hybrid events: changes in how businesses communicate
At the start of 2020, I was excited to be planning our second year as Dotted Lines Events, with some incredible events in the pipeline. In March, everything came to a halt as the world started to comprehend the COVID-19 impact. Businesses quickly adapted ways of working to ensure their survival. People stopped travelling, and one of the saddest things for me was that we all stopped seeing each other.
Yet with our inner urge to be social creatures, technology went boom, and before you knew it, we were all on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or any other platform we could get our hands on to ensure we kept in contact with the outside world.
Virtual events ARE NOTHING NEW
Event professionals were live streaming events long before the pandemic. But this year, they are playing an instrumental part in how businesses communicate with employees. We’ve seen increased demand for virtual/hybrid events, and the evolution of technology platforms and solutions to deliver successful and engaging events online.
So, we haven't witnessed the standard company conference with employees flocking from across the country to meet in one place for a two-day event and awards dinner.
What we have seen are the same speakers who were initially planned for events, delivering their content. And without the cost of travel or geographical barriers (you can join a virtual/hybrid event from anywhere in the world), we’ve engaged larger event audiences online, ensuring consistent messages across businesses.
But human interaction and engagement are still missing. Virtual events don’t allow for the networking opportunities you gain with live events. And, they can limit the interaction with your audience, and discussions that people get so much from when they can share ideas.
A hybrid event in practice
Last month, I supported the HBAA with its first hybrid event – a mix of virtual and live attendees. I had spent the preceding months creating COVID-safe guidelines for my events and clients, including risk assessments and operational processes, and the HBAA adopted these for its event, and we were confident in our delivery.
The chosen venue, Kensington London Forum, was great. It has its processes in place and worked within our COVID guidelines to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our on-site delegates throughout the day.
For the main event, we streamed live to HBAA Agency Members unable to attend in person, and we hosted both virtual and live speakers. We broke into roundtable discussions where live attendees broke into different rooms and joined the virtual delegates in separate Zoom meetings. Each group had a key discussion point, and their thoughts and conclusions were shared back in the main room.
The virtual event ended at 5.30pm. Yet, with discussion in full flow, the live attendees continued. This action demonstrates the value in live and hybrid events - conversations don’t shut off with the technology.
The beauty of hybrid events is that you can engage with a much wider audience for the main content and continue sharing ideas with a more intimate group.
Larger organisations now consider inviting more employees who wouldn’t have attended past live events due to travel, expenses, and maintaining a physical office presence. The virtual attendees can take away key messages and learnings from speaker sessions, and immediately return to work. Senior stakeholders at the live event can continue focussed discussions face-to-face.
3 elements of successful hybrid events
I’m writing my top tips for hybrid events, which touches on everything you need to cover, to run a successful one. In the meantime, I consider the following three elements vital to achieving your event goals:
Your event manager
Effective technology - You need a robust registration portal, and fast/dedicated internet is essential. Reliable sound MUST be audible to virtual attendees over your chosen webcasting solution. You need live cameras to capture the room, and a live stream technician is essential.
Content delivery - Engaging content is essential. If anything, it must work harder for you to retain the attention of your virtual audience – many of whom will have become very used to multi-tasking online during lockdown.
Keep your agenda concise with shorter than usual session times to maintain attention spans. Maintain effective communication to delegates throughout the event lifecycle pre, during and post-event. And, consider the journey of the virtual audience - during live events, content gaps mean people can have refreshments and attend networking areas. But extended gaps give online audiences a chance to be distracted and potentially not return.
If you need to include breaks, use an event moderator to keep the virtual attendees engaged with polls, or Q&As etc.
Your event manager - Hiring an event manager with experience of virtual/hybrid events is essential. Professionals will advise you on content development and delivery, create technical specifications for your exact needs, and create communications plans for your attendees.
And, vital to all events today, an experienced event manager will ensure the live event is COVID-secure, managing COVID risk-assessments, delegate flow, and compliance with guidelines. We keep Health & Safety at the forefront of everyone's minds throughout the planning and delivery of an event.
You event manager will need to keep an accurate record of everyone that attended the live portion of the event. This record includes suppliers and crew in case of Track and Trace, so data management is even more crucial.
At Dotted Lines Events, we have a deep understanding of data privacy regulations, including how Track and Trace has impacted the data collected, processed, and stored as part of any event – hybrid or otherwise.
future of meeting & eventS?
Business events for up to 30 people restarted at the end of July.
It will take time for businesses and their employees to regain confidence in travelling for work. So, relying on your event manager is vital, as plans may need to change at short notice with constant shifts in government restrictions.
And, because people have adapted to new ways of working, I think we will see continued growth in hybrid events. People understand the value of meeting face-to-face, (or should I say mask-to-mask!) and this will remain. But enhancements in technology mean we can easily engage wider audiences, but with the hybrid option, we can switch back to virtual very quickly should we need to.
The make-up of events will evolve, and I believe we will see an increasing number of delegates attending events as we demonstrate successes in running them. I read the pages and pages of Government guidelines, capturing everything to provide confidence for my clients that I can deliver safe, COVID-secure events. These guidelines will also evolve, but it is down to professional event planners to keep abreast of changes and implement them in our event planning processes.
I’m excited to see enquiries. And even for events that didn’t happen this year, I’m working with clients to ensure they are delivered in 2021.
Need support or guidance with your event agency or corporate client hybrid event? Email email@example.com@dottedlinesevents.co.uk 07921 210729
firstname.lastname@example.org 07921 210729