October 28, 2021
...and our advice for each one.
From securing speakers to marketing and promotion, it takes a big lift to plan any event. And while hybrid events can broaden your reach and make your content more accessible, they require even more effort to execute. This poses new challenges for even the most seasoned event professionals.
But with the right approach, you can plan hybrid events that captivate both your in-person and remote audiences. Below are the most common concerns about hybrid events, according to research by Markletic, along with our best advice for each one:
Done right, a hybrid event isn’t two separate experiences that happen to the same name and branding. Your hybrid event should be one experience that, while hosted in two different venues, leaves attendees with the same key takeaways and feelings, regardless of where they’re watching your content.
And that’s a hard balance to strike. Here are some ways to unify the “real life” and remote attendee experience at your hybrid event:
a. Create an online community for attendees before event day: Once your event begins, in-person attendees will most likely chat with other attendees in the room, leaving the virtual guests to network among themselves. That’s just human nature.
So encourage more remote-IRL connections by giving everyone an opportunity to chat with one another before the event begins, it’s a LinkedIn group or an internal community. Here, they can begin to identify their most valuable contacts and start networking right away.
b. Drum up excitement with a virtual MC: What separates an event from a series of live streams? The camaraderie and run-of-show that takes place between those sessions. So even if your agenda is solid, your remote attendees still might feel like they’re watching a bunch of Ted Talks, rather than attending an event.
So have of your team members serve as the “man on the street” for your remote audience between sessions. This person should provide continuity and a “brand voice” for attendees when actual programming isn’t taking place. For instance, they recap the session, provide links to additional resources, or even interview upcoming speakers. All of those extra touches round out the experience and turn a static series of webinars into a more complete event experience.
c. Use gamification: Gamification is basically a giant event-wide challenge that gives people points for participating in different event-related activities (attending sponsor booths, participating in sessions, etc.). Attendees compete to get the most points, with winners receiving products from sponsors or the host company. And if you’re using a mobile hybrid event app, anyone can join in on the fun, whether they’re in the crowd or on the couch.
Want to go even deeper? Check out these takeaways from our webinar on audience engagement.
Your choice of hybrid event software will make or break your remote attendees’ experience at your event — and by extension, their perception of your brand. So pick wisely. Below are some considerations to keep in mind as you shop hybrid event softwares.
a. Use a browser-based, no-download software: On event day, you’ve got enough on your mind. Who wants to deal with questions about how to download your event software? Browser-based, no-download software enables people to enter sessions directly from an email link, going from inbox to event in seconds.
b. Pick a scalable solution: Since attendance ebbs and flows throughout the day, ensure your hybrid event platform has the ability to accommodate surges of new attendees as needed. Because sure, your hybrid event solution might be able to host 10,000 people at once. But can it handle an influx of 1,000 people in the 10 minutes before Bill Gates goes on–without a deluge of calls to customer support?
c. Host under your own domain: Can you host your event under a custom domain URL? This lets you host the hybrid event under a company-branded URL, which associates your event more closely with your business.
Hosting under your own name also minimizes confusion for guests when they register for your event and/or when they log in.
d. Use a branded mobile event app: Allow attendees to access your event wherever they are, whenever they need it, by using an event app that allows you to use your event branding.
This benefits both IRL and remote attendees. Between sessions, IRL attendees can use the app to network with other attendees, access on-demand content or simply figure out where the next session is located. And remote participants aren’t tethered to their laptops—so they can keep watching and engaging even if they take their kid to soccer practice.
e. Streamline programming with automation: With automation, presenters can pre-load videos, polls, chats and Q&As, etc., into their sessions. This way, you know what file types and dimensions and sounds you can use well before event day.
And since event producers don’t need to manually trigger each part of the presentation during the event, they have more time to respond to audience questions and provide a more personal experience. So pick a hybrid event platform that incorporates automation into agenda sessions, as well as sponsor and exhibitor booths.
Looking for a hybrid event platform? Here’s how to pick the right solution for you.
A lot of factors go into venue selection: safety, aesthetics, location, etc. But for a hybrid event, its technical capabilities should be one of the top priorities.
Because no matter where you stream it, your content will still fall flat if the acoustics are off and the stage is too dark.
So as you’re vetting venues, ask reps about their experiences with hybrid events so you can get a better idea of each space’s technical capabilities. Keep the following factors in mind as you compare venues:
a. Wifi availability and speed: Check the venue’s connection speed and bandwidth to ensure it can accommodate streaming. Test the venue’s power supply to ensure it can accommodate streaming to hundreds or thousands of guests, even during the busiest parts of the day.
b. Quality and quantity of internal tech support: Pick a venue with a dedicated in-house support team, so they can help IRL guests navigate the mobile app or resolve any tech issues.
c. Audio and video recording capabilities: To put your speakers in the best light, choose a venue with built-in equipment with audio and video recording capabilities. Also, the venue should possess good lighting facilities to create a live experience for your remote audience.
d. Availability of practice time and space: Prioritize venues that allow you and your speakers to rehearse sessions ahead of time.
First things first: arrange a back-up internet connection and streaming service. We promise it is worth it. Plus, if you have a contingency plan, then you won’t need it (we just put all the positive vibes into the universe for you.)
But don’t stop with only establishing a backup streaming option:: Switching to a new system is necessary, but not sufficient, to keep your remote attendees happy. If they don’t know where the new programming will take place, or don’t receive timely status updates, they’ll log off before they can return to your programming.
So you need to communicate any changes to your program or streaming service with your attendees as quickly and regularly as possible.
Early in the planning stages, establish a plan for communicating updates to attendees, stakeholders and other team members. This plan should assign responsibilities to each team member so miscommunications don’t prevent remote attendees from getting the information they need.
Event organizers should also broadcast updates across multiple channels, including email, social media and the event microsite itself if possible.
Public speaking is difficult enough as it is. It’s even harder when half your audience isn’t in the same room as you, and you can’t engage them through eye contact and gestures.
So if your speakers don’t verbally acknowledge your remote attendees, the remote audience will feel ignored—and your “event” will feel like a much more expensive live stream.
To fully engage their whole audience, your speakers will have to engage two audiences at the same time. Even for experienced speakers, that takes practice. Here are our best practices for preparing presenters to serve both your in-person and online audiences.
a. Have a real person monitor the event platform: Have a team member monitor the hybrid event platform during each session. Besides responding to technical complaints, this person should distribute polls, answer Q&A questions submitted by the audience and trigger pop-up offers so online guests feel involved in the proceedings.
b. Acknowledge the remote audience right away: Encourage presenters to shout out online attendees at the beginning of the session and throughout the session. Just acknowledging your online attendee will reassure them they’re equally as important to the event as the in-person guests—and make them more likely to stick around.
c. Create online-specific handouts and offers: BigMarker allows presenters to share handouts—downloadable documents summarizing the session—and call-to-action offers with online attendees. Both materials can significantly improve audience recall, so encourage presenters to create them in advance. During the session, these features can be distributed automatically (using automation) or be manually triggered by your producer monitoring the online room.
d. Tailor presentations for a more diverse audience: Hybrid presenters are speaking to a global audience of varying experience levels, so ensure that presenters aren’t speaking solely to local or national issues or overusing industry slang. To keep everyone aligned, give speakers a Presenter Guide with this information upfront and have them submit their talking points to your team two weeks before the event.
e. Network with virtual and IRL attendees: Ensure that presenters divide time between live networking sessions and chats within the virtual Networking Center. This doesn’t need to be a 50/50 split.
But when presenters participate in virtual networking, the online guests feel more included and presenters get exposure to even more valuable connections.
f. Leverage social media to increase visibility: Remote attendees have the disadvantage of being physically removed from speakers. But with that comes the advantage of technology: Since they’re at home, they’re more likely to be on social media and the internet throughout the session and immediately afterward.
Encourage presenters to check the event hashtag right after they’re done speaking, so they can interact with these attendees and capitalize on their interest.
Ask each presenter to share their social media links, as well as relevant product websites and offers, so that online attendees can give them a follow or visit right after the session ends.
Below are some of the best ways to incorporate your remote attendees into your event experience:
a. AI-powered networking: When you attend an event virtually, you sacrifice networking opportunities for convenience. That’s not the case anymore. With AI-powered networking, guests submit their industry, preferences and job functions upon registration. An algorithm then recommends best-fit contacts to one another for video calls.
b. Surprise and delight: If your in-person attendees will receive pieces of swag, send a surprise swag box to your remote guests as well. Time the delivery so that attendees receive it the day or week before the event begins. This way, they can build anticipation as the big day approaches, and they’ll enter the event with a more personal connection with you and your brand.
c. Use gamification to reward active participation: Hybrid event platforms offer rich engagement features to get attendees talking. But the tools are only useful if your participants…. actually use them. So use gamification to reward those who participate in Q&A, polls, networking and sponsor booths.
Remember to survey your online audience about their experience, so you can apply any successes and shortcomings to your next hybrid event!
You can accommodate attendees from across the globe with a little foresight. Your strategy will depend on the distribution of your audience across time zones, the size of the time differences involved, and the relative size of each.
For instance, if you’ve got sizable audiences on both coasts of the US, but a limited international audience, you’ll only have to make minor accommodations to maximize inclusion. Consider hosting your keynote session at 10:30am EST so your West Coast audience can hop on at 7:30 their time.
But if your audience is spread across North America and Asia, for instance, you may need to work some magic. Realistically, your full audience isn’t going to be able to experience every single piece of your event.
But what you can do is maximize access to your event’s biggest selling points: keynote sessions and networking opportunities. Consider hosting two separate keynote and networking sessions for audiences in different continents. This way, everyone gets to participate in the highest-impact parts of your event.
You can also host breakout sessions at different times to accommodate folks from disparate time zones. Say you’re an NYC-based organizer hosting an event with a substantial audience in China, which is 12 hours ahead of NYC. Consider hosting two breakout sessions for each of those audiences, each at 10am local time. Since they’d occur at 10pm for the “other” audience, this ensures that hosting a breakout for one group doesn’t interrupt programming for the other.
If you do this, employ another support team to accommodate off-hours questions from your international audience. (For instance, we’ve got a team in China and Europe that handles requests from guests outside of the Americas.)
PS: As an organizer, you shouldn’t expect every single registrant to watch live.
Up to 35% of registrants sign up with the intention of watching the recordings later: So convert your content into on-demand videos as soon as possible post-event, then post it to a media hub where attendees from other time zones can access it a few hours after it airs live.
Some of this is inevitable. After all, you’re planning two experiences hosted inside one event.
But hybrid event platforms are built to minimize the logistical demands of hybrid hosting.
For instance, BigMarker’s hybrid event solution enables real-time networking and streamlines tasks into one easy-to-use interface. Hosts can collect registration and manage registration data, send event emails, create sponsorship booths, activate integrations and host the actual event all within the same site. This minimizes the amount of time spent onboarding new software and switching between platforms, which reduces the risk of error and misunderstandings.
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