By Joey Sirmons
As we make the move back toward in-person meetings and conferences, it seems that virtual events aren’t going away … at least, not completely. The last few months have seen a rise in hybrid events – combining in-person attendance for those who can and will travel with live-streaming from session rooms for those who can’t.
If you haven’t yet, check out Part I of this post, Factors to Consider When Deciding Whether to Go Hybrid with Your Association’s Next Event, by Ragan Cohn, CAE, to determine whether a hybrid event is right for your organization.
Now, ready to go hybrid? Here are a few things to remember as you plan your event.
Choose the Right Conference Platform
There are many conference platforms and apps available that make it easy to get key event information onto your attendees’ computers and mobile devices. Some platforms lend themselves more to in-person events, and some to virtual. Only a few do a good job of bridging the disparate needs and experiences of both in-person and remote (virtual) attendees.
Does the app allow you to include maps of the venue for those attending in-person? How well does it handle live-streaming (and on-demand viewing of recordings, if you’re offering them) for those who are remote? Can you separate the two audiences when you need to, but let them merge, mingle and connect where it makes sense?
Be sure to consider both experiences when evaluating the platform you will use to manage your event.
Session Room Technology
It’s relatively straightforward to produce a breakout session in a room – podium, microphone, projector, and leave the rest to the presenter. But don’t forget the additional technology and resources you need in order to live-stream the session to remote attendees.
First of all, you should really consider a hard-wired internet connection to each session room for the most stable connection. You’ll need a computer in each room to manage the stream, and additional A/V equipment to capture the content shared via the in-room projector. With all of the extra equipment, it helps to have an A/V technician in each room. And finally, you should really consider having a camera in the room to capture video of the presenter. The camera isn’t strictly necessary, but it helps with engaging the remote audience.
All of this technology (and the technician to support it) represents additional costs, of course, but you will find it will pay off in the long run, especially if you want to set expectations – and encourage remote attendance – for future hybrid events.
If some of your attendees aren’t able to travel to your event, some of your presenters may not be able to travel either. Think about how you can facilitate sessions presented remotely, and be sure to discuss the technology needed with the A/V team. It’s not as simple as putting a Zoom call on the session room projector! You also have to make sure remote attendees are able to view and interact with the session, and allow in-person attendees a way to relay their questions to the remote presenter during Q&A.
Don’t Forget the Virtual Attendees
When you’re on-site producing a conference, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in everything that is happening in the venue right there in front of you. Don’t forget the remote audience! They can be half – or much more – of total attendance and revenue, so be sure their experience is as good as you can make it.
It’s a great idea to have a staff person (or small team) on-site serve as advocate for remote attendees. Despite being there at the conference venue, the advocate should “attend” the conference from the perspective of the remote attendee, dropping in on session streams and networking events and keeping an eye on the chatter in any chat rooms or social forums. That’s the best way to quickly discover, diagnose, and correct any issues with the virtual experience.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
We can’t stress this enough: practice! Talk through the streaming setup and process with the A/V team well in advance of the conference. Create test sessions in the weeks leading up to the event in the conference platform, and practice streaming to it. Plan a pre-conference on-site setup day where you can test everything with the A/V team in the actual session room(s) where your sessions will be held with the actual equipment you will use for streaming. Make sure you work out all the kinks before day 1.
Talk to the Pros
Conferences have a lot of moving parts. Virtual conferences have different moving parts. Hybrid events are a gestalt of the two. It can seem daunting, but that’s where experience pays off.
Meeting Expectations is a full-service conference and event planning company, and we have produced numerous hybrid events of varying sizes and scopes. Connect with us to find out how our experience can help you plan, produce, and execute your next hybrid event.