How to run an AWESOME hybrid event

November 3, 2021
Mint line brushstroke

At the beginning of 2020, we wrote a blog post on how to run online workshops – based on our experience at Brand by Me.  Now, some people are returning to offices, whilst others continue to work at home – and many people are now finding that their week contains both!  This makes running workshops and events even more challenging.

How do you keep everyone involved and engaged when not everyone’s “in the room”?  How can you keep those who attend the event in person satisfied if you’re constantly having to field online questions and comments? These are the questions I get asked all the time and honestly, they are also used as reasons why hybrid events are simply too difficult.

Hybrid events are events where attendees and speakers have the choice of participating in person or online.  It’s not a hybrid event if the content is simply live-streamed from an in-person event – a hybrid event must offer a rewarding, engaging and interactive experience for those in the room and attending virtually.

I wrote a LinkedIn post about my experience speaking at a hybrid event recently.  I was hugely grateful that the organisers had made it possible to join online as a speaker and I got great feedback on my talk – in the room and virtually too.

Even prior to Covid-19, and all the lockdowns, we’ve been big fans of hybrid working and hybrid workshops and events at Brand by Me – and we’ve ran them with clients for years.  Having workshops where attendees have the option to participate in person or online usually makes the workshops more accessible.

There are many reasons why people might prefer the accessibility of an online workshop – for financial reasons, due to health (which was my reason above) or disability, to fit in with caring responsibilities and more.  For organisations who are keen to work globally but whose teams cannot afford the luxury (of time and money), not to mention the environmental impact of flying people round the world, a hybrid workshop often means that the opportunity to be “in the room where it happens” is not just afforded to a privileged few (usually based in UK Europe and North America).

As more in-person events are starting to take place, we’re really keen that people don’t abandon online events for all the reasons above and more – but we know that there are huge benefits to being in person too.

So if you’re keen to explore the potential of hybrid events, here are our tips:

1. Integrate the experience for both online and offline attendees

When planning in person events, you think about the content and speakers but also the location, the seating plan the lighting, the presentation equipment, the catering and accessibility requirements (and way more than this).  And for online events, as above, you need to plan the content and speakers but you’re also focused on the platform, the interaction, the security and safety of the space, the need for moderation, whether and how you’re managing breakout groups and so on.

With a hybrid event, you need to think about all of these things together.  You can’t plan them separately – you need to think about how both online and offline come together to create a rewarding experience for attendees.

So for example, what will your digital attendees do in breaks?  Will you provide snacks or treats for digital attendees if you’re providing refreshments in person?

2. Have an in-person AND a separate digital facilitator

Make sure you have separate facilitators/hosts for both the in-person and online element of the workshop.  Make sure the two facilitators have a way of communicating with each other OR if it’s a large event, make sure you have a separate person present in the room who is responsible for communicating with your digital facilitator.  Your digital facilitator is responsible for facilitating the chat function, creating interaction for digital attendees and gathering any feedback, discussion points and questions from digital attendees so they can be shared with the in person attendees and host/facilitator.

Also while we’re on the topic, make sure that the in-person facilitator or host repeats any off-microphone discussion or questions so that online attendees can hear it too!

3. Make interaction rewarding for online and in person attendees

I’ve been on a couple of so-called hybrid events recently where in-person speakers ask a question of those in the room, but fail to do the same for online attendees – or worse, they ask virtual attendees to respond in the chat, but don’t have a means of seeing or responding to the interaction so it is ignored.  This is why it’s useful to have a digital facilitator and person in the room who is responsible for two-way digital communication.

4. Use virtual breakout groups

Breakout groups are a key part of any hybrid event.  You can use them for pre-event networking, to help online participants engage with group work and exercises and even to create reflective or discussion spaces to help people embed the workshop content.  So make sure your online platform enables virtual breakout groups (NB MS Teams is horrendous for this – it is possible to do breakout groups but there is a big delay and it is really clunky to put people into groups and bring them back.  In our opinion).

If you’re looking to create hybrid breakout groups (especially in global workshops where you want people from different locations to work together) make sure that you have devices (laptop or iPads are better than phone) in the room where in person attendees can interact with their virtual colleagues in breakout groups.   Don’t try and use one big screen to facilitate an on and offline discussion – especially if this is hooked up to a big sound system (as the online attendees voices will come booming out of whole room speakers)!

5. Sort your tech (and have back up plans!).

We all know the impact of a tech fail on an online event.  It’s no-one’s fault, and these things happen, so make sure you have a back up plan in case the tech fails.  For example is there a telephone dial-in option for virtual attendees so if the internet goes down, attendees can still hear the content? (Zoom plus an audio set up that connects to your in venue sound system can work well here – obviously not if the content is purely visual – see point 6). I once had to dial into an event to do a speaking slot because my internet went down 3 minutes before the event (after the technical rehearsal).  So the event organisers showed my head shot on screen to in person and virtual attendees, while I spoke on the phone.

Oh and linked to the above, ALWAYS do a tech rehearsal.  And if it is a hybrid event, your tech rehearsal needs to have someone in the room as well as virtual attendees.

6. Make your content hybrid, not just your set up

What do I mean by this?  Well if you design all of the content for in-person attendees but at the last minute, decide to allow virtual attendees, your attendees will not have as rewarding experience.  So make your content and activities digital first, so that you’re planning the digital element and then working out what happens for in-person activities.  Think about content that will appeal to different learning styles and delivery methods – so if you’re planning physical or visual activities – think about how they will work sound only.  Or think about how content will be received and interacted with if the sound suddenly disappears.

It goes without saying but do also make your set up truly hybrid.  Think about where the cameras will be in the room – don’t just have one camera set up at the back of the room, where people are walking past, or the camera is so far from the stage that you can’t hear the content.  Ideally you’d have at least a two camera set up – so you can have a camera on speakers and one on the room itself.  Likewise think about how those in the room will be able to interact with and see virtual attendees and speakers.    Will you have multiple screens showing virtual attendees to those in the room?  Will there be a space for in-room and virtual attendees to chat and network?

As we move back into offices and are excited about reconnecting in person once more, don’t forget about the gains we’ve made in virtual events.  These tips will help you run a rewarding and engaging hybrid event – and do let us know if you have tips to add.

We look forward to seeing your hybrid event brought to life!