Hybrid events are those that have two distinct audiences – one live in-person audience and another virtual online audience – and they have been on the rise over the last few years. In fact, it is estimated that 26% of all meetings in 2017 will be hybrid events, and with the rapidly growing popularity of Facebook Live, this number will undoubtedly jump in the next year or two.
The growth of hybrid events and hybrid meetings is understandable because of two main reasons.
- They give attendees who cannot travel to your live event an opportunity to participate.
- They provide you with a big opportunity to increase overall attendance and, for paid events, revenues.
However, there are also two potential dangers in offering a virtual option for your events.
- If you don’t incentivize people to attend in person, you could cannibalize your live event and leave yourself with a decent online audience and nobody sitting in seats, which reflects badly on you and your event.
- If you don’t nail down the technical and production aspects of your event for online streaming, you could frustrate the bejesus out of your online audience.
Either of these could lead to dissatisfied attendees; requests for refunds and chargebacks for paid events; and lower registration numbers for future events.
Because of this, we asked a handful of seasoned event professionals who have successfully launched hybrid events about best practices as well as pitfalls to avoid when setting up these events. Here are their insights…
Sacha Ferrandi, Founder & CMO at Source Capital Funding
1. Provide more perks to people attending the live event.
“From networking opportunities to gifts, be sure to provide extra value for those who attend the live version of the event. If the virtual event is the exactly same as the physical event, users may elect to stay at home and this will hurt your overall attendance. You can of course provide incentives for people to join the virtual event, but be sure that it does not outweigh the benefits of joining the event in person.”
FYI … Networking is a huge factor for many people when attending events, so make sure to play up the benefits of this to attendees considering attending in person. Gift bags, drink tickets and amazing food-and-beverage options are also appealing extras.
2. Appoint a liaison for interacting with your virtual audience.
“Be sure to have a point person who is responsible for responding to comments, troubleshooting and being generally available to anyone connecting with your event through the virtual portal. Setting up a Facebook Live stream is great for people who want to tune in, but the real value comes from having an appointed person on your end who is engaging with the virtual audience. Not only can this liaison respond to any questions or concerns, they can also be there to provide relevant information and instructions as well as collect contact details.”
A good practice is to have two event facilitators – one for in-person participants and one for virtual attendees – to maintain the event flow and enhance the attendee experience. Roles similar to this “Virtual Liaison” can include Event Tech Expert, Social Media Coordinator and Digital Concierge.
Hannah Wong, Meeting & Event Manager at Special D Events
3. Choose speakers who know how to perform for the camera.
“When hiring a speaker for a hybrid or virtual event, choosing the right speaker is critical. They must be familiar with the technology that can connect the live audience and the virtual audience. Look for a speaker who is comfortable in front of a camera, is engaging and can improvise, because even the best events have some hiccups. The Convention Industry Council Manual suggests requesting demo footage of the speaker performing in front of a virtual audience prior to making a hiring decision.”
4. Use event tech to involve virtual participants in your sessions.
“Consider offering ways for virtual attendees to participate in discussions and ask questions. This may require using a software that allows distance attendees to create public profiles with which they can post questions or responses. Have the question feed stream live on stage so that those in the room can see as well. Another way to incorporate interaction among all attendees is to include live polls that everyone participates in using their mobile devices.”
There are dozens of event apps that can serve as the vehicle for this type of virtual interaction as well as stand-alone tools for real-time polls. Or you can go cheap by creating an event hashtag and have your virtual participants interact via Twitter.
5. Make sure everyone is using a microphone – even audience members who ask questions.
“As a rule, if the speaker is asking the live audience questions, or vice versa, be sure to have mic runners available so the virtual audience can hear everything being said. Nothing turns a virtual attendee off more than not being able to have audio of the full conversation.”
Note that you can also use cool event tech tools like Crowd Mics to simplify how attendees can get miked up.
John Darmody, Founder at Live Media Inc.
6. Ensure your webcast/streaming provider is compatible with major Web browsers.
“Without getting too technical, the major browsers are no longer supporting plug-ins. With that said, make sure your webcast provider is not reliant upon plug-ins to stream your production. The stream needs to be compatible with newer versions of browsers, which are HTML 5 based.”
Major Web browsers include Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Microsoft Edge. Although Microsoft is phasing out Internet Explorer, some of your audience members may still be using it, so make sure to specify to your virtual attendees what Web browser you recommend for viewing the event online.
7. Make sure your provider can reach your audience adequately.
“Select a provider who can properly reach your target audience. Are they able to stream to Facebook Live? Or, conversely, can they stream your event to a content delivery network (CDN) that can ensure your event is private?”
8. Always have backup plans and redundancy built into your technical setup.
“Live production is exciting, no doubt, but due to the fact there are no second chances with live events, you’ll want to ensure your webcast/streaming provider has backup plans in place. Granted that it’s often cost-prohibitive to have two of everything on hand, you’ll still want the basics covered – this can range from hardware such as cameras and microphones to the lifeline of your show – internet connectivity.”
Planning Pod has all the tools you need to manage every detail of your hybrid events – from A/V equipment lists and vendors to detailed production schedules and task assignments.
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Lisa Masiello, President and Founder at TECHmarc Labs
9. Ensure your virtual audience can participate via social media.
“You should make sure that the technology you choose has an integrated social media component. Online attendees want to feel that they are active participants in the event and not simply bystanders. Being able to have conversations in a group chat setting and share insights and information via Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter – from one central hub – encourages the online attendees to not only participate during the event but also long after it is over.”
In #4 we talked about using event tech like event apps to connect virtual and in-person attendees. However, this tip is more about making sure that the event tech you choose has social media integration. Not only does this give people a chance to participate live via their favorite platform, but it also creates a lasting record on social media of the live event that others can refer to after the event.
10. Test the virtual feed on all devices.
“Remember that online attendees will be viewing your event on their desktops, laptops, tablets and phones. Test your technology thoroughly to ensure that your event can be easily accessed and will run smoothly across all devices and bandwidth requirements.”
As always, test test test. Or, as one of my former bosses was wont to say, “Prior proper planning prevents piss-poor performance.”
Amanda Basse, Event Coordinator at Hawthorn Suites Lake Buena Vista
11. Use a wired connection to stream your feed (or, at worst, use a dedicated WiFi).
“In general, the WiFi of many venues cannot handle the stream of seamless live video. Remember that most of the conference attendees will be logged into your WiFi, thus slowing it even further, which can lead to frequent buffering. In order to provide your Web viewers with a smooth viewing experience, I recommend to use a wired connection whenever possible and stream at a maximum of 1 Mbps to ensure you aren’t exceeding the capacity of your viewership.”
“A quick tip … if you are streaming in both HD and SD, the total bandwidth is the sum of the two. Also, for shorter presentations, it may be faster to set up your own WiFi hotspot and stream off that connection rather than the venue’s. However, this can get costly, depending on your data plan.”
WiFi is a HUGE consideration when planning for any event these days, and any event of any stature or size will require a dedicated WiFi broadband connection that will adequately meet the needs of in-person attendees. If you are offering a virtual component to your event, you should coordinate with your venue as to the proper channel (wired or wireless) for transmitting your video/audio feed and ensuring you have proper bandwidth to do it.
Lisé Puckorius, CEO at OLC Education & Conference Center
12. Evaluate if your audience is right for a hybrid event.
“A hybrid meeting may not be a fit for every group. How tech savvy is your audience? Are they willing and/or interested in participating virtually?”
Actually, this is something you should consider when you are first brainstorming your event and evaluating your target audience, mainly because adding a virtual component will affect many other decisions like choice of entertainment, speakers, lighting, A/V equipment, etc.
13. Divide up content into shorter blocks for the virtual feed.
“Decide what content to make available for remote audiences. Keep your remote audiences’ attention focused by keeping virtual components to no more than 20-30 minutes.”
In fact, most attendees – both in-person and virtual – prefer presentations in the 20-30 minute range, so it’s a good rule of thumb to limit your speakers to shorter presentations and longer Q&A sessions.
14. Rehearse your hybrid event with experienced professionals.
“Don’t leave your hybrid meeting to chance. Do tech rehearsals to work out any potential glitches or problems. And be sure to work with a dedicated team of production staff and AV technicians who can make sure your entire experience is flawless for those attending virtually.”
A great point … when it comes to a virtual broadcast, it’s best to hire people who have done this before because they know what issues to look out for.
15. Seek out a venue with a broadcast studio.
“If you’ll be doing any kind of live video streaming, look for a facility with a fully equipped HD broadcast studio. Venues that have a fully wired, on-site studio ensure your livestream audio and video is high quality.”
Kelly Ehlers, Founder and President at Ideas That Evoke
16. Arrange your event logistics to maximize the experience for both audiences.
“Logistics play a large part in a successful hybrid event! Make sure to consider where the entertainment is for both the physical audience as well as the digital audience while planning your event. Will it be on a stage or single space where both audiences can focus on? Or is it a party where you may need to have a different source of entertainment for your live stream than you will for your in-person guests?”
Logistics and event layout take on a whole new role when you add a virtual element to the mix. You need to consider lighting, staging, camera positions, microphone and podium positioning, stage marking (yes, like in the movies), presentation/video integration, etc. If you want this done right, you may want to consider hiring a professional production company.
17. Consider carefully the entertainment you book and how you will present it.
“You also need to consider what entertainment you choose. Since your in-person experience may be drastically different than your live stream experience, make sure you strategically plan to stream the portions your digital audience will enjoy experiencing digitally. Dig deep to explore what kind of content your digital and in-person audience responds to.”
18. Be careful when using copyrighted material at your event.
“Although you should always be careful of using copyrighted materials, if you include these in your hybrid event, be aware that the live stream is likely to pick these up.”
There are all kinds of rights you may need to clear for copyrighted audio and video, and these rights may differ for in-person and Web audiences. You should contact the owner of the assets you wish to use and make sure you have the adequate rights to use them in the mediums in which you will be broadcasting.
Ray Cheng, VP of Marketing at Convene
19. Define goals and desired outcomes for each audience – live and virtual.
“When planning for your hybrid event, make sure to define your experience and desired outcome in the early stages. For example, we recently hosted an event called ‘Event of the Future.’ We wanted to create a unique experience for both in-person and virtual attendees – an audience made up mostly of event and meeting planners – that was about learning how to create an event of the future while being at an event with a futuristic format.”
Another great point. Your goals for your in-person and virtual audiences may be different, and these goals will direct how you want to craft the experience for each.
20. Start the event precisely on time.
“Be sure the live stream starts at the time you advertise it. A delayed start of a few minutes for an in-person event may not be a big deal, but online it is!”
I’ve dropped out of virtual events that have started 5 minutes late, and if you are offering a free event, note that people are vastly less less patient than if they had paid.
Sarah Sebastian, Founder at Rose Gold Collective
21. Run the virtual feed like a TV show
“One idea is to approach the live stream portion as if was its own TV show. Hire a host, whether it’s someone in leadership or someone recognizable in the industry. Write a script and fold in the live event run-of-show into the show schedule.”
This is a great idea if you want to offset the networking benefit of your in-person event with a higher production value for your online audience.
22. Broadcast the virtual feed to live attendees as an “alternate view.”
“There is a trend in hybrid events that involves streaming the event for attendees of the event, providing a different view or what is happening in another area of the event.”
If your in-person event has a “sprawl factor” where people will be in different rooms or locations during the main keynote or performance, this is a great idea. Plus you can integrate this with social media walls at your live event.
23. Use drones to provide unique overhead shots
“You can use a drone to capture really unique overhead views and project the live feed within the event.”
Kevin Glancy at 1010 Collins event venue
24. Position your master camera and microphone for optimal coverage.
“You need to make sure that you get your camera and your microphone where they’ll do the most good. You want them to be able to follow the action and also convey to the digital audience that the physical one is just as strong and that your message is important enough that people actually came in person rather than through their computers or their phones.”
This is not the place to cut corners or go cheap because using high-quality audio/visual equipment and hiring experienced AV professionals to set up and run the equipment will make a noticeable difference.