Lessons from the trenches of hybrid meeting planning

8. Your face-to-face event must follow every safety protocol according to the CDC

7. Don't let technology rule the show. Sarah Soliman Daudin of Soliman Productions is a former broadcast television producer and professional virtual event producer. In her expert experience, the technology platform isn't the show, it's just the means to an end. "The technology and engineering are only two pieces of the equation," she said. "Just like a face-to-face event, you need a content line up that engages your online audience and provides for revenue opportunities, exhibitors, partners and sponsors. You need to design and produce the flawless experience your audience expects from your brand."

6. Coach your speakers in front of their laptop. Keynote speakers who excel on stage aren't necessarily comfortable in a virtual scenario. Think about the complexity, said John Rissi, SVP, Customer and Industry Relations at PSAV. More elements go into hybrid events and speakers may not be accustomed to 'performing' via their laptop. In October, PSAV supported 5,000 live events with hybrid components in the U.S. market. "Do a dry run or several and make sure everyone is comfortable with volume settings, lighting and how to use the platform. And then run through it again," added Katie Bohrer, CMP, Vice President of Meeting Design & Experience at ALHI. "That way, the technological component doesn't distract from the message."

5. Connect the face-to-face audience and virtual audience with the same chat box and put staff in charge of answering questions in real time. "One of our greatest compliments (at the recent ALHI Back to Business: The Path Forward event) was that people mentioned they felt connected, as if they were at the same event, even though they weren't all together," said Bohrer. "By having two members of the ALHI team there to interact and engage with the virtual audience and send questions live to the face-to-face speakers we were able to create an ecosystem with greater connectivity."

4. Create separate run of shows for virtual and face-to-face events and lean into the FOMO from both audiences. "Imagine if you were sitting there in person and there was only a screen and never anybody on stage," Bohrer said. "We put ourselves in the shoes of each audience and thought about what would make sense. So for face-to-face, some presentations were on stage while the virtual audience was shown a pre-recorded video, or a live stream of the stage presentation."

3. Think about redistributing your budget. While this is not the case for every type of program, budget lines can be increased and decreased based on the demands of the program. "Adding a virtual component ideally increases your audience reach and potentially provides an even larger audience than what you would have had in previous environments," said Bohrer. "Consider that you are not traveling that audience, or feeding or housing them. That budget line now transfers to production and creating a unique experience for your virtual audience."

2. Design an attendee-driven experience for the virtual. If you go to a conference in person, you can choose your breakouts, said Melinda Burdette, CMP, Director of Events for Meeting Professionals International. For MPI WEC Grapevine 2020, the event planners created the same opportunity for virtual attendees. "It was difficult to whittle down the number of sessions for a smaller audience but still cover a wide variety of topics," she said. "Since we have four main concurrent education rooms, we assigned each room a track for consistency. (The virtual audience could choose from) tracks including Business Strategy, Meeting Design, Professional Development, and Wellness."

1. Begin with the end in mind. "Allow yourself to innovate once your goals are established," Bohrer said. For example, if you want to drive event attendance, give that experience a special draw. "Some people who are ready to travel may still choose virtual, but if the in-person speakers or experience are compelling, that will support your goal of driving in-person while having the virtual component to connect those who are not able to travel yet."

"Think about each audience's experience," Soliman-Daudin added. "A 15-minute break in person may be too long online, and you want to keep them engaged so they come back. You do that with pre-produced content to fill the time and give them maybe a 5- or 7-minute break plus the added content. It's important for the virtual audience to understand that effort went into creating an experience just for them."