenda with both types of attendees in mind. And if this means splitting sessions and only having the critical content online, make that decision and market it well. Make certain to let attendees know the benefits and tradeoffs of their decision to either join the meeting in person and or virtually so they can register accordingly.
Use your virtual lessons We have all now had 10 months of virtual meeting experience. Time to put those lessons to the test. All what you learned in the virtual world stands firm in a hybrid event – you still need to continue to educate your speakers about the virtual platform, engage your virtual audience, work successfully with sponsors for the virtual portion, etc. As you are planning a virtual event and an in-person event, use the lessons you’ve learned in planning the virtual side and don’t revert back to your pre-COVID in person ways.
Think through your tech In that same vein, don’t think about your on site technology needs in the same way. A virtual only meeting or a in-person only meeting have very different needs than a hybrid meeting. When conducting a site visit at the hotel or venue, ensure the space is setup to be able to handle the power, connectivity, and equipment required to bring in the virtual hub as well. Then think through which technology can make the agenda successful and engage the audience as much is needed and budget accordingly. You will be spending more on your AV and technology needs while doing a hybrid event.
Charge accordingly I know it can seem weird to tell people who are just sitting at home on their computer that they should pay to attend your event, but your tech expenses will be higher. You will need extra labor, extra equipment, and likely extra bandwidth, and this comes at a price. While you're in-person attendees expect to pay a registration fee to take care of the cost of them being there, meals, printed materials, and more, your virtual registrants still are costing you to attend your event. Look through the technology and AV budget line and divide that line item up between your in-person and virtual attendees to determine a virtual attendance fee.
React to audience needs Virtual and live audiences have different needs. But the goal is still to create a unified meeting experience. Ask yourself the following questions prior to the event: How do you adapt content and create a digital experience that keeps your virtual audience as engaged as your in-person participants? Do you need additional moderators to facilitate discussions with the online audience? Should you use a wide angle camera so the virtual attendees get the feeling of being in the room? Do you create different slides to ensure the virtual attendees are following along? Do you ensure when going off schedule a slide is put up for the virtual attendees and the speaker says what the agenda is from the podium? How do you create an in-person experience that makes your live participants feel special? A little bit of planning the actual attendee experience goes a long way.
Define roles We already talked hiring help, but once you have decided who is on the team, what the agenda is and how to react to attendees needs, it is time to talk roles. The person who is ensuring the live stream is up and going cannot also be calling the show on stage. The speaker giving the in person talk cannot be at the computer answering questions coming in. The manager who is working with the banquet team to ensure the room is set properly cannot be ensuring the correct attendees are logging in online. Take time with the team to write out all potential roles for your virtual portion and your in-person portion and assign them prior to getting on site. Once your event day rolls around, having the roles assigned will result in a standing ovation – both from your in-person attendees and via clap emojis from your virtual attendees.
After considering all the above, you may decide a Virtual-only meeting or an In-Person-Only meeting is for you.
But you may also decide that a hybrid event may make your meeting more successful and better than ever! Maybe it is a way that you can keep travel costs lower, increase attendance or simply to make your meeting more transparent for those not formally invited. For any of those reasons and more, a hybrid meeting may be the way to go!
Whether you need the in-person logistical support of a professional meeting planner, the AV support from an experience in-person event producer, the production and technology support from a Virtual Meeting expert, or even virtual event logistics, GCFA is here to help. Contact ConnectionalRelations@gcfa.org today to speak to a certified travel and meeting planner to help with your event!