During spring and summer 2022, SyncSkills agreed (reluctantly according to Gaëlle) to support some of our long-term partners and clients in delivering hybrid events. We have a great team who brought their varied experiences to make each event a success and through this, we have developed solid processes and expertise to guarantee the technology will work in such events.
However, we also experienced that creating engagement for a hybrid audience is a very real challenge. Often the online audience is “invisible”, or worse, perceived as a burden by chairs and facilitators. This is NOT acceptable! Planning and preparation must go further in term of learner’s experience.
We thought we would share here some of the key best practices to make your hybrid learning event a success for everyone in the audience.
1- Know the why of hybrid? Is there a better alternative?
Hybrid events present many challenges from the technology to participants engagement. To ensure they are a success, a vast amount of time and resources are required.
The purpose of hybrid is to bring together a group in a physical space with additional participants joining online who cannot be present to the event. But what is the benefit to attending live? Can a recorded version of the event deliver a viable alternative? TEDtalk is doing it very successfully. It is essential for a successful event to reflect and plan the engagement of the online audience. If there is no plan to engage the audience, then maybe hybrid is not the best solution.
2- It does not come cheap and requires a large amount of resources.
To make the event successful, there will need to be at a minimum:
- An AV person in the main room and potentially both a cameraman and a sound engineer depending on the scale and quality required.
- A main facilitator or a chair who understand the challenge of hybrid and is well prepared.
- A co-facilitator liaising with the online group to bring in questions and ensuring participants online are not experiencing connection issues.
- A main online producer or online chair to welcome online participants, facilitate the digital side of the event and step up if the physical room has internet issues.
- A technical support online managing all technology issues. Depending on the format this person can only be present at the beginning but if there are breakout activities or online speakers, they will have to cover all the individual technology checks.
3- Plan for online participants engagement by creating meaningful activities
There are multiple (free) tools available to create polls, quizzes, word clouds, and to post comments and questions. The key is to make the audience’s voices matter. There are many options, such as “comments” being the start of panel conversation or the opening of a state of the industry.
4- Get the set up right
Put some thoughts into the room layout. If you don’t want to splash on a TV crew, plan for the user’s experience, especially the positions of the camera. Using the presenter laptop camera is likely to mean that the presenter will have to stand at the lectern. If there are external cameras, they must not obliterate the view of the physical participants.
We may not be artists (evidence below) but we made a point of drawing the rooms for every event. It prevents any jargon or miscommunication especially with international teams. It also helps with expectation as well as discussing transitions. Working out the flow of transitions and what will happen for online audience when the speaker leaves the lectern, who is responsible for transitioning to different activities such as launching polls, showing a video, etc … (would this be the online producer or physical main facilitator/chair)
5- Ensure the main facilitator or chair of the meeting is ready
Once the set up is validated and the transitions agreed, the key person is the main facilitator/chair, especially if there are multiple presenters. This is the “one” person who can make or break the event. The responsibility to engage with the virtual audience, make them feel valued, and create unity and engagement with those in the room as well as the online participants. It is only too easy to “forget” about the online audience when standing in front of a full room. We’d recommend producing a script and ensuring everyone is well rehearsed in their roles to deliver with the greatest success.
6- AV tech check
Technical failure is not an option! It is essential to practise with the actual equipment, the AV technician, the online room ( Zoom, Webex, Adobe, …) Any changes or updates can lead to connection issues and audio issues, for example, and frequent echo’s are difficult to bear for online participants.
Do test a few days in advance and re-test on the day before to ensure that anyone joining will receive a smooth experience and everyone has far less stress to deal with!
7- Remote presenters
We’d like to say that remote presenters are a must! They bring the reality of hybrid to participants in the room. When experiencing it, it was visible that they change the event’s dynamic in a very positive way. We’d also advise bringing them on earlier rather than later, aim to bring them in immediately after the first break or earlier if the team is absolutely comfortable with the technology.
8- Exclusive online content
What will online participants do during lunch time when the delegates are having a three course lunch and some networking? It is well worth organising a panel discussion with online speakers or a breakout activity to network and discuss.
Another valuable opportunity for online participants is to allow access to topic-related content directly in chat, think of it as a virtual goodie bag. In one of the events we supported, they even received an exclusive discount code to relevant professional certifications.
In case of a technical issue, good practice is to have a subject matter expert online ready to run a round table or a Q&A.
9- Operate a communication back channel
The success of a hybrid learning event relies on a team of professionals to work together. We always set up a WhatsApp group 24 hours prior to the start which absolutely everyone in the project team is part of, including external providers (AV), chairs, etc … This allows clear communication and is the key to prompt reactivity if something needs to be dealt with, leaving everyone aware of the challenges and what is needed or has been undertaken to fix them.
10- Take time to debrief and learn
With something as new as hybrid, taking the time to debrief is key to learning and improvement. Hybrid learning events either workshops, seminars, or conferences all have a different identity. As industry, topics and audience vary, each event will have to adapt to the venue, the AV equipment, the audience expectation, and the level of maturity of facilitators and presenters. It is also too easy to be reluctant to have engagement tools or remote speakers because it could go wrong. Avoiding engaging the virtual audience may feel like a safer option but it also means a lesser event.
Hybrid learning events are certainly complex to organise and manage but as the post-COVID way of working becomes more embedded in the life of professionals, it is unlikely that the demand for hybrid learning is going to fade away and our advice is to tackle the “bull by the horns” and learn about it sooner rather than later.
On this note, we would like to thank our wonderful clients and partners for putting us totally out of our comfort zones over the spring and summer AND all our amazing colleagues who seem to have embraced the challenge with a great learning mindset, professionalism, and curiosity!
Hybrid event with CompTIA Around the World Conference in August 2022