40 EventProfs Discuss: How to Connect Live and Virtual Audiences at Hybrid Events

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In February, we hosted the first edition of Tea Time with Braindate, a 6-part series of group conversations on the buzziest topics being discussed in the events space. We kicked off the series with an open discussion on hybrid events. More specifically: is it possible to bridge the gap between onsite and virtual participants? If yes, how?

Close to 40 event professionals joined us with their coziest beverages to exchange ideas, brainstorm, and share their experiences. While there were many golden nuggets and moments of inspiration (even a bit of friendly debate!), here are the main takeaways and tips on bridging the gap between virtual and onsite participants at hybrid events.

Key to bridging the gap: intentional moments and spaces for intentional connections

Hybrid has been one of the most hotly debated topics in the events industry. While there is no standard model of what a hybrid experience could look like, many industry thought leaders have said that a hybrid event should be treated as one cohesive experience that unites virtual and live audiences. We couldn’t agree more. After all, when you’re gathering a group of people, no one should feel excluded from the experience you’re creating. 

In reality, event organizers have not yet perfected the unified hybrid experience. In most cases, virtual participants at hybrid events tend to feel disconnected from what’s happening on the ground and often only have access to a stripped-down version of the event offerings. There are many reasons behind this that include, difference in ticket pricing; event planners wanting to encourage in-person attendance, etc. 

So, it makes sense that many event organizers (including our tea-timers!) feel skeptical about the possibility of meaningfully connecting the two audiences. It’s often too much work, and ultimately, is it even worth it? Why would someone who is onsite want to spend their time looking at their screens, when they can visit booths, go to live sessions, shake hands with their peers IRL?

This is where the biggest takeaway from our discussion comes in: 

Regardless of location, event participants are always looking for more knowledge and connections. Hybrid democratizes access to both of those things. So, it’s our responsibility to create a context where every participant has the opportunity to connect with the right people, and meet their learning goals.

Claire Garneau, Chief Experience Officer, Braindate

If we haven’t succeeded at this yet, it’s because we need to think out of the box. We need to stop trying to apply experience design for live and virtual contexts into a hybrid one. Instead we need to design an entirely new participant journey for hybrid. 

During our open discussion, we discussed 6 ideas that can help you do exactly that.

Tips to help unite virtual and onsite participants at hybrid events:

Checklist to connect live and in-person audiences at hybrid events

1. Get to know your audience to identify hybrid connection opportunities.

When organizing a hybrid event, you have a sense of who your audience is. You know your personas. You know their pain points. But do you know the specific reason why they’re attending your event? Is it to network? To learn? To have an experience? Is it all three? Prioritizing any of those elements can lead to radically different event designs. 

Further, knowing what your audience hopes to gain at your event will help you identify where you can connect the two (or if it’s even worth it to connect the two!). For example, if your audience primarily wants to learn, you might need to think of ways in which virtual and onsite attendees can not only learn from the event content, but also from each other’s experiences.

2. Set aside time in your agenda for onsite and virtual attendees to connect.

Don’t force your onsite attendees to choose between attending a live session and connecting with a virtual participant. Because chances are, they’re probably going to choose the former. 

Understand that the ability to networ-beyond-location could be one of the most attractive value props of your event. Facilitate this kind of global exchange by dedicating time to hybrid networking in your agenda. This should be a period of at least 1-2 hours where your attendees are not distracted by other programming.

3. Create physical spaces that actively encourage your onsite audience to connect with their virtual counterparts.

This could look like a lounge with power strips and privacy booths where people can take video calls. Why is this important? When you’re onsite, it’s easy to forget that virtual participants exist. After all you’re running around, attending sessions, getting food etc. 

To remind participants that they have access to a whole other set of people, organizers need to create spaces where it feels easy and organic to pause, take out your laptop, look for interesting people to connect with, and book those meetings.

4. Bring together learning and content to drive conversations between virtual and onsite attendees.

Sharing her experience activating hybrid networking at the Falling Walls Conference, our CXO Claire Garneau observed: “One thing that struck me at Falling Walls was that regardless of location, what people are looking for is knowledge and connections. Even if I’ve paid to go onsite, if there’s a researcher out there who can give me the peer feedback I need, no matter where he is, I’m going to connect with him. Naturally, we saw a lot of participants show up in the Baindate Lounge, who had booked virtual braindates and had no qualms connecting with another person in a hybrid format.”

Allow your people to benefit from the collective knowledge of the entire participant base! You can do so by using platforms like Braindate that help people book conversations on specific topics they want to talk about.

5. Increase engagement and live-virtual interaction by helping your people identify what they want to learn at your event.

We know from experience that the more your audience knows what it wants to gain from your event, the higher is the event engagement. Why? Because they’re more likely to engage with the right content, and are more active in seeking out relevant connections. 

As organizers we shouldn’t assume that everyone attending is coming to the event with an intentional action plan. So, what if we did the work to help them? What if we asked them the right questions, in the beginning of their event journey, to help them identify the people they want to network with and what they want to learn from them?

Doing the above will allow you to then create bonds between virtual and onsite attendees, especially if they have common goals.

6. Create playful spaces or moments where onsite and virtual audiences can come together.

Be creative and think of ways in which your two audiences can play together. Some quick ideas include: a joint dance party, a virtual/in-person karaoke session, a collective art project, a game show style challenge, etc. 

Experiencing joy and having fun together is the most powerful way to make the two audiences feel like they’re part of one great community – that is your event. 

Got other ideas? Share them with us @braindate (on all our social platforms). We love getting messages from you and we respond to all of them!

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