We love virtual events and how they bring people together, especially at a time when the world feels disconnected. Now, as event organizers and corporations are shifting to hybrid events and meetings, we’re striving to build equitable experiences for attendees and employees no matter where they are. Whether they're in-person or virtual, we want everyone to feel engaged and have a sense of connection and belonging.
We set out to produce our first hybrid event because we wanted to figure out how to blend the two audiences in a way that creates one shared experience.
What was our takeaway? We learned that hybrid event production is anything but simple. There are unique challenges that go along with connecting in-person and virtual audiences; we even ran into several of them during our event.
But, as the saying goes, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." We came together as a team, diagnosed what went wrong, and figured out how to make the experience better. Now, we want to share with you the lessons learned, so you don't have to go through the same challenges we did.
1. Don't Rely on Venue WiFi
Not all WiFi is created equal. Many venues indeed offer WiFi connections, but you should consider this as a backup. The issue with using the venue's WiFi is that it typically won't offer enough bandwidth required for large crowds with multiple devices. The last thing you want to run into is your video freezing or audio dropping, which can happen if you're dealing with shoddy internet. For in-person segments of your hybrid event, we recommend the event planner purchase the appropriate internet bandwidth from the venue to ensure strong connectivity. You should purchase it for every day of your event, including rehearsals. Ultimately, you'll want to find out how fast it is, how many people it can support, and how to secure it.
Bonus Tip: If your budget allows you to, you could set up a password protected WiFi network devoted just to the events and AV teams to share. If you’ll be offering WiFi to attendees, set up a separate WiFi network only for them.
2. Use High-Quality Equipment
It's expected you'll need to work within a budget, but AV equipment is not an area you want to skimp on. If you're working with a limited budget, figure out where you can save costs based on your event's needs. Maybe you need to use higher-priced equipment for certain things, but other equipment can be swapped out for lower models. Check to see if AV rentals are available and keep in mind that all your equipment doesn't have to be super expensive. But do your research so you know you're buying high-quality equipment you can rely on. Sound and video are two of the most important aspects of your event that must be nailed down. We recommend using XLR mics and cameras with 1080p resolution.
Another best practice is to have the right equipment for your specific event format to ensure the best attendee experience possible. We ran into some ordering delays due to a few pieces of equipment being backordered. This forced us to use some equipment available through the venue that wasn't ideal for a hybrid event. Make sure you order your equipment far in advance and make sure you have backups of everything.
If budget allows, we recommend hiring an AV team and getting equipment through them if you're producing your first hybrid event. You may have your preferred team, but if not, 95% of venues have an "in-house" or their recommended AV team that you can work with. It's also a good idea to connect the AV team with your virtual event planners to ensure all aspects of the hybrid event are fully realized. Then it's all about practice, practice, practice.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice!
Just like Michael Jordan said, "Don't practice until you get it right, practice until you can't get it wrong." WE CAN'T STRESS THIS POINT ENOUGH! The most seamless events allow enough time for multiple equipment checks and run-throughs. You or your AV partner should first hold a tech rehearsal to ensure all the equipment is working properly and the production team can get a hang of the run-of-show. Check for internet connection, audio, video, lighting, and transitions. After you feel good about your setup, make sure not to change any settings. If you do, you run the risk of equipment malfunctioning.
After you confirm all the equipment is ready to go, include your speakers in a rehearsal at least a day before the event. Get them familiar with the mics, transitions, and cues. This will help them work out any last-minute changes to their presentations and help them feel more comfortable and prepared.
4. Don’t forget the in-person experience is still a live event
A hybrid event is not just a virtual event with an in-person audience or just a live event broadcasted to a virtual audience. A successful hybrid event blends the two audiences so they have one shared experience. The beauty of Welcome is that we've built it so you have a broadcast studio at your fingertips and no need to hire an AV team when running a virtual event. The in-person production side of things is a bit more complex depending on the purpose and scale of your event.
The key thing we learned is that you need an Executive Producer (EP) who is responsible for the overall production of both the live and virtual experiences of an event. Along with an EP, we recommend having a Live Producer who oversees all aspects of the live event and a Virtual Producer who oversees all aspects of the virtual event. Both report up to the Executive Producer.
The Live Producer could have an AV team support them in managing all of the live segments of the live event. This includes an Audio Tech, a Presentation Tech, and a Video Tech. Depending on show complexity, you may need to have a Switcher Tech, a Lighting Tech, and a Stage Manager.
The Virtual Producer would be responsible for producing all elements of the virtual experience. This includes putting speakers (live or virtual) on and off the virtual stage, managing the multi-media, overlays, and bringing polls and Q&A onto the stage. Some additional support to the virtual producer would be a Chat Manager, who would monitor the virtual chat and a Speaker Manager, who would wrangle the speakers to the green room before they go live. The breakdown of roles looks like this:
5. Put a Back-up Plan in Place
Anything can happen in a live event, and even the most prepared planners and producers run into problems. To help mitigate some of the risks, make sure you leverage your internal and external teams to your advantage and ensure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. A good practice is to think about every aspect of your event, then think of one or two contingency plans should “Plan A” fail.
Keep in mind that it takes a village to produce an event and that goes double for a hybrid event. A hybrid event is essentially a live event and a virtual event that interact with each other. This means you need two teams working together.
Hybrid events create endless opportunities to increase your audience reach and engagement. We full-heartedly believe that the future of events is hybrid. But, we also know they bring a whole new set of considerations and unique challenges to produce. We learned important lessons hosting our first hybrid event and hopefully, the lessons we learned will help you along the way.