Repurposing the hybrid event model for a post-pandemic world

Tim Kridel sat down with Rainer Stiehl, vice president of marketing for EMEA at Extron, to discuss the new post-pandemic demands on hybrid events.

TK: Due to the pandemic, many large events such as trade shows, product launches and enterprise all-hands meetings went hybrid, as did colleges and universities. Based on what you’re hearing, do they plan to continue that model after the pandemic is finally over? If so, why? For example, do trade show organizers see hybrid as a way to boost attendance (and revenue) because it eliminates the time and expense of travel?

RS [pictured right]: Event organisers over the past few years faced a rapid necessity to transform their content delivery - ranging from product launches to trade shows - to reach in-person and remote participants simultaneously. While in-person and online events were historically planned as separate entities, the new unified approach allows for more engaging content and broader audience participation and delivers an improved experience. Both virtual and hybrid events are now the norm, incorporating technology to deliver seamless experiences and far-reaching benefits that event organisers and sponsors simply can’t ignore. 

AV technology such as Extron streaming media processors and encoders record and stream content to live remote participants while on-demand virtual learning fills gaps and increases the audience reach that synchronous events just can’t accommodate. Importantly, both organisers and participants benefit from the enhanced flexibility that removes such barriers as travel costs and schedule conflicts when a speaker or participant can’t be physically present. Incorporating remote participants lets organisers increase attendance previously constrained by footprint and costs, offer online sponsorship spaces, and enhance brand promotion. It also allows for greater event customization and drastically elevates analytics insights from remote participants.

TK: One difference between hybrid and in-person-only events is time zones. When everyone travelled to a trade show, they were all there at the same time. What do organisers need to consider when they have a hybrid event with global attendance? For example, does on-demand streaming of recorded content such as keynotes and breakout sessions become key for attracting attendees?

RS: To increase participation, event organisers can implement best practices by offering key agenda items, like keynote speeches or a major product introduction, at regionally convenient times to drive live in-person and remote participation, as well as delivering follow-up communication with a link to recorded content for viewing at a time of one’s choosing. Compared to in-person only events where trade show staff spend a significant time on the design of a booth and the placement of physical hardware, hybrid event elements require more advanced planning in other areas including the entire invitation process with reminders ensuring remote attendee awareness of downloading the UC tool used for participation, sharing specific agenda details and timing with simple click-to-join instructions, sufficient IT platform (stability, bandwidth) to accommodate all invited participants, and speaker rehearsals to keep sessions precisely on track. 

Additionally, the core team will need to become knowledgeable on the use of the selected UC tool to ensure moderators are comfortable facilitating breakout rooms, Q&A, and private meetings for remote participants.

TK: What are some tips and best practices for ensuring a great experience for presenters and attendees, both in-person and remote? These could be technological, such as room design, lighting, audio, camera placement, etc. They also could be about encouraging interactivity with the remote audience, so they feel like they’re equal participants rather than just silent observers. Feel free to use examples from events that have used your products.

Successful migration to offer hybrid model events requires finding the right technology that can combine a variety of audio and video sources that will integrate with a unified communication tool to automate the recording, streaming, and publishing process. Here are several tips to avoid typical pitfalls:

  • Map an exhaustive AV capture and delivery process that includes objectives, expected outcomes, and incorporates learnings from in-person only events.
  • Detail your plans for branding, lead generation, and ensuring a smooth process for the virtual registration.
  • Be aware of how the event will look to remote participants. For speeches and virtual product demonstrations, evaluate your setting and whether to emulate a studio or stage environment.
  • Obtain detailed information on participants, their interests, and plan how to engage interactively throughout the event using polling, breakout sessions, chat comments, lighting, and variety of backgrounds to fully engage the audience.
  • Consider your options that can help maximise a fully integrated solution such as cameras, microphone, interactive board, displays, and projector to support your capture needs.
  • Factor the need for automation of scheduled recordings and live streaming, and how to best deliver content post-event.
  • Determine your capture needs including video input scaling, onboard digital signal processing for more accurate and higher quality audio, and video input switching.
  • Review how your AV streaming technology accommodates the various means that users consume video content such as browsers using a Unified Communications platform like Zoom or Teams, AV streaming devices, a content portal, and ensuring the same seamless level of immersion for all participants, regardless of their geography.

TK: In your experience, what are some things that enterprises and other event organisers – and the AV firms that support them – overlook or underestimate when it comes to migrating from in-person events to a hybrid model? Is there anything they can learn from events that have always had a large remote audience, such as pro sports?

RS: While many differences exist between in-person and hybrid model events, don’t underestimate the planning time required for either type.  A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work well for hybrid events. Be sure to make hybrid events easy to attend with up-front planning to keep both in-person and remote audiences fully engaged with an agenda designed to be interactive for all audiences. Just as you would with an in-person event, having AV technology that meets your needs is critical. Also, a pro tip is to have live assistance staff available to help resolve issues in real-time for sponsors, speakers, exhibitors, and participants. And don’t forget to determine the detailed metrics and processes you’d like to capture beyond just the number of participants such as the most popular speakers, booths, and sessions, engagement and drop rate of attendees, leads generated at virtual booths, downloads of digital collateral, views of demonstrations, and analytics from breakout chats and meeting rooms.

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