On July 17th, the UK government announced what we have all been waiting for: live performances can resume on August 1st, and conferences and business events on October 1st.  While this is great news for our industry, the threat of COVID-19 remains and events should follow our MeetSAFE guidelines to minimize risk.

With this announcement, the longing to host live events again has increased at a rapid pace. But because socially distant meeting layouts can lower the capacity of our venues by as much as 75%, we need to offer our clients solutions that enable them to connect with the same size of audience as before, but with a high volume taking part online. With a vaccine still some way off, these hybrid events could be our future for quite some time!

Hybrid events will have two audiences – one in the room, and one viewing from their home or office. I believe that we need to do everything we can to ensure that the guests taking part from home have the same experience as those in the room. At its simplest, we can stream a meeting to an online audience with little more than a camera and an internet connection. However, engagement is key for an online audience, especially with the distractions around the home or in the office.

When planning for a hybrid conference, there is a wide range of tools that we can use to bring together delegates in the room and online. Live-polling, Q&A sessions and even chat functions can ensure that everyone attending feels engaged and inspired. If speakers aren’t able to travel to present at your event, we can pre-record their sessions or even stream them into the room and onto the remote platform live.

Using Chime Live, the delegates who are attending the event in-person can interact with the conference using their own devices to answer polls, ask questions, check the agenda for the event or find out more information about individual speakers. The remote delegates are able to have the exact same experience, with the added functionality of a live stream of the event.

When producing a hybrid awards event for example, we can stream sponsors, presenters or even winners live from their devices into the room and onto the streaming platform. Competitions can be hosted using social media, allowing all guests to compete together whether they’re live or remote. Guests can even be brought together using live chat, so that people can interact and network as they would at a live event. Combining both audiences is key to ensure that those at home feel as much part of the event as those who are in the room.

It’s important to remember that the move to hybrid principles doesn’t always need to be viewed as a ‘problem-solver’. A hybrid event can actually increase the attendance at the event and add value – global pandemic or not. We have seen attendance numbers of virtual events outperform those of in-person events because of the convenience of attending remotely. Adding hybrid technology to an event will no doubt add some element of cost for event organisers, but this can be outweighed by reduced travel requirements and F&B spend, and can even add an extra channel of sponsorship for the remote platform.

We have an undoubtedly challenging time ahead of us, but hybrid events will enable us to support our clients to engage with large audiences both in person and online for some time to come.

As the events industry starts to return, it’s becoming clear that hybrid events are going to become part of the new normal. While there are countless tutorials, resources and products that are geared towards making the technical transition easier to understand and execute, one challenge that remains is how to maximize remote audience engagement.

Founded in 2009 by Anthony Scaramucci and SkyBridge Capital, SALT is an annual global thought leadership forum and networking platform that encompasses finance, technology and geopolitics. In 2019, working with Encore Productions, SALT wanted to reinvigorate this high-profile, invitation-only event and take it back to its roots; a thought-leadership forum filled with conversation-based keynotes and fireside chats that blended together the intersecting areas of finance, tech, politics, academia, sports, military and entertainment.

“Although past events had historically been successful, SALT wanted to continue pushing the envelope on their events to stay ahead of competitors. They were looking to transform it into the event of the future,” recalled Chani Mintz, Senior Producer, Encore Productions.

After coming to an understanding on how to further evolve the in-person event, the task became more complex—how to take the event into the digital sphere in a unique way? The event planners wanted to make sure their virtual audience was given an experience that not only mirrored the specifications of the in-person event, but enhanced it. “We really had to change our mindset on how we approached this – it was really to incorporate the best of live show production with more of a television broadcast approach,” confided Jamey Gallagher, Vice President of Creative Strategy, Encore Productions. With this in mind, the production team leveraged three key techniques: creating an immersive environment, graphic elements and exclusive content.

Create an Immersive Experience

Create an environment where attendees can find and explore your content in a way that easily allows for sharing and participating actively in the experience.

In the case of SALT, there were multiple touchpoints for virtual attendees to interact with: a virtual lobby, exhibit hall, keynote presentation and networking lounge, to name a few. These creative elements allowed attendees to interact with one another and the material presented in a way that made them feel connected and part of the action.

Add Graphic Elements

The producers were also mindful of how keynotes and video content was presented to the digital audience. To mimic the energetic atmosphere at Bellagio, they crafted graphic elements that made each keynote feel as if it were a segment on a news channel. By using these graphics, along with picture-in-picture elements, call-outs for the next presenter, and making it look and feel like a highly-produced television show, the creative minds on this project brought a dynamic experience into existence for these users.

Create Exclusive Content for the Virtual Attendee

Between speakers, they utilized roaming cameras to make those at home feel like they were truly in the room. “The virtual viewer actually had a bigger experience than the live viewer,” said Jamey. “They went right from a live session, to an interview backstage and immediately to the conference center. The virtual attendee could attend up to five functions in an hour, where the live attendee could see maybe only three.”

These elements culminated into an event that SkyBridge Founder & Managing Partner and SALT Chairman Anthony Scaramucci proclaimed to be “by far the smoothest and coolest event we’ve ever done.”

A Rise in Hybrid Meetings and Events

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges to the event industry. But, with crisis, often comes innovation. As automobile manufacturers have quickly changed their business model from building cars to building ventilators, the events industry is responding with different ways to use technology to connect organizations and people.

One of the impacts of the pandemic is that people everywhere have become more comfortable with virtual technology. Our children and teachers have adapted from classroom instruction to online learning. Our colleagues kept collaboration and teamwork alive using Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WebEx and a host of other applications. While the Millennial generation has grown up with FaceTime and video chat, now even my 76-year-old mother has become proficient at setting up family Zoom meetings. These new realities are propelling the use of virtual technologies forward.

You may recall after 9/11 and the Great Recession when planners, venues and technology companies expected video conferencing to become a part of the new norm and invested significant capital in that direction. We learned quickly that the industry at large was not ready to make the move to this type of virtual approach. We underestimated the importance of human connection. The ability to read body language and meet face-to-face is important. The opportunity to socialize before and after meetings is crucial. Technology can never fully replace face-to-face communication, but it can become a tool to help us through challenging times, and the answer might just be a combination of in-person meetings connected by technology.

Things are different now than in the aftermath of 9/11 or the Great Recession. Great advances have been made over the past decade in technology, hardware, connection speeds and the use of the Cloud to enable virtual events. Most importantly, meeting and event participants are now more comfortable using technology to connect virtually. COVID-19 has prepared us for a technological pivot in the meeting industry.

Humans, whether Millennials or Baby Boomers, are social people.  We must meet, in-person and often to create true connections.

Hybrid meetings allow us to connect event participants while simultaneously providing piece of mind. In-person meetings will evolve to become more inclusive. While just a few months ago, a venue may have welcomed 500 people into a ballroom for a general session, the opportunity now exists to welcome 50 people into a more intimate setting in 10 rooms that can be spread out around the world. Connecting rooms or venues with virtual technology will allow this to happen. It will also allow options for participants who may be concerned about their health or have a pre-existing condition.

Additionally, as small, mid-sized and even large companies have become accustomed to employees working from home, our role in connecting people will be even more important. Square, Twitter and Nationwide are a sample of some of the organizations who plan to continue to offer remote working arrangements. This will present a new opportunity for venues to sell space so that team members of companies who have left the brick and mortar office behind can come together to meet. Working from home can be isolating and the need for team members to create face-to-face connections will increase.

This has created a tremendous opportunity for planners, venues, and technology companies to work together to meet these needs. It is our job to educate the industry about the possibilities of coupling in-person meetings with virtual technology to create hybrid events. Our role in connecting people is suddenly more important than ever. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that even though we can work virtually we crave social interaction. Our job is working together to make that happen for our clients.

Hint: It’s not about the platform

Over the last two months (though it certainly feels much longer), our industry has frantically been pivoting live events to virtual event formats. For many, this meant rapidly researching a vast array of streaming providers, web conference solutions, and virtual event platforms.

In the process, it’s also meant a lot of trial and error. How many of you quickly launched a web conference for hundreds of participants, only to realize that the platform alone doesn’t address everything you need to achieve your desired meeting outcomes?

In the rush to virtual, many of us have lost track of the most critical step in the process – event design! Here’s a reminder of two critical principles to consider when designing your virtual event.

1. A virtual event is not a direct translation of a live event

Zoom fatigue is real. If it’s not already a diagnosable condition, we’re probably not far off from seeing it in medical textbooks. With unlimited online and at-home distractions, it takes a different kind of focus to engage in virtual events. Coupled with the lack of visual or physical breaks attendees would typically have in a live setting, the ability to overcome these distractions can be overwhelming without the right balance of high-stimulation and lull time.

Second, it’s more challenging to establish emotional and attitudinal connections across cyber space. The networking that typically happens more serendipitously in a live environment must be designed with purpose in a digital environment.

2. You can warp time and space

We all struggle with attention spans in digital environments. But unlike the time or space restrictions you have in a live event setting, you can be more flexible with virtual events.

Engagement doesn’t need to happen at a specific time and can be stretched to meet the needs of your audience. Leverage the freedom of access and community building tools across time zones to meet participants where they are – delivering content when your attendees need it, and how they need it. Content such as on-demand video sessions or simu-live can open new opportunities for engagement with presenters and learning opportunities.

As the global event industry enters the recovery stage, there will be an ongoing need to engage remote audiences – either completely virtually or in a hybrid setting. Put the principles of event design first before considering the delivery platform and consider partnering with someone who can help guide you through the design process and create an experience that will be sure to meet your desired outcomes.

Our team has created virtual and hybrid solutions cultivated from years of experience. Connect with us to see how we can assist with your event design.

A Bit of Clarity in an Uncertain Time

Over the last few years, our production team has had the pleasure of working with our partners to listen to their needs and priorities and develop ways that we could make their lives easier. This collaboration cultivated a simple production process, leveraging our knowledge of their events to focus on ease of engagement. The outcome? More consistent results and event experiences across our network.

In recent months, the whole world has been turned upside down in an unprecedented way, and our events industry in particular is experiencing unprecedented disruption. Our meeting planner community has been forced into new realms out of their comfort zone with requirements to explore many different event solutions – producing hybrid, virtual, smaller live meetings – under a cloud of uncertainty with variables they have never experienced. Cancellations, postponement, rebooking, venue changes, uncertain registration numbers, etc. have all been unchartered challenges.

The main questions we are seeing on the production side revolve around converting live agendas to virtual, and how to vet these options with limited staff. With this in mind, we’ve doubled down on the ease of engagement factor so customers can tap into an integrated solution which can support any iteration of a live, blended or virtual event experience. Our current production group has drawn on their corporate event, theater, touring and broadcast experience to morph into a versatile team that can pivot with your needs and consult to create a variety of solutions.

We can provide one point of contact that understands your preferences, processes, documentation, communication style and do’s and don’ts. One core team to engage the key internal resources that deliver everything from show management to media to creative design all the way through your venue order.

The idea that we’ve kept central is that no matter what it becomes, it’s still an event that requires a great production team. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but ultimately all event concepts have more similarities than differences:

  • The Pre-Production process tracks toward similar milestones
  • Solid documentation and attention to detail required
  • Your presenters need to feel comfortable and confident to deliver their best message
  • The technical solution has to work
  • Media and content need to enhance the experience
  • Your message must be heard
  • The brand must shine
  • Analytics and ROI are critical
  • You must keep the audience engaged

The difference is a matter of how the content is delivered – not why you need to deliver it. It may very well be via a new medium that the audience isn’t unaccustomed to. Our group can assess pros and cons of each method and help deliver the best solution to reach your specific audience. We are structured so the customer has continuity of their core production team regardless of what the final solution may be in a month or year(s) down the road.

We’re in this battle together. The team is eager to help you navigate through this new normal in the event world, however the solutions may evolve. I hope we can be a resource to provide some clarity and help lead you through the fog.

Be safe. Be well.