While most event planners are eager for in-person meetings to gradually return in the coming months, we all know these programs will not be business as usual. Now that we’ve finally nailed the virtual event thing, we’ll be tossed a new curveball — conquering hybrid meetings. If you’ve yet to think about and plan for the approaching hybrid wave, now is the time to jump in.
The virtual/in-person event combo will soon be taking the industry by storm as there will likely be a divided attendee outlook, with some people who are ready to reconnect in-person and others who want to connect virtually for a while longer. But pulling off a successful hybrid event is a tricky task, as it requires catering two different audiences and ensuring all attendees have a consistent, engaging experience. Below are four tips to consider when planning your next hybrid meeting.
Craft an Agenda That Caters to All Audiences
The flow of your agenda is going to be critical to engaging all hybrid attendees early and throughout the entire event. A model agenda starts with a "start time" that acknowledges virtual attendees may not be able or enthusiastic about attending at a very early start time, a contrast from your live attendees who travelled the night before and are anxious to get rolling.
When planning breaks, remember that those in the meeting room may need more time to return from a restroom across the building than those at home. Balance lunch plans so that virtual attendees have sufficient time if they need to walk away to prepare their meal or simply need a screen break. You may even consider sending a meal kit or treat as an added touch to your attendees joining virtually.
To keep your virtual attendees fresh and alert, plan shorter session timeframes so they can refresh from screen fatigue. It’s recommended that late night networking sessions are avoided in hybrid situations. They are destined to bring sleepy eyes and fatigue after a full day onscreen. And both audiences will benefit and properly recharge when you weave in a few breaks for stretching and snacks.
Adjust Pre-Event Communications and Swag Bags
Planners will have to strike the right balance on communicating enough to ensure everyone is clued into what to expect in this event format. While hybrid approaches have been around for some time, it’s likely the first time the majority of your attendees are experiencing this format. Hybrid event messages need to clearly explain how attendees will participate in all aspects of the program. Events are sure to be more successful when there are clear expectations around the attendee experience.
To be certain that virtual and live attendees are receiving the same experience from the early stages, send both audiences all pre-event reading materials at the same time. If you’re providing any event swag, time delivery to your virtual attendees so that they receive the bags the day prior to the event. Doing so also allows the event day to be a backup day for delivery and builds virtual attendees’ excitement about the event ahead.
Lastly, remember to incorporate in-person and virtual attendees’ perspectives and polling responses into any live event streams, social media or post-event thought leadership in the same way. Distribute these valuable insights to all attendees simultaneously.
Deliver Consistent Engagement Opportunities
If you’ve also spent the last several months immersed in ways to elevate virtual attendee engagement, now is not the time to let up! Prepare adequately so that icebreakers, polling and whiteboarding activities are appealing and straightforward for both audiences.
Open Q&A sessions offer an opportunity to enhance meeting outcomes and broaden discussions in many ways. Planners should ensure that virtual attendees’ questions are given equal weight and attention during the session. Create a feasible system to address questions from virtual and in-person participants.
If your event aim is to build relationships, consider utilizing an event app. Successful hybrid networking is easily achievable when you incorporate an app that lists all attendees, their company affiliations and something fun or interesting about each person. Your app can designate each attendee as a virtual or in-person participant. App push alerts can be leveraged to engage different groups of live and remote attendees on key event discussion topics.
Connect Virtual and In-Person Attendees
With a bit of tactical planning and the help of technology, you can effectively mix virtual and in-person attendees for valuable breakouts. At your live event venue, designate intimate rooms equipped to adequately connect with virtual breakout attendees. Selecting a technology platform that offers two-way audio and video is best for running breakouts with virtual and live attendees.
You know the excitement at the prospect of catching up with the keynote speaker after a session? Make sure your virtual attendees have this same opportunity! Build sufficient time into your speakers’ schedules to engage with both virtual and in-person attendees.
Carlee Warner is the associate director of events and meetings at KPMG, a global network of professional firms that provide audit, tax and advisory services. Since March 2020, she has been involved in coordinating hundreds of virtual events for the firm and is now leading a group of team members dedicated to following the developing hybrid event space.