We talk hybrid events with Claire Moore of Touch Associates

Following the launch of our very own hybrid events packages and set-up, Live From Tobacco Dock, we’ve been picking the brains of the best in the industry to find out their top tips for hosting a hybrid event. While the set-up allows to you to harness the best elements of online and fully-live events, they’re an event type of their own and need careful planning to ensure you get the most out of them.

We spoke to Claire Moore, Project and Engagement Strategist at Touch Associates and she gave us her take on this exciting format.

Why hybrid?

Hybrid events are the best of both worlds, uniting the benefits of virtual and face-to-face events and mean you can reach a wider audience for longer and deeper. While purely live events have a unique moment in time, hybrid events can be timeless. The virtual world optimises connections across three stages of any event, allowing attendees to pug in sooner, engage deeper and sustain for longer. There’s the addition of atmosphere too; presenters still have a live audience to present to and can bounce off their energy rather than purely presenting to camera.

You can mix between the real and virtual worlds. The hybrid solution allows you to have some completely virtual days where all users attend online before some attendees come together in a physical space. You’re also able to spread your agenda across a number of days with concise sessions rather than full days of content.

From an organiser’s perspective, the addition of a virtual environment offers in-depth reporting and analytics, meaning it’s far easier to track whether and how you’re hitting your targets.

What do organisers need to pay attention to when organising a hybrid?

People engage differently in a virtual environment than in a physical one and understanding that is critical. Don’t forget to pay equal consideration to both your audiences: those in the room and those watching virtually. Their experience must be equally engaging and interactive online as it could be physically. This comes down to even such details as making sure that presenters talk not only to the audience in the room, but also look down the camera lens to get eye contact with those watching online.

Avoid cognitive overload! Make the most of the expanded engagement window a hybrid allows, by allowing your attendees to plug in sooner, engage deeper and sustain for longer, but also make your content ‘snackable’. While long plenaries and full days work well in the ‘real world’, it’s not such a good fit for a virtual audience, so build your schedule accordingly.

Don’t forget your time zones. One of the greatest attributes of the hybrid solution is that you can reach a global audience, but this also means that you’ll need to pick times which work for everyone.

How can you make it a VIP experience for those attending online?

Make it an experience. Unite technology, strategy, narrative and emotion, allowing users to become immersed in an interactive, digital journey, ensuring more meaningful connections than ‘everyday’ Zoom or Skype solutions. Design and create a completely bespoke and immersive environment for your virtual users, engaging them with your brand and story. This should look and feel like an event – it is an event.

Make everyone feel included. Make sure your presenters continually reference and include those attendees who aren’t physically present. It must feel like one cohesive event with one audience. Sending virtual attendees, a ‘care package’ / gift box with items to use during the live event helps them feel involved as well as building anticipation.

Incorporating a competitive element, with a chance to win a worthwhile prize is a great way to increase your audience’s attention and engagement.

It’s vital to support your virtual users, so make sure you have an easily contactable help desk for any troubleshooting queries.

What are the most important elements in which to invest your budget for hybrid events as opposed to fully live ones?

The design of the virtual environment itself, as all attendees, both live and virtual benefit from it as well as making sure you have a dependable streaming solution which you can rely upon to be glitch-free.

Investment in pre-event communications and activities helps to build anticipation for your ‘live’ days and will really help your audience to feel included and valued.

How can you make sure your virtual users are engaged?

It’s important that you find ways to include your virtual audience at every stage and keep them as active participants.

Incorporate elements of gamification to drive engagement and interactivity with the portal and content. Users can earn points for their level of interaction with the portal, whether through watching a video, visiting a new room or initiating a chat. You can even add VR headsets to your offering for full submersion. Their points are displayed on a leader board and a prize can be given for the top user/s once the live event has ended.

Encourage a sense of teamwork between your two groups. Create workshops which join the two audiences and incorporate collaboration tools and social media walls into your portal. During breakout sessions, live and virtual groups can build upon and develop ideas with a virtual whiteboard. Embed a social wall which will update in real time aggregating posts made around an event specific hashtag, creating a sense of community pre, during and post-event.

Networking sessions with 1-to-1 functionality are another great way of making sure your attendees can get maximum benefit, as well as moderated conversations or ‘Meet the Expert’ sessions.

 Content considerations

The timings of a hybrid event will be very different to a fully live one. I recommend ‘snackable’ content: shorter agenda times to avoid content overload, always considering your virtual audience and their engagement. Keep to short, concise sessions with interspersed polling and Q&A opportunities. Incorporate ice breakers and energiser sessions for your entire audience to participate in.

Using a moderator to perform as a virtual MC will ensure all attendees enjoy a seamless experience. In many ways this is even more important than for a live event to keep conversations on track, cover any technical delays and to link between presenters and discussion topics so that everyone is clear on what’s happening next.

What do you look for in a venue to host hybrids?

Safety is a key consideration, so the venue must be Covid-19 compliant. It’s also important it’s easily accessible for our live attendees, with good transport links.

A robust digital infrastructure and state-of-the-art equipment and kit are a must too, as well as adequate space for lights/cameras/control desk/staging. Breakout rooms for side meetings aid virtual participation so online attendees have the freedom to attend each session or activity.

While it’s convenient to have packages in place, it’s also helpful for venues to be flexible in allowing organisers to bring in their own production crews and operators.

Any final thoughts?

Technology is clearly important, but it is only one key aspect of four to get right that can effectively then turn your event into a successful and impactful virtual one. The keys to virtual success are:

  1. Creating the right environment is critical, for both virtual and live attendees
  2. The deployment of strategically sound, emotionally engaging content means deeper, more meaningful connections
  3. Of course, having the right technology infrastructure and functionality
  4. And all backed up with production support and capability that makes your hybrid event a seamless and engaging experience for all attendees

Next steps?

Click here to find out more about our hybrid offering, Live From Tobacco Dock, or get in touch with the team for a chat!

If you’d like to find out more about Touch Associates, you can reach them here.