In the last weeks I gave you some inspiration to leave the standard conference settings behind you and attend to more creative meeting formats. We have explored Pecha Kucha and Ignite models, gamification, interactive tools and discussion sessions. In this final post on creative meeting design I want to attend to the growing trend of hybrid events. In case you missed it: hybrid events are meetings or conferences that combine a ‘live’ face to face event with a virtual component for an online audience. For example by live audio or video streaming of speakers or online discussions on social media.
Why sharing events online?
Hybrid events increase the size of your potential audience. While many potential participants won’t attend your live-event for whatever reason, they might want to join virtually. Additionally you extend the reach of you local conference to a global community since everybody can follow you online. As I explained in my previous posts, I believe in the power of collective knowledge. More people in your conference means more idea-sharing and more brainpower. And don’t forget that all your virtual attendees can be converted into face-to-face attendees at your next event. Use the virtual component to give them a feeling of “I would like to be there right now”.
It sounds easy to make your event available online for virtual attendees per livestream and just hope that they will keep watching. But then you forget that your virtual attendees are real human beings, who want to be seen and involved during your event. While online participants are easier to attract than a live audience, it is much harder to keep them. If they don’t like your online event, they will not only walk away, but also talk, tweet and text about their disappointment. Thus, make your virtual attendees feel welcomed and appreciated by giving them the same attention as your live audience.
An online audience has other needs than a live audience. While your live guests will use session breaks and coffee breaks as networking moments, your virtual attendees experience them as a disruption (think about TV commercials interrupting a good movie). You can better use these time slots to give them some extra attention. Prepare extra content, like interviews with the speakers or photos, to attract online audience and engage them into the program to keep them interested. Appoint an online chair(wo)man who can host and moderate the conversations. Instruct your speakers to engage the virtual audience into their presentation. Find virtual alternatives to the groups exercises. During Q&A or sessions breaks, some time should be dedicated to responding to virtual attendee questions.
Build the bridge between live and online
Your event will become truly hybrid when you engage the two audiences with each other and build a community with a common bond to the event. When your event ends physically, the conversation can still continue on the World Wide Web. Create a virtual meeting room (on twitter or LinkedIn e.g.) where all your participants can meet and chat. Whatever medium you choose, make sure that you promote the location to your live audience and encourage them to use it.
What do you think?
What is your experience with hybrid events? Have you ever joined an event as a virtual attendee and how did you like it? What would you recommend to improve hybrid events? Please share your ideas with me.