My first hybrid events were 20+ years ago. I was a new consultant in a Virginia-based firm, working with globally located teams.
I remember one day, about 25 folks were in our conference room with one spider phone (a Polycom conference phone) on the conference room table. It was difficult to hear the people on the phone and for them to hear us. They certainly couldn’t see our white board!
We called these “weekly status meetings”, not “hybrid” meetings or hybrid events.
Are things really different now?
Recently, I spoke with Jane, a nonprofit executive director. Last month, Jane attended her first hybrid event in-person. She loved seeing folks again and said it was very successful and everyone had a great experience.
Later, I spoke to Dan who had attended the same event as a remote participant. He said the presenters might have been great, but he couldn’t hear the keynote speaker. He also had little opportunity to engage in the verbal conversation. Dan was frustrated because, as a remote participant, he felt forgotten. Dan isn’t sure he will attend another hybrid session by this organization.
Very different experiences and perspectives from these two attendees!
Yet this is so common!
How can we improve our hybrid events and experiences?
Imagine you walk into a room for your first hybrid event. When you arrive, you notice a 65-inch monitor on the wall showing several remote participants. Your colleagues are standing across the room and you haven’t seen in more than a year!
Do you say hello to the remote participants? Or do you go immediately to your friends for a welcome hug? Is anyone else engaging with the people who are attending remotely?
Consider these five suggestions to provide a good experience for ALL your hybrid participants.
1. Provide an Equitable Experience for both In-Person and Remote Attendees
This doesn’t mean they must have the same experience. But all participants should certainly be able to hear the presenter and engage with other attendees.
This may require extra technology. Provide a high-quality video conferencing platform with good audio/visual technology. Both should have features that make it easy for remote and in-person groups to participate.
2. Involve remote attendees in the conversation
By offering an option to attend remotely, you’re sending an unspoken message that all attendees will get similar value – whether they choose to attend in-person or remotely.
Value often comes from engaging on the topic and networking with other participants. It is critical to build in opportunities to network and engage in conversation. Be extra careful to avoid giving preferential treatment to in-person attendees.
3. Set communication norms
Hybrid events, and the attendees, benefit from having guidelines that assure all participants have an equal opportunity to participate.
For example, everyone speaks at least once is a communication norm that encourages participation from everyone. It is also a reminder to the meeting planner to actively engage all participants.
4. Start planning hybrid events early
Designing a hybrid event involves many considerations. It’s like planning two or even three events – one for the in-person participants, one for the online participants, and one for interaction between the two groups.
This extra planning, and the associated technology, often results in higher costs. It may require someone to run the virtual part of the meeting with a different method of collaboration than required for the in-person participants.
Start planning early and be sure to test and validate the technology and design decisions well in advance.
5. Communicate – Communicate – Communicate!
Be sure all participation options and requirements are clearly explained in your event announcements and registration page. Participants need enough information to make an informed decision about how they will attend. For example,
- Are there different registration processes or fees for in-person vs online attendance?
- Can the attendee decide at the last minute to change from attending in-person to online?
- Have you set up reminders with the video conference link?
- Have you communicated safety protocols to everyone who registered to attend in-person?
Given the hard choice between attending in-person or online, be sure you are offering similar value to your participants, regardless how they “show up”!
Planning your own event(s)? Join us, along with other nonprofit and association leaders and event planners, as we explore the pros and cons of virtual, in-person, and hybrid event formats.
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