PCMA Heartland Chapter member, Kristin Malek, shares her key takeaways from a very successful hybrid event earlier this month:
What was your event’s name and what date was it held?
“Level Up Your Event Game” – April 1, 2021. This was a hybrid event for meeting professionals that was planned by the Advanced Event Operations class at UNL (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)!
Describe what made up your hybrid approach?
We kicked off our day with an online exclusive experience from 9 a.m. – 10 a.m. – which was piped into the in-person room so that everyone walking into the physical space could see everyone already logged in and engaged online.
Then we had a welcome for both audiences and a welcome keynote that consisted of a panel – two panelists in-person and two panelists online. We had amazing interaction and engagement from both audiences.
For the rest of the day after the panel – if we were thinking of a traditional conference with breakout rooms – this event had five “breakout rooms” with sessions all day. Four of these spaces were virtual and one was the physical in-person room. The in-person could be accessed at any time by people participating online.
The online tracks included marketing, technology/cybersecurity, personalization/engagement, and wellness and life skills. We emphasized to our online attendees that they could tune into whatever track they were most passionate about, and that if they wanted to watch any of the live content, they could do that as well. In the physical room itself – we had all four virtual breakout rooms showing on screens that attendees could see at any point in time! These breakout sessions were staggered so there was always visual interest in the room as sessions came on and off.
Where was the location for the in-person portion of your event?
Lincoln, Nebraska at The Lincoln Marriott Cornhusker.
Who were the attendees and what are some of the countries from where attendees connected virtually?
The audience was meeting professionals! We had nearly 150 attendees representing 16 states and six countries. We had attendees log in live all the way from Australia and many countries in Europe including Denmark and The Netherlands.
How many people attended in person and how many attended virtually?
We kept the in-person group intentionally small for social distance requirements at 40 and had over 100 attend online!
Was it more difficult to plan a hybrid event versus planning only an in-person or only a virtual event? If so, what made it more difficult?
I would definitely say it was more difficult in certain aspects. The largest reason for this was having enough skilled coordinators/facilitators. Each online track needed a set person in addition to the people needed onsite. Depending on the complexity of the online environment, this can double (or more) your labor needed. Planning a unique experience and schedule for your online attendees is crucial. This means that you are truly planning two different events/segments and see how they cohesively tie together through keynotes or certain sessions.
What went really well?
The overall reach of our content and experiences was the best! We never expected 16 states or six countries and thought it would be more regional like past events have been.
We also were over the moon happy with our production partner – Inspirmedia Productions. They helped all of our dreams become a reality and Phil was so great working with the students! I cannot recommend him enough! Having a great production partner is key in the hybrid event world! In terms of programming – our hybrid keynote panel was very well received – with over 400 chat messages and high engagement. That was a highlight of our event!
What would you differently for your next hybrid event?
Two things come to mind for this – first, having a different platform. Sometimes it is worth the extra money to invest in a platform that will give you everything that you want. Second, having less online tracks. We were surprised how many people logged into the “in-person” stream – wanting to feel like they were in the room! It was more engaging having a live camera sweep over an in-person speaker than just another zoom box! While all of our tracks had good attendance throughout the day (average: 24 attendees per session), our in-person track had the highest attendance consistently (average was about 70 attendees).
How did you make in-person attendees feel comfortable and safe?
This was done in a variety of ways – communication ahead of time, signage, our registration bag was exclusively COVID safety swag branded with our event, hand sanitizer wipes at each table, masks worn by everyone (properly worn), and for seating – we utilized the choice of mini bistro tables or socially distanced classroom style tables (three people per two tables). Both seating options were received equally well – attendees at their own table stated: “I felt like a VIP at my own little table!”
We also had an entire session about networking in a time of COVID – which included actual networking activities for those onsite in a variety of situations – in one activity participants didn’t have to get up from their seat and in another participants who felt comfortable got up and networked while remaining socially distanced. This helped people get engaged and stay engaged while ensuring they feel comfortable.
What is the biggest learning you would share with your fellow Heartland Chapter members?
I would say the biggest learning I had was the importance of having a dedicated manager for the online portion and a dedicated manager for the in-person program. This allowed me to troubleshoot anywhere, but have dedicated leadership and experts for each part. Also, the importance of a great facilitator on stage who is used to addressing the online audience and in-person audience – it makes all the difference in terms of engagement!
Photo Credit – James Lindsay of Kim Yung Creative!