We’re seeing more and more hybrid events in our industry this year—events that offer both an in-person and virtual option to allow attendees of different comfort levels in this pandemic age to participate. But although in-person events have been the standard in the past, how is the online or virtual part of these hybrid events organized? What do you need to know as a program manager?
This blog post will not get into the tech aspect of virtual events, but rather broader considerations so the virtual experience is every bit as valuable as the in-person one for your attendees. Really, the last thing you want is for your virtual attendees to feel short-changed, confused, or worse, bored.
These are some of our favorite tips:
- Decide if you’re live-streaming or including pre-recorded presentations (or both). The following tips will pertain to either or both, but you’ll want to determine you virtual format offerings first.
- Consider employing an emcee (Master of Ceremonies). This person can keep the energy up, introduce the speaker(s), and segue between different parts of the program.
- Remember to use volunteers just as you do with in-person events. Volunteers are key—use them to monitor the Chat feature or comments, keep track of audience questions, have handout and other links at the ready, and assist the emcee and speaker.
- Test all A/V equipment you are using ahead of time. Well, you’d think this was a no-brainer, right? Wrong. Live-streaming, for example, uses specific software, microphones, camera, and a stable Wi-Fi connection.
- Make sure all those involved are well trained in your online platform of choice (Zoom, for instance). Nothing is worse than organizers not understanding how to manage the Chat feature, admit guests, share screens, mute participants, or use breakout rooms. They should also understand how to manage kinks in the system, Wi-Fi issues, and be prepared to handle problems on the fly. No freaking out allowed!
- Consider adding multiple breaks in between presentations. Virtual learners tend to be more distractable because their environments are not as easily controlled as in-person events. Plan for breaks so people can rest their eyes, stretch their legs, and go for coffee/bathroom breaks.
- Make virtual, live sessions a bit shorter. Same reasons as above—attention spans will vary, so keep the energy flowing with shorter segments. Consider a format that includes a live introduction, a pre-recorded element, a live Q & A, and possibly small group breakouts. This variation in presentation keeps interest high.
- Practice live-streaming or conduct dry-runs to be familiar and prepared.
The bottom line here is to be as prepared as possible. These hybrid and virtual events are new to many of us, and the only way to get really good at something is to practice it. Remember the old adage, “With competence comes confidence.” While you can always learn more, after the first few times, you’ll feel much more comfortable, and your attendees will appreciate the effort you’ve put in so they can get the most out of the experience!