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Photo by Stem List for Unsplash

Have you heard the new buzzword? It’s Hybrid events. And yet, hybrid experiences have been around for more than 100 years.   Now we have new tools to add impact and engagement.

So no need to panic. Let’s break it down into what works.

What’s Old is New Again

My grandfather was a great lover of baseball. In his youth, if he was very lucky and could get away from work, he would attend a game or two at the old Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Then, in 1947, the transistor radio was born. Now, he could listen from work or home—I can just picture him with the one earbud and a fist pump on a great play–while he packed boxes at his day job at the American Bible Society.  So baseball became a “hybrid” event—one that people could experience both live in the stadium and somewhere far away, hearing the play-by-play.  In fact, many people began bringing their transistor radios to the games, because they liked both watching the game live and hearing the lively commentary from the radio. Today we call this “second screen engagement” during live events—see next paragraph for details!

Help Remote Audiences to Stay Tuned In

The biggest challenge of both remote and live audience engagement is distraction. Remote audiences aren’t in the room or stadium. They have dogs barking, kids needing attention, emails to write. So for a remote audience experience to equal that of a live audience, you must work harder to keep them focused. But live audiences also have mobile phones to distract them. So why not use them? Some of the best ways to engage are with live-polling—tools like Sli.do and Mentimeter let speakers take the pulse of audiences both in the room and those joining remotely.

But not every speaker knows how to use these tools. So added speaker training and prep is incumbent upon hybrid event planners to be sure their presenters have a plan for engaging both live and remote audiences effectively.

Another strategy for better audience engagement is to keep speeches short and instead use Q&A opportunities with a host moderating. Having an experienced host interview a major headliner, rather than having that person deliver a keynote, keeps the audience engaged and feeling like they are participating. Pro hosts can also integrate questions from both your live and remote audiences (who can submit via your event platform app). Both sets of questions can be fed to a monitor on stage, thus putting the remote and live audience on equal footing.

Anchor Your Event in the Live Experience

The primary impact of any in-person event, whether it is a conference, a concert or a sports event, is that live in-the-moment experience. Even from the nosebleed seats, live participants feel that vibe of sharing with other humans in a common space. Very few online events were able to capture this energy during the pandemic because there was no live audience. The ones that did focused on these key areas: presenters who were lively, video content that was brief, and opportunities to acknowledge audience members through live chat, live polling, and post-event networking. So whatever you design, be sure that home audiences feel energized by your in-the-room experience.

Use New Ways to Engage

Sports continues to be a groundbreaking area for hybrid events and fan engagement. The NBA has embraced VR as a way for fans to be right inside the game, experiencing plays from new angles. And if you don’t have the budget of the NBA, you can host your event on 3D platforms like All Seated or Moot Up. These virtual spaces allow remote users to “walk through” spaces and meet with people, just as they would at a live event. They can join others who are connecting live.

Ask One Key Question

When building a hybrid event, there is really just one question you need to ask: what story are we telling? Whether your audience is live or remote, they will need to connect with that story.  So before you book speakers or start worrying about live-polling, consider these storytelling questions:

  • What is the story we want our audience to know after they’ve attended our event?
  • Who is the best at telling our story?
  • Are there any communities we are leaving out of our story? If so, how can we be sure they feel included?

This last question is critical. Today, AI-enabled captioning via companies like Rev.com offer live captioning for Zoom, for example, so that virtual audiences with hearing challenges can still engage with your content. But you may also want to engage a sign language interpreter to be live on screen during your event.

Whatever you do, be sure that you are creating a cohesive story that gives all audiences—whether at home or in the room–a reason to learn and connect with your brand story.

For more ideas on how to generate exciting hybrid events, check out my webinar on July 27 at 2pm ET: Hybrid Events People Actually Want to Attend: How to Craft a Compelling Experience that Engages Live and Virtual Audiences’ with Michael Hoffman, CEO of Gather Voices. Attendees are eligible for 1 CAE credit! Get your seat today!