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While life as we know it came to a grinding halt in 2020, the show went on for many events here in Cleveland, with annual events like the Cleveland International Film Festival, the Female Entrepreneur Summit, and Cleveland Museum of Art’s “MIX” series all going fully virtual. Even as in-person gatherings start to take shape once again in 2021, the benefits of online events are now well established — leaving many event planners inspired to explore hybrid meetings moving forward.
“Our world has been almost all-virtual for the last year, but now that venues are starting to open up for live events, hybrids are where the industry is headed,” said Bob Leon, owner of Cleveland-based Colortone Staging & Rentals, which has developed hybrid events with Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and Cuyahoga Community College.
Hybrid events offer the best of both worlds by combining a traditional, live, in-person event with an online component. Attendees have more options for participation, and the virtual piece breaks down financial, geographic, time-based and other types of barriers for those who may not otherwise have been able to attend.
“Until the pandemic, the virtual component [of a live event] was always an afterthought,” said Mike Yearling, VP of Sales and Marketing for Mills James, recently named the official on-site audiovisual and rigging provider for Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland. “The pandemic has absolutely inverted that model.”
Image © Rock the House Entertainment
Hybrid meetings can also boost attendee numbers. The American Society of Association Executives annual meeting attendance soared from 4,000 to 9,000 when it went virtual in 2020. Sponsors may be more likely to sign on due to increased reach from both in-person and online attendees, and hybrid events also broaden sponsorship packages with the chance to sponsor livestreams and event apps in addition to live collateral.
In embracing hybrid events, many planners are moving toward a hub-and-spoke model, which spans multiple venues with one main destination and several satellite locations (along with online offerings). With approximately 2,100 partner venues around the globe, companies such as Encore Global can help execute this model seamlessly across numerous cities with the benefit of a single point of contact alongside local teams to help on-site.
The team at Mills James is currently working on a hub-and-spoke event for a major Ohio-based
manufacturing company that will incorporate its international locations. “We’re going to use a ‘New Year’s Rockin’ Eve’-style model, where we’ll throw to other places throughout the day and check in with those folks,” said Yearling. “It helps people feel connected because you’re bringing them onto the stage and into the show.”
Image © Tailored Virtual
According to the 2020 Virtual Events Report for Membership Organizations, 38% of event planners say their biggest challenge is that people are tired of online meetings and calls. Seasoned audiovisual partners like Tailored Virtual can maximize engagement and help keep Zoom fatigue at bay with offerings like interactive game show experiences and surprise celebrity drop-ins, plus interactive polling and live scribes who provide digital drawings of the day. Rock the House Entertainment has similar offerings, along with virtual photo booths and virtual fundraisers.
Custom design also plays a role in helping avoid the “Zoom room” look and feel, according
to Leon of Colortone. “We’re able to make it look more like the evening news with crawls,
logos, lower-thirds, boxes and templates,” said Leon. “We’re also able to control the experience so that we don’t have people who are unmuted or who have trouble sharing their screen.”
Another unique component of a hybrid event is the ability to keep it going long beyond the confines of the scheduled event. The addition of a virtual platform lends itself to year-round learning and engagement, with attendees able to access the event in retrospect. Tailored Virtual provides an on-demand library for event playback, while Encore Global’s ChimeLive app gives attendees post-event access and resources (and planners the ability to track event data and analytics).
Image © Mills James
It’s important to place both the live and virtual components of hybrid events on an equal playing field. Mills James’ Mike Yearling likens the approach to a televised Browns game: “When 80,000 people show up at FirstEnergy Stadium for a live sporting event, there is a different crew for the TV audience and that piece is executed differently.” He suggests the following five rules of engagement to maximize virtual impact and “think like a broadcast television producer:”
Yearling encourages planners to view their event as a three-act play guided by story structure, with a definitive beginning, middle, and end. “It’s the difference between an event agenda and an event narrative,” said Yearling.
Yearling boils this concept down to three simple words: “Show, don’t tell.” Striking visual imagery that deepens understanding—masterfully interspersed with speaker footage—can
draw in the audience more effectively.
The typical Zoom meeting has no shortage of awkward moments, from muting issues to lag time while trying to share one’s screen. Planning and rehearsing transitions can make all the difference.
A virtual setting makes it easier than ever to gauge what keeps an audience’s attention — from polling to chat to other interactive elements. “Any kind of instant feedback loops you can
generate with your audience will inspire them to participate rather than passively watching,” said Yearling.
With the current volume of virtual events, it’s important to think about ways your event can stand out from the pack. Get creative with event promotion to maximize RSVPs and get attendees hyped, setting the stage for even higher engagement.