Heather Pilcher is CEO & executive producer of Blue Spark Event Design. After creating events for more than 19 years ranging from 50 to 200,000 attendees, she has developed a business model that takes customer service one step further. With the help of thousands of licensed partners internationally, and her team, she has enabled Blue Spark Event Design to be a consistent collaborator to her patrons whether they meet in a virtual, hybrid or live event environment. Through thoughtful planning, elite CSEP and CMP designations, and sought-after awards, she has established her role as one of the industry’s top event professionals. For more, visit www.BlueSparkEventDesign.com
2020 has been a year of virtual learning for most businesses, and if you are anything like our other clients, you’re ready to get back to face-to-face meetings as soon as it’s safe for all involved. However, there will be lots of opinions and policies about how and when that will be. So, it makes sense that most of our clients are focusing on hybrid-style events for 2021 and beyond.
In hybrid events, where both in-person attendees and virtual attendees participate, the biggest challenge we see moving forward is how to give your virtual attendees a voice and connect them to the those attending in-person. Below are some suggestions we have made to clients for making a hybrid event an equally great experience whether your guests will be on-site or virtual.
Utilize a conference app that allows your attendees to interact as one connected group. Key app features that can cross-pollinate between in-person and virtual attendees include:
Polls — Because guests can watch live content through either the virtual platform at home or the conference app on their mobile device, all attendees can respond to polls and interact with speakers in real time.
Chat functions — This is a great way to encourage networking between in-person attendees and virtual attendees. Live meet-ups with virtual attendance can be arranged, as well as on-site meet-ups in designated spaces with monitors placed so attendees can virtually participate in discussions.
Social Walls — Personal interaction is one of the primary reasons people attend conferences, right? Social walls are an excellent tool for connecting attendees in personal ways, as well as providing that collective ‘large group’ feeling. For example, encourage both virtual and in-person attendees to post photographs in the app of something fun, like a favorite pet or animal. These images are consolidated in one large social wall for all attendees to enjoy.
Gamification — This is a common and easy tool that can be weaved throughout the various components of an event. Attendees accumulate points that are assigned for completing tasks, such as filling out a profile, adding a profile photo, participating in a one-on-one meeting, attending a session, answering a poll, and so forth The app generates and updates a leaderboard, visible to all attendees, and prizes can be awarded to the winners.
Feedback Surveys — Want to know how amazing attendees thought the keynote speaker was? Looking for feedback on the audio levels in the virtual platform? Do you want to hear from a specific sector of the audience or gain feedback on a specific topic? Conducting surveys from both in-person and virtual attendees can provide important insights on how much guests are enjoying event components or indicating where improvements could be made.
Push Notifications — These are easy and fun reminders that can be sent to all attendees, virtual or in-person, to announce something important during the event or share fun or timely reminders. This creates a single source of communication that can be created on the fly for last minute announcements or changes.
Consider utilizing audiovisual to help bring the virtual attendee experience into the live event. TV monitors with web cams can be strategically placed to allow for two-way communication between your virtual and in-person attendees. We also suggest placing additional monitors throughout the flow spaces to showcase the conference app social wall, or a real-time word cloud graphic of the most popular topics guests are discussing within the conference app.
Not all panelists need to be physically present. We have produced several events with virtual panelists presenting right alongside in-person speakers. A wide screen placed directly behind center stage is a great option to maintain a seamlessly integrated speaker group.
Want a really fun way to show a visual connection between in-person and virtual attendees? Try feedback signs for attendees to use to answer questions from speakers. Signs can be mailed to virtual attendees prior to the event and distributed to in-person attendees on-site. During the meeting, the virtual attendees’ feed can be displayed on screen during the general session. When a speaker addresses the combined audience, each attendee will respond by holding up their feedback signs (“Yes!”, “No”, “We Will”, etc.). This can be a colorful and clear way to gain quick visual feedback for the speaker while keeping both audiences engaged.
We’ve all seen the popularity of interactive activities such as crafted cocktail making, wine tastings, cooking demonstrations and chocolate tastings for virtual experiences. To make these types of experiences more balanced and fun for both in-person and virtual attendees, we would incorporate on-site stations with all the ingredients needed for on-site guests to participate. Virtual attendees would receive an engagement box containing the ingredients they need to participate as well — excluding any alcohol. The challenge then is to connect the two styles of attendees for the activity. This can be done by adding video coverage, and display monitors or screens on-site so everyone can see each other participating in the same activity.
For many conferences, recognition is a key purpose for the event. To recognize a virtual attendee who is receiving an award, place a monitor on stage that displays the honored attendee and have the speaker interact directly with them. They could even do a ‘virtual’ high-five where they both aim for their screen to connect.
And lastly, a virtual event tour guide/reporter working on-site can truly integrate the virtual attendee into the live experience. The guide mimics the in-person experience for the virtual attendee by walking a trade show floor, chatting with other attendees, and taking in all the sights and sounds the virtual attendee may otherwise miss out. We strongly suggest a professional event emcee who can keep virtual attendees engaged by popping on to the event app to key up the next session, convey housekeeping notes, encourage guests to fill out event surveys after sessions, and more. The guide could also conduct pop-up interviews throughout the event by walking the halls and saying hello to key people, just like a boots-on-the-ground reporter.
In all cases, when designing a hybrid event, it’s critical to remember that your virtual attendees will only get to see what you show them, will only experience what you connect them to, and can only voice themselves through the opportunities you give them. They are equally as important as your in-person attendees, so be sure to give them as much as your imagination allows. C&IT