Sometime—hopefully soon—when we return to onsite events, we will have to toggle between capturing some speakers live from the ballroom and others live on a video platform.
Some of our attendees will join us onsite while others will participate from their living room. Preparing for a hybrid event will require critical thinking in three realms: live and digital…and in the space in-between where they intersect. There is no going back to pre-pandemic events. The COVID pandemic has accelerated events into the Digital Age.
With an open mindset, agile collaboration and detailed planning, post-COVID events will be more rewarding for all stakeholders. Organizers, sponsors and exhibitors will crave users’ content usage data that virtual made accessible to better target transforming attendees into customers.
And our attendees will become accustomed to being at the center of attention as they have been in the virtual space with interactivity, like polling, breakouts, peer-to-peer roundtables and even effortlessly transforming themselves from attendee to presenter.
When face-to-face events return, the deeper connections, personalization, sharing of ideas and on-demand content that has become the new normal in virtual events will make the even newer hybrid live event experience even more rewarding and relevant.
Following are five key considerations for hybrid events:
1. Everything Will Be on Video
All sessions, even breakouts, will be recorded on video so that the virtual audience can participate. For onsite, this will mean additional audiovisual cost. It also means that these videos can be repurposed for social media amplification of speakers and the conference’s thought leadership, which is an effective method to build audience.
2. Staff Up
“Everything on video” means more staff, not only to capture the live sessions but to webcast that content to the virtual audience. It could be that a panel will have some live speakers and others who will be participating via the web. This will mean video switching operators and directors to “call the show” like with live TV.
Hybrid events require detailed coordination and scheduling. For this you will need virtual stage managers. All virtual presenters should be contacted before the live event to test their lighting, framing and bandwidth. They should be instructed on the use of the video platform, and all other media such as slides or video rolls should be tested.
At showtime, the virtual stage manager will make sure that a speaker has entered the video platform at the scheduled time and that they are ready. The virtual stage manager will count down and cue for live, have presentation materials ready, and correspond via personal chat to the virtual speaker with instructions or to send questions.
Many people are a bit unnerved by delivering their presentation into a laptop, so having a trained virtual stage manager can help assure a good performance.
[Download our free A Hybrid Meetings How-To eHandbook!]
All schedules, Zoom numbers and media assets should be posted on a cloud-based platform. There will be no more handouts. And consider using Slack or MS Team to have your production team communicate whether they are onsite or working from their homes. They can post files, make calls and create customized work groups.
3. Bandwidth and Venue Negotiation
Since everything will be video and webcasted, this will require more onsite bandwidth. Also, the technical crew will need more connectivity to edit videos and post them for on-demand viewing, as well as for monitoring both the live and virtual presentations from the onsite and remote control rooms.
Start negotiations early with the venue. Consider hiring a dedicated network engineer to design the network and to calculate the bandwidth needs with your technical director.
Also, always negotiate rates. Do not sign the rental, sleeping room or food and beverage contract until you agree upon bandwidth capacity and rates, labor charges and a schedule of deployment.
4. Integrate Your Tech Stack
As the complexity for planning a digitally driven hybrid event increases, so should the call to action to simplify and integrate your technology stack. Work in advance with your tech suppliers to seek opportunities to connect their functionality and exchange of your data.
Imagine designing one dashboard in which you can monitor the pre, during and post data reports of your attendees’ journey either onsite or virtually within a unified tech stack. Partner with to your tech suppliers by signing multi-year contracts and allocate funding for Application Programming Interface (API) connecting and customized programming.
[Related: 20 Meetings Trendsetters Who Stepped Up When Their Industry Needed Them Most]
5. Platform Thinking
Remember that all assets and communications need to be in the cloud.
One venue we have spoken to is working on a microbe-free and touchless live event environment. Some are considering having a dedicated microphone for each speaker, while others are looking at touchless speaker presentation networks where all slides and media are uploaded on to a content management platform and distributed to podium laptops via a local area network (LAN).
Digital signage will be driven by a wireless LAN. There will be physical hand-outs or swag and lead retrieval will be on a platform that the attendee chooses to access via their personal device or phone.
Parnership Is Key
Successful hybrid events will require many partners. Now is the time to begin convening an exploratory innovation session with your tech and staging providers, venue, sponsors, internal client, the destination—and yes, your attendees—to work together to design an even better event model.
At MAP Digital, we follow the basic tenets of Design Thinking: Empathize (with your end-user, the attendee); Define the Problem; Ideate; Build a Protype; and Test.
One thing that we know for certain is that currently there are no certified experts in producing hybrid events. So, what do you have to lose? Start building your new, hybrid event model. It will be a challenge, but new things always are.
The industry will come back better if we collaborate, integrate, get into the cloud and try, test and begin again.
Read Next: Expert Tips on Transitioning From Live to Virtual Events
About the Author:
Mary Ann Pierce is the founder and CEO of MAP Digital. For over 20 years, Mary Ann has fused the digital space to investment banking conferences and built MAP Digital: MetaMeetings™, an event platform as a service. Headquartered in New York City, MAP Digital produces live and virtual events globally and is the co-founder of the Equality Moonshot, which fosters women-run STEM businesses solving the UN Sustainability Development Goals 2030.