As the world emerges from the pandemic, many organizations are sensing a pent-up demand to resume in-person operations, even if changes need to be made to the way things were done previously.
Reimagining in-person events is especially tricky. While some people are eager for real-world human interaction, many others remain concerned about attending in-person gatherings – especially large ones. Still, others are reluctant to travel to an event if it means boarding an airplane or taking public transportation.
What’s clear is that, for the foreseeable future, mixing virtual and in-person work modes will be essential. And when it comes to special events – employee meetings, major announcements, conferences – planning and managing them can be tougher than it might seem.
“Manage the event as though you were running two events concurrently. Designate two separate teams: a virtual team and an in-person team.”
Here are our top tips for planning a hybrid event.
Tip #1: Manage the event as though you were running two events concurrently.
Designate two separate teams: a virtual team and an in-person team. Consider the following for each (and scale it according to the size of the in-person gathering).
Team V (Virtual)
- Link manager responsible for hosting the Zoom/Teams/Webex/etc. event
- Moderates virtual audience (can mute and unmute online participants)
- Needs a high-quality camera to capture activity in the physical space
- Monitors virtual audience comments /chat
- Monitors virtual event video (what the virtual audience sees may not synch with what the in-person audience sees) and alerts the “projected content” manager if necessary
- Monitors virtual event audio (what the virtual audience hears may not synch with what the in-person audience hears) and alerts the audio manager if necessary
- Audio manager responsible for live-switching among multiple audio source inputs and outputs; these include:
- In-house microphones
- Zoom/Teams/Webex/etc. meeting or webinar
- Background music
Team R (Real-world)
- Projected content manager responsible for handling the slides, videos and other content projected to the in-house audience
*Note: Projected content and Zoom/Teams/Webex meeting must be run on separate computers
- Hosts responsible for greeting guests, explaining health-related protocols and monitoring adherence to those protocols
- Sanitation specialists responsible for ensuring that tables, chairs, microphones, other equipment are sanitized
- Food/beverage specialists responsible for ensuring the safety of any food or drinks; for instance, making sure there is no cross-contamination of serving utensils
Tip #2: Decide on the level of engagement you want both in-person and virtual audience members to experience.
Depending on the nature and purpose of the event and the actions you want the audience to take, determine which of the following levels of engagement you’ll need.
- Level one: Virtual audience can only monitor the event and respond in writing; in-person audience can neither see nor hear the virtual attendees. An example of this would be a musical performance or special guest at a conference with both in-person and remote attendees. The online audience members can comment in the chat, but no audio from the virtual audience will be shared in the room. Note that events with large virtual audiences or with controversial topics may require designating an extra person dedicated to monitoring comments.
- Level two: Virtual audience can be seen by the in-person audience, but not heard. An example of this would be a company announcement where an executive presents to a management team in the same room, with a larger group of employees attending virtually. Two screens are needed in the room – one for the presentation and one to show the virtual participants. If desired, the virtual audience’s comments may be shared on the screen; in some cases, these should be monitored closely.
- Level three: Virtual participants and in-house audience interact. An example of this would be an employee town hall in which a presentation is made to all attendees by a presenter and is followed by a Q&A session with full audio and video participation from both in-room and remote attendees. This is the most complicated type of meeting. The AV technician, in particular, should be experienced.
Tip #3: Plan and rehearse!
Planning and rehearsing may seem obvious, but they’re worth emphasizing. All events entail risk, but when it comes to hybrid events, the number of potential mix-ups more than doubles. Make sure you have an experienced team and plan together. Discuss event objectives with the full team ahead of time to ensure they have the right equipment and understand what’s expected procedurally. Conduct an on-site dress rehearsal and build in a few hypothetical “surprises” to test the system and the team’s ability to respond and recover quickly. Doing so will increase everyone’s confidence.
An article in the May/June issue of the Harvard Business Review describes the complexities of hybrid work. Fundamentally, the author says, designing hybrid work requires thinking along two axes: place and time. Managing a hybrid event requires managing along both axes simultaneously. The conditions may be new to many of us, but following these three tips will help you minimize the risks and give all event participants the best possible experience.
What tips do you have for managing hybrid events? Any funny (or not-so-funny) stories to tell? Let us know!