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.
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.