Around 200 participants signed up from 19 member organisations and attended virtually from across the world. The conference organisers, keynote speakers, event agency team, moderator and facilitators attended either virtually or were present at the venue operating from the event “hub”. The live studio had staging, screens, camera operators, sound technicians, technical crew and a back-office team. Missing were the participants from the seats in the smaller auditorium. They joined in from the online conference platform which had live streaming as well as facilitated zoom sessions. Speakers and facilitators addressed the audience on screens and relied on the ability of all actors to put on a show which engaged our guests, inviting them to participate through all available channels.
The planning for a hybrid event is much the same as for a live conference, but the added dimension of simultaneous virtual participation means working on more levels. As a result, the preparation and event management are more complex, requiring an even greater attention to detail.
1 Plan for participation
- You need to plan for NOT having a captive audience.
People can wander in and out at will. Hit mute/unmute, switch their video off/on. They can take extended breaks and leave at any point in time. All the above can happen unnoticed by the facilitators and speakers.
2 Good collaboration
- Good collaboration between all involved is an imperative.
This is no time for power play as the pressure is on to perform to a fixed deadline and any slippage along the way increases the stress.
3 Build trust
- Establishing trusting relationships between all stakeholders is key.
There may be many stakeholders, both internal and external to the organisation. Most will not have met before and will need to be comfortable working online. For a live event we would always meet our client in person at least once before delivery. During lockdown none of this was of course possible, which counter-intuitively meant many more meetings on virtual platforms.
4 Be adaptable
- Planners and organisers need a high degree of adaptability.
This requires the right mindset to cope with the emergent nature of such an event as well as making contingency plans to reduce risk. In our case, shifting travel restrictions meant that key players were unable to attend in person and some became ill with covid and were forced to withdraw altogether at short notice.
5 Less is more
- Less is more when you are designing sessions for maximum participation.
Broad themes and detailed content require a lot of cutting to make input easy for participants to contribute. We needed to keep the focus on relevant discussion to provide the useful outputs requested for post-event follow-up. Designated “session recorders” captured participants’ contributions so that online documentation could be provided for the working groups. Their members continue to develop important issues to be picked up at next year’s conference.
6 Choose excellent facilitators
- The role of the facilitator is key in engaging and motivating participants to contribute their best thinking.
Facilitators are best chosen for their expertise and skill in facilitation and may or may not also be experts in a session subject. It’s worth involving them from an early stage.
7 Vary formats
- Sessions must be designed with different formats so that the event doesn’t become a long repetition of presentations.
A virtual format gives many opportunities for audience participation. At the same time, some tools require an ease of use and skill that not all participants have. We made no assumptions for technical skill in using tools such as Mentimeter and Miro boards and carefully prepared and timed these interventions.
8 No guarantees
- The most detailed plan, timed to seconds is not a guarantee for perfection.
Any number of hitches may occur that need managing in the moment. Professional expertise combined with simple kindness and good humour are the best recipe for moving forward.
In summary, the goodwill and support of all those present live or virtually on the day ensure enjoyment and success. When you sense that all are generous in their acceptance of best effort (whatever hitches may occur) and give their utmost to contribute actively in whatever way they can, then you feel, inside that this event WAS truly something to be proud of.
Here’s the link to the event homepage
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