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Ten steps to success when planning your virtual, face-to-face or hybrid conference

By 11th May 2021Blog
Person Using Mobile Phone In Conference Room | Axiom Communications

In our last blog post we talked about how fully virtual, or hybrid events – in which elements of face-to-face events are blended with virtual technology and techniques – can support businesses as we navigate our way through the global pandemic, environmental concerns and economic challenges.

Yet, despite all the challenges we face, business – and the business of engaging your workforce – must go on.

A return to fully in-person events as standard is, it seems, still a long way off globally. And perhaps after the experiences of the last year, all events will have a virtual element in the future, as participants are increasingly comfortable to contribute remotely; providing you make the process as engaging, easy and seamless as possible.

We’ve got some great fully digital experience we can bank on now, but where circumstances allow, with a hybrid approach, we can bring together the best of both in-person events and their virtual counterpart. The technology is there – and getting better all the time. And in our experience, when planned carefully, a hybrid event can still be the highly interactive, engaging and rewarding experience you want for attendees and presenters alike!

With decades of experience in successfully delivering events under our belts, in this blog post, we’ll look at 10 things you need to consider when planning an event, with hybrid events uppermost in our minds.

1. Define your purpose. Be clear about your goals.

Start with the end in mind. With any event, the goal will always be to engage as many people as possible. Who do you want to engage with, what do you want to achieve and how will you know you’ve delivered success?

If you aren’t clear about where you are travelling to, it is impossible to plot a route to get there, or indeed to tell if anyone got lost along the way.

Ask yourself, “What do I want participants to be doing differently as a consequence of this event? What will they be saying, seeing and doing long after the event?” Identify some hard and soft measures for the performance of your event and create some metrics, ideally around things you are already measuring.

Consider your goals when it comes to the experience you hope your participants, speakers, panellists and indeed event organisers will enjoy.

If your participants are located all across the world, or would need to travel a long distance to attend your event, by offering a virtual element you can increase the chances of gaining their involvement and ultimately their commitment. All this, whilst saving budget dollars on travel, venues and accommodation costs, and maximising your return on the effort you’re already putting in to your event, by extending its reach.

Being clear about your goals will also help you to decide what you need to do to get the engagement you need. Consider the benefits of virtual breakout rooms for people to mingle and dive deeper into a topic, online polls or other interactive collaborative technology.

2. Find the right format

With your purpose and goals in mind you can now consider what format will work best for the event you’re planning and the audience you want to engage with.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, so here are some things to think about:

Fully virtual events
Tried and tested over the last year, they have been proven to work well for:

  • Global kick-offs
  • Strategy progress reports
  • Regular team meetings
  • Executive-level board meetings

In-person events
Where permitted, the format is still a very suitable, preferred option for many. Physical social interaction is preferred and impactful at:

  • Awards ceremonies
  • Team bonding events

Hybrid events
A solution to accommodate both those in person, and dialling in, which require high levels of collaboration from people in different locations, such as:

  • Global town-halls
  • Events with special guest speakers
  • Any event which is facing challenges relating to budget, travel or availability

Striking a balance between your purpose and goals, the needs of your audience and the needs of your speakers will be key, as will working within the constraints of your budget.

Undertaking some ‘pre-search’ with your target audiences can only help you meet their needs, as well as those of senior leaders.

And don’t forget to benchmark where you are now, in terms of your hard and soft measures.

3. Align your resources

Really careful planning is key when organising any event. A hybrid conference simply adds another dimension. Although there will be ‘one’ event, it takes a bit more thought to make it feel that way for both sets of participants – virtual and in-person.

How will you translate the content and experience for your virtual audience? How will you ensure they don’t feel like they are getting a ‘second class’ service? Will you appoint separate facilitators to help them, or champions to represent their interests?

Who do you need to partner with, both internally and externally?

Running a great event sucks up time, resources and subject matter expertise, so be super clear about what needs doing, who is going to do it, and share both the plan and the workload.

We recommend creating a ‘playbook’ which contains the reasons you’re holding the event, who’s coming and how, the agenda at a glance and the agenda in detail, including all the actions that need to be delivered and by whom.

4. Consider your content

As with any event, engaging, relevant and excellent content, with built-in interactivity is non-negotiable, and it takes a skilled content designer or producer to work out the best processes for a hybrid environment. The dynamic will be different for both sets of audiences – those in the room and those sitting at home interacting via a computer monitor, perhaps with children interrupting them or the lure of their coffee machine – or internet shopping – taking their attention away.

Both audiences need to feel fully included; like they are there, even if they aren’t.

Build in plenty of breaks. Consider the attention span of participants, especially remote ones. Both in-person participants and virtual ones need frequent breaks or changes of energy and tempo. And both can ‘mingle’ in breaks now, either face-to-face, or via the latest tech.

Your speakers will need help fine-tuning their presentations and performances for both audiences. They’ll also need to be coached to make sure they feel confident holding the attention of both groups.

Interactive content is supported by some excellent technology, fully suited to both environments these days. But having the tech is one thing; creating a good blend of interactive exercises and activities to deliver the outcomes you want is another skill entirely.

5. Get the technology and techniques right

At Axiom, we have long been fans of using interactive technology to drive highly engaging, successful events that are fun, inclusive and outcome oriented for everyone. In many ways, the move into the fully virtual world was a baby step for us!

Of course, you need safe and secure tech to virtually stream your live content. Beyond this, there are a multitude of ways to use technology to create an outstanding experience for both the virtual and in-person audience:

  • On-screen meeting navigators allow participants track where they are in the schedule
  • Participant and speaker profiles will aid networking
  • Built in exercise countdown clocks, to keep delegates on track
  • Online ‘rooms’ where virtual delegates can chat to each other, replicating and augmenting traditional breakout rooms
  • Interactive chat and Q&A features can truly democratise contributions from all participants, giving the ‘quieter’ members of your audience a voice too
  • Decisions can be made, and priorities agreed, collaboratively – and globally
  • Remote participants can be beamed live into the physical room… and vice-versa

We can help you find the right sort of tech to achieve your goals, including digital ‘green rooms’ where we can prep presenters and panellists to not only survive, but thrive, in the new world.

6. Engage every audience equally

Hybrid means just that: to serve both in-person and virtual attendees brilliantly – and to facilitate means to make things easy for everyone concerned.  It really does take a lot of hard work to make things appear so simple.

As it is important to generate a shared experience, whatever you do in the real world needs to have a digital equivalent in the virtual one.

Any collaborative technology you use on the day can help engage both audiences in a similar way. As well as capturing, prioritising and fine-tuning ideas from participants, the possibilities for voting, up-voting, running quizzes, prioritising, running live Q&As and action planning and more are endless. This stuff really is innovative and takes your event to another level, making it an enjoyable and memorable experience that helps you deliver – and crucially, measure – success.

We recommend that in-person participants use mobile friendly versions of the same tech you are making available to remote colleagues to ensure consistency and shared experience. Most good software allows you to do this.

Don’t be afraid to check in with people throughout the event and ask for feedback. As well as the feedback participants volunteer themselves, we can also integrate clever reporting to highlight how engaged participants are during the event – even the remote ones.

7. Get the timings right

One of the great benefits of a hybrid conference is that people can watch from all over the World, but make sure you consider different time zones! While it might be possible to coordinate people in London and New York, it could be difficult for someone in Singapore to join live. Having an on-demand playback option means that attendees can catch up at a more convenient time and still benefit from your carefully executed content.

Schedule time zone-friendly Q&As, or fireside chats with senior leaders to interact with remote participants about the on-demand content they’ve just watched. Our experience tells us participants really appreciate this.

Of course, keeping to time during the event is equally important, especially in the hybrid, or fully digital spaces. Remote presenters will have set their watches – and schedules – by when you said they’d be required. And participants will appreciate your keeping to time, so their body clocks and bodily needs can be met.

Staying on track and on time show respect for one another and a sense of discipline. You should never allow yourselves to be more than three minutes off schedule. Both technical and performance rehearsals are key to success in this regard, let alone so many others.

8. Deliver a seamless production

In-person attendees have a right to expect a flawless event. They’ll be comparing their experience to the best events they’ve ever been to. Remote participants want something that differentiates your event from their most recent ‘Zoom’ call, as an absolute minimum. Their benchmark will be things like Ted Talks and live TV!

And of course, with a hybrid event you’ve got to blend every participant’s experience together into a seamless production.

With Axiom, your event is in safe hands, and you can rely on us to make it as stress-free as possible for all concerned. All the production facilities associated with a control desk at the back of a room, like in the ‘old’ world, can be recreated for the virtual environment, intro music and video stings, mixing between speakers, slide progression, video cueing, moving to break out rooms, cutting to interactive elements, playing in remote contributors. You name it, we’ve got a proven physical and virtual way of doing it.

9. Generate genuine action post-event

Your event, be it in-person, fully virtual or hybrid, needs to be a catalyst for ongoing action. The success of your event should be felt long after you set off for home, or have stopped the simulcast. At this stage we go back to step one, your purpose and goals. What do participants need to do to bring your key messages to life throughout your organisation, so that your colleagues, stakeholders and maybe even your customers can see, hear and feel the difference you wanted to make?

Personal and team action plans, generated at the event via tech – and implemented after it – can help here. Reporting and metrics will help ensure the plans are delivered, whilst ongoing competitions and communications, harnessing the whole range of your internal channels, will help reinforce best practice.

And of course, you’ll have the recording of the event to make available online, and on demand, extending your ROI.

10. Measure success and ROI

It doesn’t matter how good you think your event was; if you don’t assess how it met your goals or look at the ROI, you’ll never really know.

Again, go back to step 1. Did you get to your destination, or did people get lost along the way?

Has awareness of your strategy improved? Is morale better? Is customer satisfaction up? Are new employees staying longer? Has compliance improved? Are less sick days being taken? Is waste at an all-time low? Is quality at all all-time high?

These, and more, may be the success criteria you set for your organisation – which you surely already measure – so these factors will have equally surely also featured in your event content! Why not check to see if you’ve moved the ROI needle? Can you reasonably suggest that your event had a part to play in achieving success?

If you’d like some advice or explore if an in-person, fully virtual or hybrid event is right for your business, get in touch. We appreciate that this is new world to navigate – why not let Axiom be your guide as you explore the right way forward for your organisation?  Give us a call on +44 (0)33 3088 3088 or email info@axiomcommunications.com

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