Raise your hand if your in person event was cancelled and transitioned to virtual?
Raise your hand if you tried to recreate the in-person experience virtually?
In the first few month of quarantine, we were focused on getting our events online and making them happen. Now that we have become accustomed to the virtual event world, our next step is to think about how we can create an engaging hybrid experience.
Hybrid is truly two separate experiences- virtual and in-person. Although it can be challenging, developing two ways that achieve your event’s goals and objectives will make for a successful hybrid event (…and we are planners so we say bring it on!). Let’s face it, your in-person plan does not translate very well to the screen. We need to adapt and find ways that will engage a virtual audience. As I begin to plan for next year, these are the thoughts that are running through my mind.
The look and feel is super important. Joanne Dennison, CMP (amazing CMP instructor if you are prepping for your exam!) always says to “sit in the attendee’s chair” when you plan. From that perspective, I want to make sure that the platform and application we select can be used by both audiences that transfers well between mobile and desktop and one that does not need to be downloaded is a plus. In-person attendees can use the app to view the conference schedule and schedule one-on-one meetings with other attendees. Hybrid attendees can use either application to view the conference schedule, attend sessions, meet new people in brainstorm sessions and schedule one-on-one meetings with attendees and sponsors. Using an app that takes place of any printed conference schedules and handouts will ensure that your audiences have the most up-to-date information plus it will save money on print costs and is a win for the sustainable future of events.
Should we meet?
A question that has been popping up is “Should we plan to have virtual attendees meet in-person attendees?” Before you answer, ask yourself will having both sets of attendees help to achieve the meeting’s goals and objectives? If the answer is no, then continue to plan two separate experiences. If the answer is yes, think of creative ways that will integrate the audience. One idea is to create a webcam networking lounge where attendees can schedule time to have group discussions. This popped in my head when I thought back on a group discussion I participated in between young professionals in CT and students in Belize! We gathered in a shipping container that had a microphone & speaker for the space and a giant webcam of the students. It felt like we were literally in the same room! Even though the logistics may look different (I’m guessing no shipping container!), the idea can be used to have a group discussion between your in-person and virtual attendees.
In-person networking will pretty much be the same experience we are used to… except for talking with masks and maintaining physical distancing. I saw a picture floating around twitter that had three color coded bands for attendees to wear- one for people who are comfortable with handshakes and hugs, one for people who will socialize but no physical touch and another for people really trying to keep their distance. I love it as it helps everyone to respect each other’s boundaries and comfort levels while still being able to create meaningful connections. Virtual networking on the other hand can seem like a challenge, but with the right process it comes with ease. My MPI WestField chapter hosts a virtual networking lunch monthly using zoom breakout rooms. The meeting is for an hour with a 5-10 minute group topic discussion then breaks into smaller sessions 2-4ppl twice. That way the group gets to personally meet 6 people during the hour. When planning your virtual conference, schedule multiple networking sessions to give your attendees the chance to meet as many people as they can in a successful and structured way. The webcam lounge discussed above can also be used for networking between both attendee groups.
Sessions & Fitness
There are multiple ways to plan and host your sessions. What you choose will depend on if that format will meet your goals and objectives (yes this is the question you ask for everything!) and if you have the means to do so aka the funds. Here are a few combinations to consider: in-person with live in-person presenter or live virtual presenter, virtual with live virtual or in-person presenter and virtual with pre-recorded sessions and live q&a. Some of these choices allow you to cross utilize content between both groups such as having an in-person keynote speaker live streamed for a virtual session; or having a live virtual yoga or fitness class both groups can join.
Like everything discussed above, there are ways to cross utilize content that allows everyone to have fun and unwind. The after-hours event ideas are endless, so here are a few to get your creative juices flowing. Host a virtual game show or trivia night. I find these to be the most fun and engaging activities. People really get into it! Or you can send a wine, cheese or chocolate tasting box to your attendees for a virtual wine and cheese night!
I hope these ideas help you in creating an amazing hybrid event. YOU GOT THIS!
5 Recap Points
- Use an app that is both mobile and desktop friendly AND both in-person and virtual attendees can use.
- Create opportunities for in-person and virtual attendees to meet ONLY if it supports achieving the meeting’s goals and objectives.
- Respect attendee comfort levels during in-person networking and schedule ample networking opportunities for virtual attendees.
- Choose session styles that bring the most value for your attendees. There is opportunity to cross utilize content between group.
- After-hours events should be a moment to unwind and have fun. Plan activities that attendees choose to participate in.