ALHI sat down with four Hybrid Events Experts to get insights into their resources to deliver successful hybrid and virtual events. From virtual DJ's and creative sanitation stations to bandwidth calculators and gamification, these experts share some of the best in the industry to help you plan your future hybrid event.

J. Damany Daniel, Chief Imaginator, The Event Nerd
Sarah Soliman, DES, President & CEO, Soliman Productions
John Rissi, SVP, Customer and Industry Relations, Encore
Katie Bohrer, CMP, Vice President, Meeting Design & Experience, ALHI

Jump to Resource Sections
Hybrid Events
Audience Engagement
Connecting Attendees
Event Design
Global Audiences
Safe Meetings

Q: We have had to learn a lot in the last year and reimagine our existing events and processes. What would you recommend to planners that want to learn about hybrid events?

John: Absolutely, at Encore we have an amazing hub with education on all things hybrid events. We have upcoming trainings that dig into different elements. Check it out at ProEdge to register and watch past trainings. Additionally, we also have a fantastic Hybrid Event Guide, which provides a framework to plan any hybrid event, as well as key drivers for a successful event. Another fantastic resource I love is the Events Industry Council's bandwidth estimator for determining the amount of bandwidth you need for your event, which is something many event planners are struggling with.

Katie: One of the greatest things about our industry is that we are quick to share information and support each other as we navigate change. At ALHI, we have leaned on the expertise and knowledge base that the Events Industry Council organized through their APEX COVID-19 Business Recovery Task Force. There are incredible free resources about almost everything for planning events amidst a pandemic. This is also where we found the Code of Conduct that ALHI uses for all of our events. Meeting Professionals International has also put together a very comprehensive set of webinars and on-demand content through the MPI Academy. They are also offering certificate programs about some of the unique skills that event planning requires today, for instance their Virtual Event & Meeting Management Certificate.

Q: More than ever audience engagement is a critical component. This is one of the biggest concerns that planners have for the virtual attendees. Can you share ideas to help engage a virtual audience?

Damany: Gamification is a great way to engage a virtual audience. SocialPoint is my absolute favorite company to work with to create in-program gamification. They have a host of great tools for things like virtual trivia and audience response that keep people engaged throughout the entire program. Another fun thing to introduce is a DJ. My favorite virtual event DJs are DJ Jason Esquire and DJ SC. They can take what would be a boring online experience and turn it into a party where people learn and get connected. Honestly, it's more than just having fun music, it's about filling in the spaces between the content with things that keep people engaged.

Sarah: I also greatly recommend implementing gamification into your virtual event. Our team creates a gaming area where attendees can participate in trivia, memory game, crosswords, word scramble, scavenger hunts and more. Attendees earn points as they play. This can also be used to incentivize attendees to visit various areas of the event like the exhibit hall, main stage, etc... This concept is also a sponsorship opportunity! Another great way to introduce some fun into the event is virtual photo booths. We partner with SnapBar to provide virtual photo opps for attendees. These virtual booths are branded to your event (or sponsored!) and allow attendees to take a photo using their webcam, add fun stickers to their snapshot, download the image and upload to social media during your event. In lieu of an event photographer onsite, this is a great way for organizers to collect a gallery of the event all while providing attendees an opportunity to share visuals that create a buzz online.

Damany: I also think utilizing Virtual Graphic Facilitation (scribing) is a powerful tool. Dr Gorilla offers a great way to connect people with the content of a program in a way that goes beyond hearing words spoken at them on screen. Everyone learns differently and offering an in-program scribe that people can see in real-time is an amazing way to connect with your visual and tactile learners. What's even more impactful is when they receive the full pdf afterward as another touchpoint for the event and a final connection with what they learned and how they were impacted.

Q: We all know that it can be difficult to connect the face-to-face audience and the virtual attendees. Can you share any tips about that?

Sarah: We often hear from virtual event attendees that they lack connectivity to one another online. Grip allows you to offer your attendees and exhibitors added value through matchmaking and one-on-one appointments. My team partners with Grip to provide a seamless, elevated virtual event experience for all stakeholders by enabling attendees to network via video chat during the event. This is also an added sponsorship opportunity. When it comes to round tables and think tanks, Remo is a great way to conduct roundtable discussions in a virtual setting. Attendees can gather at virtual tables of their choice and engage in video chat discussions. You can label each table by topic/category to create a roundtable dynamic. Some of its customization is still limited but there is opportunity to have some sponsorship throughout.

Katie: I would encourage posing this question to your production partner. Something that ALHI has learned through planning multiple hybrid events is to trust your partners and the experts in this area ensure you have someone that is dedicated to the virtual audience as a unique attendee type with their own attendee journey. Through multiple run of shows, unique content and experiences offered to both audiences, we have found that it's possible for each audience member to feel connected as well as feel a healthy level of FOMO. Soliman Productions partnered on our event in November and were able to offer a customized and perfect solution to connect four live cities with a full virtual audience by designing a shared event chat throughout the duration of the event. The result was so well received, one audience member commented "it felt like we were all at the same event". 

Q: We often hear meeting planners struggling to convert the main message of the event into a fun and engaging concept. Can you suggest any partners to support the event design? 

Damany: Dana Pake is literally the most brilliant event strategist I know. She has a way of looking at what you're wanting to communicate to your audience and finding new and fun ways to get it to them. From cake decorating contests to virtual talent shows, I've seen her pull off some amazing feats of educational ingenuity where people walk away from their screens with big smiles and knowledge and a community they didn't expect. I would also highly recommend Amanda Austin, who has turned her years of experience founding and running one of Dallas' longest-running improv comedy studios and schools into a corporate training program that she has flawlessly transitioned to the online world. She and her team were are able to bring the key points of a meeting or message to life through a series of improv-inspired and interactive exercises. It's hilarious, fun, and keeps people tethered to the program and not wanting it to end.

Q: Considering a global audience, can you recommend any tools to support translations and accommodations for all attendees?

Sarah: Absolutely, when organizing a meeting for an international audience, Wordly is a fabulous way to get real-time text + audio translation in several languages. We've partnered with Wordly to provide translations in many different languages such as French, Spanish and Mandarin and it's worked extremely well.

Katie: It's important to remember that all the questions and considerations that we applied to in-person events are still vital to ask a virtual audience. We have to continue to consider ADA compliance and provide solutions for attendees that need interpreters or subtitles. Zoom has a number of solutions in this arena, but the first thing is to ensure you are asking the audience if they need any of these services in the registration process so can solve those accommodation requests.

Q: Organizing safe meetings has become imperative for our industry. Although, there are many sources out there, what are your top tools and recommendations for the in-person event? 

Katie: ALHI has successfully executed eleven in-person events since the end of July last year. We love working with Boundless gifts to provide unique PPE solutions that represent our sponsors. They have made this super simple and fun to create a unique gift that also keeps our attendees safe. In addition, SaniSigns has made sanitizing stations fun and a chance to advertise partners. They provide Sanitizer bars that can be branded and also can include multiple scents. It's a dynamic way to incorporate CDC guidelines.

John: Meetings Mean Business has a site called Meet Safe, where meeting planners can provide and share examples of how they have executed events that have adhered to local health and safety guidelines.

Katie: We also see a lot of our planners starting to utilize contact tracing into their CDC compliant events. It's another layer of security. ALHI recently hosted an event that partnered with Volan Technology and published a comprehensive case study on the experience and execution.