The pandemic has brought about massive changes for businesses events, particularly for association conferences and corporate meetings. Yet business and research march on and meetings of minds must continue to happen, essential as they are for collaboration, sharing knowledge and ideas, and for bringing people together, wherever they may be.
However, the unpredictability of the pandemic will be here for some time, and virtual and hybrid events still have a place alongside face-to-face events. With help from three of Sydney's audio-visual experts, our hybrid event guide helps you plan your ideal event format and how to build a Plan B, in case of change.
Why do we need virtual or hybrid options if face-to-face events can return?
Nigel Mintern, a producer at AV1, says for corporates hybrid will “become the norm for internal events”, as the pandemic has changed the way people work.
Event production company AV1 is headquartered in Sydney and is the in-house audio-visual supplier for the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, located on the waterfront of Sydney Harbour at Circular Quay.
Encore Event Technologies’ Technology Director for Asia Pacific, Andrew MacColl, says 60 -70% of Encore’s work still has a hybrid component to it. The company is the in-house audio-visual supplier across a range of Sydney hotels with event space, including Hyatt Regency Sydney, Hilton Sydney, The Langham Sydney and The Fullerton Hotel Sydney.
The continuing pandemic aside, in terms of how technology allows groups to get together, Andrew says “the genie is out of the bottle”.
“People now realise that you can have a board meeting, a leadership team meeting, where some of the attendees are live and some of them are not.”
Andrew says that Encore’s business in the US is anticipating that 25% of its work will be hybrid for the next two years.
At ICC Sydney, the city’s central convention centre, Director of Audio-Visual Services, Brian Nash, says the venue is “absolutely” still seeing demand for hybrid events, even as Sydney reopens and a healthy appetite for face-to-face events continues to grow.
How do you decide the best format for your event?
There are now plenty of decisions you can make about your event format. Apart from the three main choices – to go in-person only; to use a hybrid format where some delegates attend a physical venue and others join online; or to go fully virtual, where everyone joins online from their home - there are also choices to be made about the digital platform you use and your ideal level of production.
For virtual events, there is everything from simple webinars, which require no platform at all; to green screen studios and 3D virtual stages which use extended reality to place presenters in a digital environment.
Other options include locations with iconic views, like AV1’s space at MCA, which includes a Sydney Harbour backdrop complete with a view of the Sydney Opera House, and can be used for in-person, hybrid or virtual events.
What to consider when choosing a format for your event
- What are your event objectives?
If your event is more complex, with multiple sessions or breakouts, and you want to include hybrid or virtual options, you are likely to require a platform . Similarly, if delegate interaction is important to your event, you will benefit from a platform with strong networking capabilities in hybrid or virtual formats. If networking is the primary function of an event, choosing an in-person or hybrid format is likely to pay the greatest dividends.
- Who is your audience?
Understanding your audience is key to choosing your format. If your audience is geographically spread out, including hybrid elements may be wise and is likely to increase your overall audience. Considering the split between in-person and virtual audiences for hybrid events is important to help you understand where to focus.
- What’s your budget?
In a virtual event environment, the number of attendees does not hugely influence cost. However, costs do accrue where you seek higher production values, greater functionality within the platform, and larger numbers of breakout sessions and virtual presenters. The cost of a hybrid event can be higher than one that is either fully virtual or fully in-person, because they cater to two separate audiences.
What does it mean to plan for a hybrid event?
Planning for a hybrid event means factoring in both a virtual audience and a face-to-face audience. Our three experts agree that if you have any concerns that your event may not be able to go ahead with all delegates attending in person, then you should make the decision to plan for a hybrid format at the start of the event planning process.
For most hybrid events, choosing a digital event platform should be one of your first steps. It is much easier to flip an event from hybrid to virtual, should circumstances demand, it if you have already committed to a platform and built it out to suit your event, especially if circumstances change close to event day.
Virtual networking – and even networking between online and in-person delegates – has improved as platforms have become more sophisticated. Our experts say there are now lots of options to facilitate what is considered one of the most valuable parts of the business event experience.
How to make your hybrid event POP
- Remember you are designing two quite different experiences for two different audiences.
- Keep content sharp and snappy – attention spans amongst virtual audiences are shorter than those attending live.
- A good MC is indispensable and for a hybrid event, one with on-camera experience is important. For example, an MC can help bridge the gap between the live and virtual space by looking down the barrel of the camera directly at the virtual audience, as well as engaging with those attending live.
- Run the event to time: this is essential for a hybrid audience, as virtual attendees depend on more precise timings to tune in and out.
- Remember your audience may be in different time zones and make allowances to acknowledge this in the script. When your live delegates are going to lunch, virtual delegates might be going to breakfast or dinner – give a shout out to them where they are, day or night.
How do you turn a hybrid event into a virtual event?
“It’s very difficult to pivot between a purely live event and a fully virtual event,” says Andrew. “If you’re running a platform, it’s a lot easier.”
Depending on the reason for going virtual, you may choose to retain your physical venue and broadcast the event as planned. You may even have some, or all, of your presenters appear live at the venue. Either way, you will need to communicate the transition to speakers, sponsors and delegates to guide change and what it means for them.
For fully virtual events, you may even consider pre-recording some of your content. Pre-recording major speakers can also provide a backup in case anything goes awry in the lead up or on the event day. Some presenters may need to pre-record due to unreliable internet connections and some may simply be more comfortable pre-recording content if the event is going to be virtual.
How do you create a sense of place for hybrid or virtual events?
Both ICC Sydney and AV1 have successfully created a sense of place for virtual events they have produced.
AV1 has used its studio at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia which looks out over Sydney Harbour and the Sydney Opera House to provide an unmistakable sense of place. This year it also transported a full virtual studio to International Towers in Sydney’s newest waterfront precinct, Barangaroo, to deliver a greenery-filled event for the Green Building Council of Australia.
ICC Sydney has partnered with the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council to create a virtual Welcome to Country which clients can choose to use at their virtual or hybrid business events to pay respect to Elders past and present and acknowledge the land on which the event is delivered. With a fee going back to the Land Council each time the video is used, it helps support the local Indigenous community and protect local Indigenous culture.
Top 10 planning tips from our experts: Hybrid events guide
- Don’t overcomplicate it: think about your event objectives and use technology to support your objectives.
- Plan a hybrid event from the beginning if there’s any chance your event may not be able to go ahead with all your delegates in person.
- Start planning sooner, as planning for hybrid events takes longer.
- Consider the needs of each audience for a hybrid event, as you are essentially creating two different events.
- Engage your audio-visual supplier early – they have plenty of experience and advice to help you plan and deliver a strong event.
- Prep, prep, prep! It’s all in the planning.
- Think about the delegate information you collect at registration; this can help to refine your delegate experiences later.
- Keep to time and keep things moving if your audience is partially or fully virtual, as their threshold for boredom will be lower.
- Keep group sizes small in virtual networking spaces.
- Get comfortable with hybrid and virtual events: they are here to stay