May 19, 2023
It is essential to define the terminology we hear day in and day out to make sure there isn’t any confusion. Three key terms are referenced throughout the article: Live, Onsite, and Virtual events. It is common to refer to events as either Live or Virtual, but we need to adjust our terminology for this article and in the future. Synchronous virtual events are LIVE too. Below are the definitions of the terms as they should be used moving forward and in this article:
Before the pandemic, we saw virtual events in a different light. For Leading Edge Training Solutions (LETS), we produced over 80% of our events by converting conference rooms into studios for a couple of hours to several days, so the facilitators and speakers were all together in one location, but the participants were able to join online. When we produced Hybrid Events, it was a broadcast location where all the presenters and facilitators were located and any number of meeting locations, usually hotels, where groups would be together onsite. As a result, we have had events ranging from four to 28 separate meeting locations.
There was no decision point during the pandemic, and onsite was not an option for most companies or conferences, but now we have moved back to meeting in person. However, the decision has yet to move back to onsite, virtual, or a combination thereof. It is onsite or virtual. Let me share some examples of events we've supported that work best as a combination of onsite and virtual experiences.
Recently we had a client with a global audience for Leadership Development training. Their budget was large enough to support a smaller onsite meeting or a more prominent single broadcast location with a virtual venue and a global audience. Time out of Territory was a factor, particularly for participants outside the United States, due to the additional travel days required to and from an onsite event. Since the budget only supported a smaller onsite event, they had to decide which leaders could attend and who could not attend. They felt strongly about having the entire team attend and determined a broadcast location for all speakers to be onsite, and participants attended virtually as the hybrid option.
The broadcast was designed with a high amount of engagement throughout. We used a combination of community engagement (Polls, Chat, Q&A, Emoticons) and individual (1 and 2-way audio/video) engagement throughout the event. In addition, the set was a green screen. The team at the broadcast location changed backgrounds throughout the three-day meeting and had a three-team game show event for which participants voted on the winner.
As the content was developed, engagement was at the forefront. We used a Virtual Venue as the primary location for participants to join the meeting, and Zoom was the primary platform for meetings. Multiple workshops utilized Zoom breakout sessions, and participants were teaching back or providing insights into lessons learned from the breakout sessions after they were completed.
Ultimately, all the objectives were met. The meeting was highly engaging, and on the second day, the entire team participated in team-building exercises, which would have been limited to a smaller group if the event had been held onsite. In this case, the ability to reach the entire team and use the breakout sessions for some of the networking capabilities outweighed the onsite advantages of a smaller group. In the end, there were over 600 participants who were able to attend a three-day interactive event at a fraction of the cost of the onsite event, and they met all objectives, including energizing the leadership team!
In the middle of 2021, a client reached out regarding a business planning workshop that was being run by an outside trainer. This was a one-day workshop with a combination of breakout sessions and a considerable amount of two-way discussion among the group. The attendees were from across the United States, six participants were uncomfortable traveling, and nine were onsite. There was no budget issue, and the client wanted to maintain the effectiveness. The primary issue was time out of territory due to participants being uncomfortable traveling.
The setup for this event significantly differed from hybrid events before the pandemic. We used Webex and had three different camera views, a tabletop microphone for each onsite participant, a PA speaker for virtual participant audio, and two monitors in addition to the projector screen. The monitors were for the virtual participant cameras (Figure 2). The monitors allowed the onsite participants and the presenter to see the virtual participants during the training.
A key element was two-way audio and video to mimic full onsite engagement levels between the presenter, onsite, and virtual participants. When it came time for breakout sessions, the virtual participants were in breakout groups together, and the onsite participants did breakouts together. Finally, the presenter used a Lavalier microphone for audio.
The workshop’s outcome was a productive and engaging full-day session where onsite and virtual attendees interacted seamlessly. As a result, all goals were successfully achieved, and individuals who couldn't travel or preferred not to, could participate fully in training without inconvenience.
As seen in the given examples, incorporating hybrid events can prove to be an effective approach for keeping both onsite and virtual attendees engaged, provided that the event is designed in a way that ensures Hybrid Equity and all technical requirements are met. As we move forward, it's important to keep hybrid events in mind when considering the convenience of travel for attendees and as budgets become tighter, especially for sales teams who can maximize selling time and save money by choosing this option.
Lee Deaner is President of Leading Edge Training Solutions (www.letstrainonline.com), a leading producer of virtual and hybrid events, informational meetings, and training programs since 2009. He is also co-author of The Virtual Events Playbook, available on Amazon and from Amplify Publishing.