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The Best of Both Worlds: Five things to consider when organizing hybrid events

March 03, 2021

BO

By Ben Ogden
Senior Event Manager, Australia/New Zealand, CWT Meetings & Events

Last year's Thailand Incentives & Meetings Exchange (TIME 2020) in Bangkok was held as a hybrid event, with some speakers and attendees participating virtually [Photo credit: Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB)]

Throughout 2020, the world was inundated with Zoom meetings and virtual events to keep businesses operational – in-between getting our fresh loaves of sourdough out of the oven, of course. Being able to meet in person has been tricky with looming threats of continued virus outbreaks and little to no travel opportunities.

So, what does 2021 have in store for corporate meetings and events? My guess is it’s going to be a big year for hybrid meetings. Even as face-to-face meetings gradually resume – as we are already seeing in some parts of the world – travel restrictions and various safety requirements will likely remain in place for some time to come, and so all participants may not be able to attend in-person.

Hybrid events, which combine both virtual and in-person elements, allow organizers to reach a wider audience and get the best of both worlds. You can achieve higher levels of engagement and create valuable networking opportunities that are only possible through face-to-face interactions. At the same time, having some attendees join virtually can mean lower costs, a smaller carbon footprint and ensure compliance with health and safety requirements.

If you’re looking to plan a hybrid event, here are five important things to consider:

  1. Budgets: A typical hybrid meeting will have some participants gather at one or more hub locations, ideally situated close to where majority of them are based. Attendees who can’t be physically present at these locations, join the event virtually via an online platform.

    By limiting the number of people who attend in person, this format helps reduce travel costs to a certain extent. However, planners still need to factor in the costs of both the live elements like the venue, catering, and audio-visual requirement, as well as the digital elements such as the online platform, audio, and cameras required to stream the event to the remote participants.

  2. Production format and options: Consider the technology needed to execute the hybrid event. Will you have 100 people in the live audience and 500 people view the stream? Is the meeting simply a presenter in a studio with content streaming out to the whole audience online.

    Remember, you will need to meet the requirements of both a live audience and the online audience. For larger events, like the one described above, each presenter will need their own microphone, a show-caller will likely be involved and there is a high-chance that multiple cameras will need to be brought in to cover the speakers on stage.

    The good news is that many venues in Australia’s major cities are well prepared for hybrid meetings, some with purpose-built studios complete with cameras and green screens.

  3. Content is king: Everything we have learned about meeting virtually is relevant to hybrid events, keeping in mind that whilst your live audience can handle some ‘padding’ like the transition time between sessions, meal breaks and such, your virtual audience needs to remain engaged from start-to-finish.

    The content, agenda, speakers, and interactions need to be engaging and relevant, more now than ever before. This leads me to the next point.

  4. Time management: Let’s face it, burnout from virtual interactions is real, and whilst some audiences can handle a full-day of meeting online, from experience we have learned that most audiences can’t do more than a few hours. Keep your content relevant, short, and snappy, with high-quality engagement throughout which is sure to leave a lasting impression on your audience.

    Your live audience will thank you for it as well, being a half-day meeting they can still tend to their regular workload back at the office and pick the kids up from school.

  5. Engaging your online audience: Your live audience is going to benefit from chatting to colleagues in the pre-event area and they will be able to attend the post-event dinner function – but don’t forget about your online attendees when dishing out the perks.

    If COVID-19 has taught us anything, we’re extremely creative and adaptable when put under pressure. During lockdown, many businesses pivoted their service, creating unique gift boxes, meal kits and the like, all of which your online audience can benefit from.

    Are your in-person attendees being treated to an after-event cocktail function? Why not send a pre-packed, company-branded cocktail kit to the doors of your virtual attendees? Or perhaps send meal delivery vouchers for them to enjoy with their family that evening.
     

The return to live meetings and events is challenging and we’re forced to be agile in order to keep participants engaged. We know people are experiencing a degree of fatigue with meeting online, yet there is a need to keep conversations flowing, ideas progressing and people interacting. By creating an opportunity for at least some delegates to meet face-to-face in a way that complies with safety requirements, while also supporting other objectives such as cost management and sustainability targets, hybrid event look to be a great middle-ground.

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