Hybrid Events May Be the Future of Meetings
While factors driving the return of in-person events may be outside our control, we can work to understand the dynamics of the new meeting environment and prepare for a variety of executable options.
Early days of the pandemic found meeting planners asking, “When will things get back to normal?” After almost a year of the “new normal,” many of us are still asking that same question. With that uncertainty in mind, how do we plan for events in 2021? The answer lies with hybrid events. Through a hybrid approach we can motivate, educate, and recognize our consultants while keeping them safe and comfortable no matter where or how they decide to engage.
Many of us are missing the human connection we used to have in both our work and personal lives. With many organizations moving permanently to virtual work environments (and limited in-person activities continuing to contribute to feelings of increased isolation), people will be searching to fill the gap. More than ever, events will provide opportunities for re-connecting and offer true networking opportunities that are now missing from the traditional office and personal environments.
There’s no doubt that increased confidence in travel safety practices and medical advancements will gradually bring back the opportunity to hold in-person events. A September survey of 1,364 Global Business & Travel Association Companies indicated 70 percent of respondents expected a return to in-person events in the second half of 2021. A Planner Confidence Index Survey by Expo Direct reported that 49 percent of planners had active RFPs in process. Of those planners, 16 percent expected their next face-to-face event before the end of 2020 and 73 percent had future faceto-face events contracted. Yet, as the meeting planning community anticipates this return, there is a realization we won’t be returning to the same “old normal.”
Uncertainty persists. If in-person events are just around the corner, will a virtual meeting component still be necessary? No matter their size or tenure, direct selling and network marketing companies have experienced record-breaking attendance numbers under these circumstances. Virtual access has expanded consultant reach in attendee type and geography—sometimes even three- or four-fold!
People who could not have attended conferences due to travel costs, work or family schedules, geographical barriers, or even physical limitations are now able to participate in all the same activities as their on-site peers. It’s logical to assume that the barriers that kept a number of these consultants from attending previous events will likely remain—even post-pandemic. It only makes sense to continue offering remote connectivity within events as an alternative solution.
Since 2021 will bring a renewed interest in finding deeper engagements and irreplaceable experiences for on-site and remote attendees, how can we capitalize on this and position ourselves for success? What do we need to know about this new hybrid environment and how do we plan for these new and sometimes fluid challenges?
Defining a Hybrid Event
A hybrid event is one that has both an in-person, faceto-face component as well as a virtual environment that joins people located remotely with those who are physically present at the event venue.
A good hybrid event focuses on attendee equality. Merely streaming live presentations and activities for remote attendees to view only creates a barrier to learning and engagement. Instead, creating opportunities for two-way communication between speakers and attendees as well as facilitating remote to in-person interaction allows for a more consistent and rewarding experience whether attendees participate locally or virtually.
Building a Hybrid Environment
So how do you build a hybrid environment?
Take over the space. Just as your brand and theme take over the landscape of a hotel or convention center, your virtual platform needs to be shaped as an extension of that same look and feel. Whether entering the doors leading into your general session or clicking on a link that opens your landing page, there should be no doubt your consultants have joined their community. Reflecting the same imagery, colors, font, and language used in your physical signage, a virtual platform should provide a wealth of opportunities to reinforce your message. The upside of all of this is that you stand the opportunity to double the exposure of your passive learning and consultant recognition with a dynamic presence in both digital and physical spaces.
Be intentional with the agenda. When it comes to event design and session scheduling in a post-pandemic, hybrid environment, new considerations always arise. Virtual events have taught us that shorter, more interactive content is much better suited to our new digital attention spans. Complementing these needs are increased safety guidelines on traffic flow and social distancing to limit the length and location of concurrent sessions. With on-demand content available post-session, consultants truly don’t need to miss a single presentation.
Allow for a new vision in staging. In the past, the general session scenic expression and stage has always been one of the key elements in an event. Now, new capacity requirements, seating plans, and broadcast considerations are changing stage designs. Take a step back from the traditionally expansive, panoramic approach this year and consider two audiences—those physically in the space and those viewing through a digital lens. Consider breaking up the scenic design into multiple stages that allows for a variety of camera backdrops and activities. Wow factor can still play a part, but function takes on a much more critical role.
Prepare for a larger scope of production equipment and crew. When delivering main stage content in a hybrid environment, all the equipment and technicians of the past remain, but now there is an added virtual production. Two examples to consider are switchers and cameras. Both function quite differently in these two worlds. Cameras that support IMAG capture tight shots to magnify people and content to the back of the room (content). Broadcast camera operators take the point of view or wider shots to show what is happening in the larger space (context). A second switching system may be necessary for each experience.
Create spaces and times to bring the audiences together. Consider incorporating a host or emcee focused on the virtual audience. Since remote attendees are not as easily able to connect with speakers or leaders on-site, it’s important to deliver a more intimate experience with a small host studio that utilizes a talk show format. This approach not only fosters more engagement, but it also helps to tie show elements together and provide a personal/conversational experience for virtual attendees.
Translating a Hybrid Plan
Now that you have determined the foundational elements for merging in-person and virtual, translation ideation will help your team better plan. Every event (virtual and in-person) needs to be translated into a site map or flowchart that outlines all the pieces and parts that will make up your event. Not only is it important to consider the journey attendees will experience, but it’s also necessary to create an overall inventory of technology and interactions that will be needed. Below are several questions to contemplate, discuss, and evaluate when strategizing your hybrid event plan.
- Impact to Logistics – Has the contract with your venue changed post-pandemic to modify capacity numbers, seating plans, ventilation guidelines, or new F&B policies?
- Use of Space – Will you need larger or more numerous meeting spaces to allow for social distancing requirements? Can you capitalize on outdoor seating areas allowing physical attendees to break away to natural light and air without missing a minute of content?
- Planning Timelines – How will larger project scopes, changing vendor processes, and increased complexity increase your planning windows?
- New Partnerships – Are your current partners prepared to help you make this change or do you need to identify new ones that can collaborate and provide support in this new world?
- Availability of Internal Resources – Do you have the right resources with enough time allotted for this larger project?
- Budget Increases – Does your event budget include new and increased costs for things like:
- Sanitization stations, masks, on-site testing, and cleaning supplies;
- Food & beverage increases to accommodate for packaged food requirements, bottles vs. water coolers, and additional break stations to reduce traffic jams;
- Added A/V costs for virtual component; and
- Robust internet with greater bandwidth.
There are many benefits to employing a hybrid approach to your 2021 events. Increased attendance, flexibility, and convenience for your attendees and reduced health risks with greater safety protocols. Just as many companies have reinvented their business models to better align with today’s new normal, challenge your events team to go beyond conventional dynamics. Incorporating your immediate needs alongside your long-term strategies can solve logistical issues while improving your ability to connect with a multi-faceted approach. On your mark! Get set! Go plan!
*Contributor-submitted article. Articles submitted by contributors and published in Direct Selling Journal do not necessarily represent a DSA endorsement nor do opinions expressed therein necessarily represent those of DSA.