As we get used to the changing landscape and pivot events to virtual experiences, where does that leave live events, at least in the short term?
People with even a long-term view are looking at their 2021 live events and now wondering about what sort of format they should (and could) take. It’s not now a question of when, will we meet again, but how. And one strong contender for consideration is a hybrid or blended event model.
For those companies that don’t want to go fully virtual, it’s quite likely that they will be considering this option. But what exactly is hybrid or blended and how does it work? Essentially, it’s bringing together a smaller core of key delegates into the live environment (with all the necessary safety protocols in place) and ‘plugging in’ other participants from around the world virtually through live web streaming technology. Here, we detail numerous important factors to remember when considering hosting a hybrid meeting or event.
Timing is everything
Firstly, time zones. It sounds counter intuitive, but the delegates who aren’t physically at the live part of your event should actually dictate its kick-off, not the other way around. Because you want to maximise your audience participation and engagement, you need the start time to be friendly to as many time zones as possible. This may mean starting later in the day, and having a shorter live experience, or planning your programme differently and have the ‘kick off’ speech in the middle of the day rather than the beginning.
This brings me to the second point, attention span. Again, the virtual attendees also dictate the programme as those watching on a screen won’t have the same attention span as those sitting in a live environment. Your ‘on-stage’ presentation time will need to be shorter than perhaps it has been traditionally, with more ‘interactive’ Q & A sessions etc. that can include the virtual audience and make them feel like they are participating.
Another way to look at your programme is to break up the content into just live, then live and virtual pieces. This allows for a traditionally morning kick-off speech live. However, the sensitivity of other attendees who cannot be present needs to be taken into consideration here as they may feel undervalued by not being included in this core piece of event communication.
Breakouts in the hybrid space
Another good use of the hybrid/blended model is when it comes to breakout sessions. Smaller groups can join virtually alongside delegates at the live event. A strong ‘host’ here is recommended to help coordinate proceedings and make sure those online aren’t being left behind. Breakouts can be held simultaneously or be spread across the event.
What must not be overlooked, and is probably more important than ever, is event communications. With a mixed audience of live and virtual, messaging and how that messaging is approached for each audience segment is key. Engaging content that strikes the right tone will help to build anticipation (and therefore engagement) for the event for those that are attending virtually. It may also help with the issues of why some delegates are at the event live, while others are attending remotely.
Content is still king
Content is also incredibly important. Consideration must be given to both audiences and how they are consuming the same information. Emotive storytelling through film and animation can capture everyone’s attention - one played out live on-screen, the other direct to someone’s laptop. The cut back to the live presentation will keep the pace of the event fresh. Content for breaks must also be considered - do you have the same activities, or different activities for those in the virtual space? For example, quick energisers like a yoga session could work across both or just be put into place for the virtual audience.
The live environment
The live event set-up in a hybrid/blended model is also likely to look very different to the big WOW set pieces we are used to. Environments are likely to feel more like a TV studio, with spaced out theatre style seating as opposed to cabaret and round tables, to allow more space for social distancing for both delegates and on-site crew.
We all know that the evening of a live event is what most delegates look forward to; a chance to let their hair down and mingle, work free, with all the other delegates, meet new people and network. Unfortunately, with social distancing not disappearing anytime soon, these sort of evening events have been somewhat curtailed. There are options however, even for those attending virtually and the emphasis will shift to entertainment. High level live acts and performers will be the new focus and the draw to many events, which can also be streamed live to the hybrid/blended audience. Exclusive gigs and one-offs will be the order of the day to make an evening event seem special.