Make Your Hybrid Event a Hit! 10 Tips for Meetings that Work In Person and Online (Plus 10 Mistakes Meeting Planners Make with Hybrid Events)
“I want the best of both worlds.”
– Van Halen
You’ve got to pull off an In person AND virtual event?!
It’s not easy to navigate two worlds at one time.
These days meeting and event producers are often tasked with producing events that work online AND in person. Here are helpful strategies for meeting planners, event producers, and anyone in charge of making a meeting work with live attendees and a virtual audience.
What you are about to read includes many of the best practices culled from meeting experts, virtual production companies, and professional event emcees.
This article will help you make your “Hybrid” event a winner! Read on to discover Clean Comedian’s 10 secrets for successfully merging the two worlds: a live event and a virtual experience for your attendees.
Here are 10 Keys for Making Your Meeting Work Online and In person:
See Related: What Are Networking Events?
1. PLAY to Two Audiences
You have one crucial job at your hybrid event: Make two groups feel like one!
This is not as easy as it might sound. Here’s the word to keep in mind: Inclusive.
You want your online and virtual attendees to feel like one audience…your people.
People are hungry to gather together again. But travel and safety issues may still be a factor. It may not be feasible to have your entire group of attendees in one location.
So here’s what you can do:
Present your program with both parts of your community (virtual and in-person) in mind. Take extra steps to make both segments of your audience feel included. Here’s how:
- It starts with your invitations/announcements for the program. Say something like:
You Are Invited to Our Hybrid Event Celebration. Join us in-person and/or online!
- Make sure all of your attendees feel welcome to attend via live or virtually. And here’s another tip: Tell them exactly where/when/how they can participate.
- Think through the two components of your event. This is super-important. The in person audience needs to see/feel/hear what is happening as a group. And the online audience needs to be addressed as individuals.
Think of the camera as the portal to a one-on-one experience with your virtual attendees.
There are two very different ways for your team — virtual and live — to join you. It is essential to accommodate both worlds in order to make your hybrid event a super-success.
Mistake #1: Avoid focusing on just the live (or online) aspect of the event.
You don’t want your online audience to feel that they are merely “tuning in.” And you don’t want your live attendees thinking that you just want them there for the sound of clapping. Your goal: Make both sets of attendees feel like one group having a shared experience.
2. Double Your PLATFORMS
It’s extra work. But it’s vital…
You must think about the two platforms at your Hybrid event. What are they:
Platform one: Your virtual setup.
Platform two: Your on-stage setup.
Let’s take each one in turn:
Your virtual platform is the vehicle you use to connect with your online attendees. This requires more than simply thinking, “Oh, we will use Zoom or Microsoft Teams.”
You need a place where your presenters can speak directly to your virtual audience. This is so crucial, don’t miss this note…
Your online attendees need to be addressed like you’re speaking to them one-on-one. This means your presenters need to look into your teleprompter/camera like they are talking to one person, not a large group.
So you need at least one “anchor spot” where your emcee and presenters speak to your online attendees by talking directly to them via the camera.
Your in person platform needs to be just that: a platform. Think elevated stage, with steps, just like you (hopefully) utilized before the pandemic. Remember that your in person group needs to see who is speaking to them. Many of the classic tips still apply here. Here’s one: The closer your audience gets to the stage, the better your program gets.
Yes, I know this is difficult in the age of social distancing. So be respectful of your venue’s rules (and your state or county’s) health regulations. The 3 “S”s may be with us for months to come:
- Social distancing
- Sanitizers available for all in person attendees
- Screens or masks in public areas.
Mistake #2: Don’t let either of your two audience groups (virtual or in person) feel like your program does not include them.
3. A PRODUCER is crucial
A successful NFL team needs an offensive coordinator calling the shots and coordinating the players, you need an experienced producer onsite at your hybrid event. You might need two in fact—one managing the live component and one handling the virtual side. But the key point:
You need ONE main producer on this event who sees the big picture.
And let’s be honest, that person is probably not you.
Answer these three questions:
- Do we have an onsite producer calling the show?
- Does this person have both online and live event experience?
- Have we introduced all of our presenters to our producer via a pre-event introduction?
More on “calling” the show. This has nothing to do with phoning it in : ) The show “caller” is the key coordinator between you, your event MC, your AV team, your camera/sound operators, and your presenters. Truly a vital role. And worth every penny.
Mistake #3: Don’t confuse a “detail” person within your organization with a Hybrid event producer with both hands-on live and virtual meeting experience.
You have too much at stake at your online and in person gathering to not have a professional producer.
4. PRIORITIZE good audio
With my 30 years of experience in the event industry, I was once asked: What is the most important aspect of a good program? As an entertaining emcee, I was tempted to say, “Make sure they laugh.” And that IS important. But THE most crucial thing for both live and virtual events is actually sound.
- Good audio helps you/your team get your message across for both segments of your audience (Virtual and Live).
- Quality sounds can cover a lot of other issues. If your attendees can hear what is happening, you can use slides, PowerPoint, or pre-recorded pieces to cover visual challenges and/or transitions.
- Getting high-quality audio will allow you to re-purpose the content of your program. Remember to record it!
Mistake #4: Some meeting planners call on their “sound guy” at the last minute and assume everything will be fine. Or worse, many event producers rely on the hotel/ballroom sound. Don’t do this! Plan (and budget) for a professional audio engineer—who will capture your presenters in both virtual and in-person.
Bonus: What is Comic Relief?
5. PROMPTERS help presenters
In my work as a Master of Ceremonies (M.C.), I go out of my way to connect with audiences. I do this by way of three “E” words: I engage, entertain, and empower attendees.
How can you help your presenters connect with your audience(s)? This might seem counterintuitive, but here goes: You must encourage them to make eye contact with in person audience members AND with your virtual attendees.
Your speakers, awards presenters, keynotes, and other VIPs can help your audience feel together by:
- Looking into the faces of your in person attendees
- Looking directly into the camera in order to connect with your virtual participants.
There are two secrets for doing this effectively….
First, you can have presenters address online viewers via the camera and then move back to addressing your in person guests. Or you can have the camera near the back of the room and have them look at audience faces and up to the camera.
In the latter case, you will want a large monitor in the back of the house so that your presenters can easily see what they are saying. Note: This becomes critical when you are asking your emcee or a VIP to correctly pronounce the names/bios of award-winners, make special presentations, etc.
Mistake #5: Don’t assume that your VIPs know how to use a prompter. Schedule time to rehearse with a prompter to make VIPs more comfortable before hitting the stage. Tell them, “Talk to the camera like you are speaking to a friend.”
6. Get everyone to PARTICIPATE
Here’s a silly little rhyme, packed with meeting planner wisdom…
Want your hybrid meeting to be great?
Get everybody to participate!
This requires advanced thinking on your part. The best way to start? Reverse engineer the desired outcome you want the attendees to enjoy at your meeting.
What is the emotional outcome you want them to take away at the end of your event? The meaning of a meeting is the experience your attendees get.
Here are some ways you can help your people feel more engaged in a Hybrid gathering:
Have all attendees enjoy a shared experience.
This might be as simple as raising hands together. It could be as involved as giving your in-person and virtual attendees an “Experience Box” to open simultaneously.
The theme can be co-created by virtual and in person attendees.
Consider having your team vote on the theme months before you pull your meeting together.
Build something as a team!
This could be a puzzle where online participants and live attendees put the pieces together to spell a keyword or create a special image. It might be building care packages for people in need in your community. This is participation with a purpose.
Bonus Tip: Hire a corporate comedian/entertainer to lead your attendees in fun and exciting team-building activities.
Mistake #6: This one is easy to fall into. The trap is making your event feel like it’s really an online experience and that your in person audience is just there to provide a bit of clapping. (Or the opposite mistake happens when you make your online audience feel that they are just passively “tuning in.”). A great hybrid event feels like a shared experience.
7. Hire a PROFESSIONAL emcee who is experienced in both arenas
Every great party needs a host! This is also true for live and virtual meetings. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “Oh, Jerry in accounting is a lot of fun. Let’s ask him to be our emcee” You need an accomplished emcee who has tons of experience hosting both live AND virtual events. Before you hire a host, ask him/her to show you a video clip or demo reel so you can see what you are going to get.
A professional Master of Ceremonies (M.C.) or corporate entertainer will keep both of your audiences laughing, feeling connected, and will help you start and end your program on time. What else can a professional emcee do for you? A great M.C. will handle five more key things:
- Introductions of your other presenters, VIPs, and corporate entertainers.
- Make smooth transitions from one segment to the next.
- Re-energize your meeting with icebreakers, entertainment, and timely breaks.
- Any announcements throughout the event. (Note: You do not want your company president handling housekeeping announcements during an event.)
- Continually re-connect your live and virtual audiences with shared participation moments.
(Example: A trivia contest about your organization that both your in person and virtual attendees can compete in.)
Mistake #7: Hosting an event with no host! A superb emcee—who can engage your in person audience and connect with your virtual group—is essential to the flow (and fun) at your next hybrid event.
8. PRE-RECORD some segments
Don’t be afraid to use pre-recorded pieces in your program. Using artfully, pre-recorded video clips will enhance your program. Just make sure you use these pieces intentionally.
Answer these three questions:
- What are we trying to communicate with these pre-recorded moments?
- Where will we put them in our meeting?
- How will we transition from pre-recorded pieces back to live?
Special tip: Whenever possible use video clips to convey transformation and not just information. It’s boring to see slides/stats for 5 minutes. You want your pre-recorded moments to further the story of your organization and deepen your attendee’s experience.
Mistake #8: There are several mistakes to avoid here. The first is relying too much on pre-recorded segments. The second one is using no pre-recorded parts. Use pre-recorded segments to cover transitions and support your speakers.
9. PRINT a one-page working schedule
There’s an old show business adage that may help you here:
“If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage!”
The point is you need a road map for your event. In writing. Why do I say one page? That’s simple. A single-page document working schedule will give you an at-a-glance snapshot of who’s up, what’s next, when the program is on track, and more.
Here are three more reasons you want a “run sheet” that fits on one page:
- A single sheet working schedule is something you can easily print and hand out–or email in advance–to everyone connected with your program.
- A one-page working schedule will help your speakers, AV team, and event staff all get on the same page. And that’s a heck of a lot easier when there is only one page.
- By using a simple working schedule you can quickly see and share the big picture of your Hybrid event. Important note: Though your hybrid meeting has two components–virtual and in-person–you still want to have ONE document that brings all those pieces together.
Make sure everyone connected to your event receives this agenda. And remember, it may go through multiple versions before it’s finalized. That is ok. (I think the most I have seen is 22 versions)
Mistake #9: Don’t confuse a script with a schedule.
I have hosted well over 1,500 in person and on-stage meetings. I see this mistake happen all too often. What is it? The event producer provides every person connected with the event a full 20-page script. Don’t do this.
10. PRE-PLANNING is more crucial than ever
Are you a detailed person? If you are, this may already be a strength of yours. If not, no worries. Just ensure that you work with your team to pre-plan every aspect of your hybrid events. Here are some things to think through:
- Where will you have your live meeting?
- What is your event theme?
- Have you created an event budget?
- What platform will you use for the virtual component of your program?
- Have you booked your speaker, entertainment, and emcee?
- What will you pre-record for your meeting?
- Have you lined up your AV production team?
- What food will you serve at your meeting?
- How will you create shared experiences so that both your in person and virtual attendees feel engaged?
Bonus tip: About 30 minutes prior to your actual event kick-off, get ALL of your players on the same page in person/virtual and do a “talk through” of every phase of your meeting. Use your single-sheet working schedule as your guide.
Mistake #10: Don’t forget that a double-barreled event (virtual and live) will require double the planning on your part.
By following these 10 tips and avoiding these 10 common mistakes, you can ensure that your hybrid events will be a raging success with both in person and virtual audiences.
Keep Reading: How to Plan a Successful Product Launch Event
Adam Christing has been called “America’s #1 Event Emcee.” He is the founder of CleanComedians.com. Adam has hosted more than 1,500 live and virtual events. Adam is the author of the forthcoming book: How to Be a Great M.C. to be published by Markin Books in 2021. You can email Adam with questions at: Adam@CleanComedians.com