An engaged audience is a happy audience, whether they’re right there in front of you or participating remotely. The new world of hybrid events brings with it a huge number of opportunities to increase engagement and interaction – but what does that look like, and how do you ensure that your events are checking all the boxes to engage your hybrid event audience?
Keep it Live
Wherever possible, use live video instead of prerecorded content. Live sessions ensure that presenters can interact with the audience and answer questions in real-time. This could be a live video stream from the in-person event or an online stream from a remote presenter. Either way, a live presentation will better engage in-person and online participants, who will appreciate the higher degree of interactivity.
If you must use prerecorded content, try to ensure that the presenter is available to engage with participants in the chat or join live for 10 minutes at the end of the presentation to answer questions.
Use a Virtual Facilitator
Virtual audiences need someone to keep the online conversation alive. Online participants are often hesitant about using the chat facility, so a virtual facilitator acts as a conduit between presenters, the live audience, and the virtual audience.
Virtual facilitators monitor the chat field questions and provide feedback from remote participants to the presenters. This helps virtual attendees feel more included in the hybrid event and helps ensure an inclusive experience no matter how participants choose to attend.
Make it Fun
The online event experience shouldn’t feel like a poor substitute for the in-person event – it needs to be just as fun and interesting as the physical space. Virtual participants want to feel like they’re getting the same value as their in-person counterparts, so ensure you have thought about every part of the schedule – including breaks.
When there is a break in your hybrid event, offer games, exercises, and networking opportunities to fill the gap for virtual attendees. Nobody wants to watch a blank screen or watch the in-person attendees participating in fun activities without them, so be sure to cater to your virtual audience and add value to their hybrid event experience. Exclusive interviews, prerecorded bonus content, Q&As with presenters, and virtual networking events will ensure that everyone’s time is well spent.
Create Networking Opportunities
At an in-person event, attendees will naturally interact and network with one another, whether that’s around their table, at lunch, or as part of your interactive activities. While networking is more challenging in virtual spaces, it’s not impossible! In fact, there are lots of ways to facilitate online networking for your hybrid events.
Most video conferencing tools have breakout room functionality so that you can set up small, targeted meetings between virtual attendees. Some online tools replicate “physical venues,” so virtual attendees can move between “tables” or “rooms” to join different conversations with ease. Live text chat is a must for online attendees to participate in the event, and “virtual speed dating” allows you to create randomized meetings between online attendees to replicate the short, casual conversations between in-person attendees.
Many of your attendees, both in-person and virtual, will be active on social media, so create a hashtag to get everyone involved in the social conversation, whether that’s live-tweeting from the event or following along remotely on the backchannel. This could also be an excellent way to encourage people to ask questions before the event begins – include the hashtag in your registration materials and ask attendees to submit questions or topics of interest for the presenters via social media.
You should also have a member of your marketing team stationed at the in-person event to post throughout the day, take photos and host live video chats. This person should also be responsible for sharing posts from attendees, both in-person and virtual, for best-practice hybrid event marketing.
Acknowledge Your Online Audience
At every possible opportunity, take the time to acknowledge your online audience. If your presenters are live at the in-person venue, ensure that they address the camera wherever possible. Treating the camera as another “attendee” ensures that virtual participants benefit from eye contact and feel included in the conversation.
Ideally, your conferencing platform will support the ability to show online participants on camera when they ask questions in the Q&A section of each presentation. The presenter will see the online attendee on their device, and it may even be possible to show them to the rest of the room on the main screens. If this isn’t possible, ensure that your facilitator names the person asking the question and that the presenter addresses their response to the camera.