Tips on Effective Hybrid Conferences
Due to the COVID pandemic, conference venues and event planners have had to take a slightly different approach to how they organise meetings, introducing hybrid conferences. Organisers had to familiarise themselves with virtual meetings and run hybrid events that would still be as effective and COVID friendly.
It has now become our reality and many companies believe digital meetings are here to stay. As there are many positives with hybrid conferences, it arguably being a more effective marketing tool and its convenience, planners think it will be necessary to incorporate some digital components into most of the in-person events that will begin to take place again, meaning hybrid conferences will be the new approach for all seeking for an effective meeting.
Your client comes first
For conference venues, hybrid events will not be a simple matter of streaming sessions from a socially distanced room.
With the overwhelming variety of platforms, tools, and technological gizmos now available to execute hybrid conferences, we must look closely at our clients’ needs and aims, selecting the appropriate tools to ensure an ethical and successful event and deliver value to clients and attendees. There is no point in selecting the most up to date technology and wonder whether it is hybrid or virtual as the focus is on what your customers need and what is the best way to deliver it to them.
Of course, once you’ve established a clear understanding of attendee priorities should you then consider whether both in-person and remote attendance is required and find the most appropriate tech solution to integrate both. Although we are surrounded by the pandemic, and virtual as well as hybrid conferences are becoming the most used and powerful tool to run any event, the focus has always been on the clients and business’s needs, and for conference venues it has been the question on how to fulfil these needs and what are the best tools to deal with it.
Let them guide you
Informing attendees for what will take place at any conference has always been necessary, both in physical and hybrid events. Especially now, when most meetings run digitally, it’s more important than ever to familiarise and prepare your attendees before your hybrid conferences. This means making sure your virtual guests know how to log in, as well as for your live audience to know there will be a virtual audience and that both know how the agenda will play out.
All promotions in your hybrid events should be knowledgeable that the event will have both digital and in-person elements and audiences, allowing prospective attendees to select the delivery option that fits their comfort level and current ability to travel. It is encouraged to set up an interactive platform with a live chat element long before your hybrid conferences to stimulate engagement, allowing attendees to become more familiarised and submit questions and suggestions during the registration process – the event is aimed for them, let them guide your content.
When making decisions about speakers, day’s flow, and room layouts with your conference centres, digital attendees should stay top of mind. Be mindful that a remote attendee will not have the same level of attention span. Not only that, but your virtual audience also need to be able to interact with those at the in-person sessions – asking questions of the speakers, meeting with exhibitors or networking with all other attendees. Hybrid events planners must focus on keeping remote viewers engaged while also meeting the requirements of in-person participants.
Shorter, more focused sessions may keep all attendees’ attention better. This will also support the in-room attendees, by shortening the overall program. Presentations, panels, breakout discussions, informal groups, sponsored sessions, networking areas – all keep delegates moving between activities and creates a flow for the day.
The most important take out is that you want your event to be considered essential viewing for people who can’t be there in person. Hybrid conferences daylong schedule may be shorted as opposed to a physical one – consider adding mealtimes and networking opportunities for the in-person delegates. There will be people who don’t want to travel who are happy watching it at home.
While on-site and from-home elements are distinct in many ways, allowing both audiences to experience something together through hybrid events can elevate the experience for everyone. A good way to do so is to solicit real-time feedback from the virtual audience as often as they do from those attending physically.
Consider setting up live votes, polls and Q&As to engage the remote audience as the event is happening. When those attending an event at conference venues are networking during their breaks and intermissions, those on the other side of the screen should have ways to interact with each other or the host. If the budget allows, consider sending something to the homes of those participating virtually, this will help them feel a part of what is being served on site.
Technology in Hybrid Conferences
Successful hybrid conferences require a strong partnership with the conference venues hosting the in-person meeting. That means not only having high-speed internet access and a strong on-site AV team to deal with technical issues, but also tailoring production for remote attendees by way of optimized room layouts, breakout spaces and technological tools.
With technological developments, these breakout spaces can be set up to be a videoconferencing space, for private meetings between those at the conference venues and those joining remotely. If in the past the sales manager might have been focused just on selling the physical things for the number of people in that room, now it is also for all the other people listening virtually. When it comes to creating hybrid conferences, double and triple checking all systems is more essential than ever.
Nevertheless, planners should still make every effort to bring the presenters to the physical event, especially when arranging panels where a lot of back and forth takes place. The interaction on stage becomes far more authentic and credible, whether in hybrid conferences or not. A solely virtual event usually lacks the spark of interaction that most easily comes when people are in a room together.
Travel restrictions are changing from one day to the next, make it easy for registrants to upgrade to in-person attendance if circumstances allow – or to shift from attending in-person to joining virtually if new restrictions keep them home. Flexibility should also extend to the agenda itself, particularly for those joining remotely. Speakers are seen to customise their own content schedule, so you should be sure they have that option, selecting between tracks or choosing which parts they’d like to engage in.
Hybrid Conferences for everyone
Facilitating interactions between the remote and in-person audiences is the true challenge of hybrid conferences. Solving this dilemma might mean putting a screen on stage to allow remote audiences to ask questions or providing individual tablets to in-person attendees for one-on-one exchanges with digital participants. It is important to blend audience engagement throughout the sessions as much as possible, no matter the numbers of people the moderator should take as many questions as possible from both sides.
One of the major advantages of the digital part of hybrid events is that the content can be captured for on-demand use long after the meeting ends. Keep session chats open following the event to create a community resource centre and continued networking opportunities. Trade virtual business cards and encourage guests to share and create connections based on the virtual meeting. Recorded sessions can be used in their virtual capacity by those who have been unable to take part in the live event, and that must be one of the biggest benefits of planning hybrid conferences.
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