Let’s be honest—for many people, attending a hybrid event is a new and exciting thing! Loading up the live stream and logging into the live chat is less familiar than showing up at a conference, eager to collect goodie bags and mingle. Because we have attended more and more physical conferences, meetings, or networking events in-person, we have become familiar with their standard processes. Things like where to go, what to do, and how to behave are more or less normalized. While a hybrid conference, hybrid meeting, or hybrid networking event isn’t necessarily a new concept, they are new-ish to many, and people are still getting their bearings when it comes to them. The bottom line is that you want to make your event attendees, whether they are in-person or online, as comfortable as possible. Especially with COVID-19 and the rise of physical distancing measures and extra precautions, providing your attendees with as much information about what to do is well appreciated and almost expected. Be proactive and prepare your in-person and virtual hybrid attendees with the following items and clearly present the information to them. Keep it simple, and try to educate at timely points so that the information gets to them when they need it.
For any live event with a physical audience during this COVID-19 pandemic, each event organizer needs to ensure that COVID-19 protocols are in place. And considering that required local protocols can change in a second, event professionals need to consider a variety of options. For these reasons, among others, it is imperative that the event organizer clearly communicates the possible scenarios to in-person guests. This might involve:
No matter how you decide to communicate the COVID-19 protocols, be sure that the directions are clear and that you are understanding of people’s confusion. You can assign a customer service department for strictly answering questions related to COVID-19 protocols.
It’s important to focus on the virtual and in-person relationships so that you can properly communicate to each group how interactions will take place so that they can be prepared when the hybrid event happens. For example, if you are hosting a hybrid meeting and you will have a live audience on-site, be sure to inform your virtual audience that this is happening. You can even fill them in on some of the details. You don’t want them to be surprised when they learn that the 10 minutes Q&A is actually split between an online and in-person audience. Most likely, your in-person attendees will need to interact with some of the virtual components at some point during the hybrid event. They might need to register online and sign-in through the mobile app when they arrive at the venue. The schedule might also be online to save paper or to limit the number of shared products. In any case, fully prepare for the in-person and virtual attendees by making them aware ahead of time. Send out an early email that asks them to download the event app so that they can request to attend certain sessions early, provide demographic information, and get their virtual component set up.
For virtual attendees, it is important that they are familiar with the process involved with “attending” the event virtually. Depending on the virtual event software that you use, your virtual audience may need to:
Send out an email that breaks down what they need to do. If they need to download a program onto their computer, make sure that they know how to access that program and what the hardware and software requirements are. If those attending the event in person also require access to the virtual components, they will also need guidance on logging in, download and installation, and getting set up once the event begins.
Getting your virtual attendees to actually attend the digital event can be tricky. This is often because attendees forget that the event is happening, get confused about how to “get to” the event, and aren’t sure about the processes. Be sure that they know how to attend the event. For example, if the event link will be emailed to the event attendees, then inform them that it will be emailed out about an hour before the event and whether or not they can click into the link even before the event has started. Some hybrid conferences require that attendees attend at least one session or presenter in order to reap some type of benefit (like a free eBook or the recorded content). Communicate this clearly to your remote audience in advance so that you don’t have disgruntled attendees following the event.
Online event software will have a live chat feature, which allows online attendees to post questions, respond to polls, or talk generally to other remote attendees in real-time. The live chat feature is extremely useful for attendee engagement and a session presenter can use it to engage with online audiences, provide summarized information, receive feedback, and learn from the online audience. The live chat feature can be used effectively for audience engagement but it can also be abused by rogue attendees. When online attendees first sign up, they need to know what the rules are for the live chat. This can be as simple as a chatbot that pops up on each individual online attendee’s chat window and informs them of a simplified explanation of the live chat feature. It can refer to a Policy, which can be found in the settings or event resources section, or simply ask attendees to please remain cordial. If a moderator is engaging with the live chat and the event is not simulated live, be sure that the moderator is clear about the live chat features and the ways that they expect the audience to engage with it.
For both the in-person and virtual attendees, there are some structural items that attendees would want to know about. For example, are all areas of the physical event venue open? Is hand-washing required when approaching a certain room? Make sure that you provide any additional information to your physical attendees even if you think you have fully covered it under the COVID-19 protocols. Be sure that this information falls in line with the current standards in the event industry. In fact, some attendees might want to familiarize themselves with the area, including the geographical location, parking set up, and physical layout of the venue. Provide all this information to them as you would have done before COVID-19 precautions. You can also designate the spaces that fall under the event venue and what is not under your control. If it helps, provide attendees with a floor map of the event venue.
While not required for all remote participants, an overview of how to navigate the event technology, each virtual component, and the event planning software can benefit new or nervous virtual attendees. Some participants like to be prepared prior to an event, and if they want, they might look at resources online to familiarize themselves with the program. You can provide this overview as a virtual platform walkthrough (using 360-degree technology) or as a recorded walkthrough and voice over. Be sure that each virtual element is highlighted and clear, and attendees understand the purpose of each section. Additionally, if the virtual event platform comes with a mobile event app, then you might also want to educate on this feature and any uncertainties around its use.By providing a walkthrough of your virtual exhibit hall, the vendor booths, and how to interact with each presenter through the webinar platform, it is more likely that the online audience will have a more positive virtual experience.
In-person and virtual participants need to agree to the use of personal images on marketing and social media materials. Coordinate with your event marketer to identify the avenues where the content will be promoted. Then make sure you obtain this consent prior to the event so that you are sure about the type of media that can be used in social media posts and for event marketing for future events. Hybrid events are a new experience for many people. As an event organizer, host, or planner, the more you can do to make your attendees and participants feel at home, the better. By carefully communicating the points above, hybrid attendees will know what to expect from you and you what you expect from them during the course of your hybrid event.