guide to planning virtual and hybrid events

The Essential Guide to Planning Virtual and Hybrid Events

A must-have resource for meeting and event planners.

virtual and hybrid meetings essential guide
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Introduction

Want to hear a scary fact?

There are meeting planners and managers out there who are routinely taken for granted by the teams that they support. (Insert your feigned shock and awe.)

Have you ever been called (or even worse, treated like) “the bagel lady” or “the guy who booked the venue” or “the person in charge of the coffee breaks”? Have you ever had your role and contribution diminished after you’ve given gallons of blood, sweat, and tears to planning a perfectly executed, fantastic meeting or event?

It’s okay to acknowledge it; you’re not alone. (If this has never happened to you, congrats, kudos, and please send along your secrets.)

Now, ready for the good news?

You. Are. More.

You are your team’s secret weapon. One of their most valuable professional assets.

You know this but getting your team to acknowledge it is another story.

For your team to recognize and appreciate your worth, they’ll need to fully leverage your knowledge and experience to their advantage. To pave the way for this, you must strategically position yourself as one of the most valuable members of your team. Quite literally, you’ll need to sweep them off their feet with your knowledge and insights of how your company (or if you are a meetings and events company, your client) can maximize their meetings to achieve their goals.

With so many plates spinning and so many options, what should you focus on first?

As a starting point, why not zero in on your meetings format? Specifically, show them how to maximize reach and extend engagement beyond four walls of the meeting room with virtual and hybrid events.  

Now you might be thinking, “Yeah, right. Virtual meetings are equivalent to ‘death by PowerPoint’.” Sadly, not so long ago, this was true.

The good news is that it’s no longer the case. Recent advances in virtual and hybrid meeting technologies have become game changers (We’ll cover some of your options in this e-book).

Still need to fine tune your knowledge of virtual and hybrid? Keep reading.

We’re going to walk you through how to plan and execute effective virtual and hybrid meetings and events.

We’ll help you go from “underappreciated” to “rock-star” status in short order.

Let’s dive in.

Virtual and Hybrid Meetings and Events: What’s the Difference?

Before we get into how to choose the right format for your event goals, let’s define a virtual and hybrid meeting so that we’re on the same page.

Virtual Meetings Defined

virtual meeting or event is when people around the world, regardless of their location, use video, audio, and text to connect at the same time. Virtual meetings allow people to share information and data in real-time without being physically in the same place. Types of virtual events include web meetings, seminars, webinars, webcasts and web conferences.

Hybrid Meetings Defined

hybrid meeting or event is a tradeshowconference, seminar, workshop or other meeting where some participants are in-person together and other participants connect virtually to the same event. With the right technology, you can sync the content and engagement features so that both groups have a similar experience. Depending on the set-up and cost, virtual participants can not only view a presenter’s slides but hear the presenter, and even see the presenter in real-time via live streaming video.

 

In most instances, in-person and virtual attendees participate in the same session concurrently.

 

Another scenario for a hybrid meeting is when the entire audience participates in one session in-person and another session virtually. There are other variations of hybrid events but for the purposes of this e-book, we’ll focus on the first example.

What are the Advantages of Virtual and Hybrid Meetings?

Before you decide whether a virtual or hybrid format is right for your meeting goals, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of each.  At first glance, this may seem intuitive. In reality, each of these formats has their own distinct pros and cons.

 

Let’s start by identifying some key benefits that virtual meetings offer compared to in-person meetings:

Cost Savings – Virtual meetings and events are more cost-effective than in-person meetings. In-person meetings often require travel and hotel costs, meeting space, A/V, food and beverage, and more.

Convenience and Time Savings – Virtual meetings are convenient and require no travel time. In-person meetings require travel time, often via air, which can diminish an individual’s job productivity.

Easy Audience Expansion – Virtual meetings allow anyone, anywhere, from any part of the world to connect via an internet or phone. This is especially useful when your meeting or event targets participants from different locations, time zones, and even countries.

Collaboration and Sharing – With the help of interactive meeting technology, project management tools, and content sharing tools, virtual meetings are excellent forums for collaboration, sharing, and problem solving among meeting participants. While they do not replace the productivity and collaboration of small, in-person meetings, they offer a distinct advantage over larger, in-person conferences and events.

Reduced Planning Effort – Although virtual meetings and events come with their own unique set of planning challenges, in general, they require less advance planning than in-person events.

 

Now, let’s take a look at some key reasons for hosting a hybrid event:

Reach a Larger Audience – Hybrid events can overcome several problems related to increasing the size on an audience.

Overcome Meeting Space Limitations – Stakeholders may want to reach more audience members, but the registration response has been overwhelming and they don’t have sufficient space for everyone who wants to attend (a great problem to have!). Adding a hybrid component overcomes the problem of additional space.

Combat Poor Registration Numbers – When registration numbers are low (we hope this is never a problem for you), adding a hybrid component can pull in attendees that weren’t able to attend due to a scheduling conflict, travel time, costs, or other reasons.

Mitigate Costs – A stakeholder (ahem… or savvy planner...) realizes that the reach of the event can be significantly increased by adding a virtual component while decreasing the overall cost-per-head of the event.

Increase Revenue – If there is a registration fee associated with your event, you can greatly increase revenue generated by adding a virtual ticket at a slightly lower registration fee. This not only increases revenue, but it off-sets the costs associated with the in-person component.

Include Critical Audience Members – Adding a virtual extension to your meeting may help you reach those critical audience members who can’t attend in-person due to travel time or costs.

We’ve covered some key advantages of virtual and hybrid events. Right now, you may be getting excited thinking about the possibilities.

 

Not so fast!

 

Always keep in mind that regardless of their advantages, virtual and hybrid formats offer no value if they don’t support your meeting and event goals.

 

Keep reading because we’ll cover some important considerations related to this in upcoming chapters.

What are the Disadvantages of Virtual and Hybrid Meetings?

Thinking about the possibilities of hosting virtual and hybrid events is exciting. Yet, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention some disadvantages to these formats that can quickly derail your event’s success. First, we’ll address three issues that can easily be mitigated with advanced planning.

 

Digital Distraction

It effects your entire audience, regardless of physical location. After all, we’re in the digital era where multi-tasking is a life skill. Today’s smartphones make this effortless, even more so for your remote audience members. Checking email, seeing what’s new on social media, or responding to instant messages can quickly diminish your meeting’s impact if you don’t anticipate and plan accordingly. Grabbing and holding your audience’s attention from the moment your meeting starts is critical to keeping them interested. Remember, the goal here is not just to extend your meeting’s reach but to extend engagement.

 

Measuring Impact

You may be shocked to discover that a large number of meetings and events are planned with no clearly defined key performance indicators (KPIs). Stakeholders want information that allows them to make better business decisions, assess ROI and plan for improvements with future meetings. If your technology is unable to measure KPIs and share those with stakeholders and participants, it’s hard to demonstrate value. You’ll want to closely consider technology that not only engages onsite and remote participants, but also collects uniform data and provides insights on what to do next.

 

Technology Failures and Poor Participant Experience

There is no excuse for technology failure. Your meeting technology must work simply, effectively, and most importantly, be useful for your audience. Any failure of these three components meeting means your meeting will fail to achieve its desired goals and impact.

 

Here are some additional disadvantages of virtual and hybrid events to consider:

 

Disadvantages of Virtual and Hybrid Meetings Disadvantages of Virtual Meetings Only Disadvantages of Hybrid Meetings Only

Poor internet connection hinders remote participant experience

Failure to plan for engagement can result in “death by PowerPoint”

May be challenging to create a unified experience for both in-person and remote audiences

    Increased logistical planning required

 

Next up, we’ll share what questions to ask when selecting the best format for your meeting or event.

How to Determine the Right Format for Your Meeting or Event

Let’s circle back to our goal of this guide, which is to help you gain a strategic position as a valuable asset to your team. You already know that non-event planners often underestimate the amount of details that must be sewn up for an event to be effectively planned and executed. (See “bagel lady” and “guy who booked the venue” above for the summary of responsibilities that many stakeholders think planners are limited to executing.)

 

Fear not! Consider it an opportunity to showcase your knowledge and skills. Consulting with your stakeholders, rather than “taking orders” for meetings and events, can help you provide value to your event sponsors by helping them select the best format for their goals.

 

Amanda S., a Global Conferencing Team Event Planner with a Top 20 pharmaceutical company, shares:

“If I’m just taking orders for events and booking vendor partners, it’s really not using all of my skills and experience. I know it sounds counterintuitive for a planner, but I always question teams as to whether they really need an in-person event. Oftentimes, teams will come to me saying that they “need” to hold a meeting, but they have no business or spend justification beyond the reason of, ‘Well, we always have had a meeting at this time of year. “If teams have budget and they’re set on holding an in-person meeting or event, I’m more than happy to help them create a memorable one. But I also feel like I need to be a good steward of my company’s money, and sometimes, an event being at a big venue with all of the time and money that planning it entails, isn’t the best use of my company’s funds.”

 

To determine the most appropriate format, Amanda suggests asking stakeholders 10 questions (in addition to the standard questions about timelines, budget, etc.).

  1. Why do you want or need to have this meeting or event?
  2. How would you rate the importance of this event on a scale of 1-10?
  3. What are your top 3 priorities for this event?
  4. What is your anticipated headcount and expected cost-per-head?
    1. If you had to prioritize, is number of attendees, the quality of attendees, or cost-per-head more important to you?
  5. Have you had this event before, or one like it? If yes, 
    1. What were the top 3 things that you liked about it?
    2. What are the top 3 things that you’d like to do differently this time?
    3. Did you gather participant surveys or feedback about the event? If yes,
      • How would you summarize the highest and lowest marks the event received?
  1. What outcomes would define a successful event for you? How do you plan to measure them?
  2. How are you engaging your attendees?
  3. What feedback do you hope to gather from attendees?
  4. What data would you like to collect from attendees and how do you plan to leverage the data for insights on improvement?
  5. What KPIs are you using to measure Return on Investment (ROI) for your event?
  6. Are you open to exploring format options, such as to add a virtual meeting component [Hybrid meeting] or to make the entire event a full-service virtual meeting?

Amanda continues:

“Asking them these questions can help them to really focus their event and can end up saving me a lot of work in the long run, because they’re evaluating their goals and objectives, and then building the event from there. Beginning with the end in mind really does work.”

 

Why does Amanda ask stakeholders if they’re open to exploring format options? She explains:

“It’s really about providing teams with the best possible solution for their needs and goals. Asking them these questions can help them to really focus their event and can end up saving me a lot of work in the long run, because they’re evaluating their goals and objectives, and then building the event from there. Beginning with the end in mind really does work.”

 

Now, let’s assume that at this point, you’ve decided your team’s meeting can benefit from a virtual component. Let’s also assume that the same engagement features and data collection capabilities are available for all participants, whether in-person or remote.

 

How do you decide between virtual or hybrid? It comes down to your meeting goals, team’s preferences, and limitations.

 

Here are a few additional considerations to narrow things further:

 

  Virtual Hybrid
Fastest Turn-Around X  
Greatest Reach   X
Lowest Cost X  
Most Flexible   X

 

Remember, offering open, honest dialogue and acting as a true consultant to your team is a win-win for everyone involved.

 

Next, we’re going to share our secrets for gaining stakeholder buy-in for virtual and hybrid meetings.

How to Gain Stakeholder Buy-in to Host Virtual and Hybrid Events

Have we convinced you of the value of hosting a virtual or hybrid meeting? Fantastic!

Now for a word of caution: At this point, your stakeholders may still not be on board. While virtual and hybrid meetings are becoming more the norm for many businesses and organizations, planners still face skeptical stakeholders and bored audiences. Remember, your stakeholders and audience have been conditioned to expect didactic PowerPoint presentations with virtual events. It’s no surprise that planners face pushback. To gain buy-in, it’s critical to put yourself in your stakeholders’ shoes.

 

To sway them to become champions of the concept, clearly communicate how the format you’re suggesting meets the meeting or event's goals. You’ll want to show your team and stakeholders how the meeting will work, which technologies will be in used, and how they will extend the engagement experience. Focus the conversation on the value that your innovative meeting approach provides.

 

In the life sciences industry, a virtual or hybrid option offers a practical solution to reach more busy key opinion leaders. In the education industry, it might be an opportunity to extend education to new audience groups through blended learning while gathering consistent data for outcomes. In the financial services industry, it might mean an opportunity to test products and services to new markets while minimizing the overall incremental costs.

 

We recommend that you start by anticipating the concerns and objections your stakeholders may have. Then, frame your virtual/hybrid meeting argument around their goals and overcoming their common concerns. Here's a short list of examples of how a virtual or hybrid format might offer value:

 

  • Increase engagement X % among onsite and remote target audiences
  • Expand the reach of your message to X participants who would not be able to attend an in-person meeting
  • Add X more voices to the conversation with perspectives that may not otherwise be heard
  • Gain X more revenue by offering access to information and opportunities to remote participants
  • Lower the cost of meetings for participants by X with less time out of the office, eliminated travel and lodging expenses, and integrating analytics for assessments and tracking.
  • Collect X more consistent data across your entire meeting audience

 

Best practice for gaining stakeholder buy-in: Be constative, specific and quantify the expected results to your stakeholders when possible.

 

Stay with me because next, we'll help you identify which technologies can help you run successful virtual and hybrid meetings.

What Kinds of Technologies are Available for Virtual Meetings and Events?

To become the recognized “rock star” to your team or client, you don’t want to host “just ok” virtual and hybrid meetings. You want them to be amazing. You want each audience member to be engaged and feel connected with your presenters and peers.

 

That’s where event technology comes in. What technology do you need to run awesome and engaging virtual and hybrid events?

 

With so many available options, chances are you’re already overwhelmed (or will be soon).

 

Here’s the secret: To achieve an experience that truly moves your remote audience, think beyond the typical screen and video sharing tools. What might be good for internal collaboration, sales presentations or face-to-face time in a remote work environment is very different from tools designed specifically to engage virtual and hybrid event audiences.

 

As you search for solutions, begin with a clear understanding of your needs and expectations. Staying mindful of your meeting and event goals can help you narrow your focus and keep you from getting derailed. Working with a knowledgeable, collaborative technology partner who can provide strategic direction can help pave the way for success.

 

Never ignore the power of branding! You’ve worked hard to make your event stand out to your audience. When possible, choose a technology where you can customize the interface to showcase your unique theme or brand.

 

To help you break things down further, we’ve highlighted the main differences between most widely used virtual event technology categories.

 

Self-Service Applications: Self-service applications provide virtual meeting facilitation, but they lack many of the features necessary for large, multi-location meetings that rely on two-way audience engagement and interaction. Two of the most popular are Zoom, GoToMeeting, Webex, and Adobe Connect. These virtual meeting apps provide standard video conferencing features such as screen sharing, annotation, in-meeting and group chat and recording. They even provide basic polling and limited analytics. However, they lack many of the content interaction tools that allow for a deeper connection with your audience. Watch out! Live support with implementation and customer service may be limited at the time of your event.

 

Full-Service Virtual Engagement Technologies: When your high-stakes meeting requires you to extend the in-person engagement experience for virtual audiences, full-service interactive technologies like
Virtual Array® provide effective solutions. These end-to-end, turn-key options can be deployed entirely virtually or as hybrid extension to your in-person meeting and event. Most are available with streaming video or audio-only. The interface can be customized to showcase your event theme, company, or brand.

 

When deployed in a hybrid meeting format, in-room audiences engage and interact within these applications using iPads® or other mobile devices. With both virtual and hybrid formats, remote participants interact with the same engagement features on their own device. They have the ability to interact with speakers, panelists and each other in the same way the in-person attendees do. They can participate in live polls, surveys, interactive games and contests, take notes on the slides, save slides, ask and answer questions, etc. They can also access additional meeting resources directly from the interface. This all empowers your audience to engage more deeply and meaningfully. It also helps you and your stakeholders understand what content is meaningful for your audience.

 

These aren’t the only categories of virtual event technologies available. Brainstorming tools like IdeaFlip and content sharing tools like Slack and Google drive can further engage participants through team building and collaboration at your virtual meeting or event.

 

To select the best technology for your virtual or hybrid meeting, ask these questions:

 

Virtual and Hybrid Meetings

  • Is the technology a cost-effective solution? (If not, is the expense worth it?)
  • How easy is the technology to deploy and use? (You’ll want to consider points of view of your audience and presenters)
  • What unique interactive tools and features are available to engage your meeting audience?
  • Can you customize the technology to showcase your event theme or brand for remote audiences?
  • What is the maximum number of remote connections the technology will support?
  • Do you require video or will audio-only suffice?
  • What kind of technology support does your meeting require? (Can you risk connection issues, etc.?)
  • What audience data do you want to collect?
  • What insights do you want to gain from the data you collect?

 

Hybrid Meetings Only

  • Does the technology offer the same engagement tools for remote audiences as in-person audiences?
  • Can you connect and engage everyone within the same platform?
  • Can you collect uniform engagement data from both live and remote participants? (Uniform data collection is always ideal.)

 

To learn more about interactive technology options, how to use technology in creative ways to keep the audience engaged, and how to maximize data insights and analytics, download the 2020 Meeting Technology Buyer's Guide.

Best Practices for Creating Captivating Virtual and Hybrid Events

You’ve selected your format. You’ve gotten stakeholder buy-in. You’ve chosen the right technology. Now comes the pressure of putting it all together.

 

You’ve got one shot to keep your audience engaged and focused. Your potential enemies are digital distraction/attendee multi-tasking, death by PowerPoint, and ultimately, failure to meet your event goals.

 

It’s time to make the leap from technology to engagement.

 

How can you to keep virtual participants from becoming distracted, multitasking or losing interest? Here are some effective strategies:

 

Boost anticipation with pre-meeting surveys

Send a short but highly relevant pre-meeting survey (something they really want to know) to participants and share the results with your audience at the start of the meeting.

 

Gain your audience’s attention with a fun, icebreaker poll.

Use snap polls and sentiment polls to quickly capture your audience’s attention. Remember, any content that solicits and emotional response (funny, happy, astonishing) can elevate your meeting from mediocre to memorable.

 

Incorporate storytelling

Have your presenters tell a relevant story and then utilize polling to ask the audience what they think will happen next or how they would like to see the story end.

 

Add compelling visuals

Visuals accomplish three things:

  1. They boost long-term memory of key concepts. One study found that after three days, users retain 65% of visual info. Compared to 10-20% of written or spoken information.
  2. Your attendees can process visuals faster. In fact, visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text.
  3. Improve learning. Visuals have been shown to improve learning up to 400%.

 

What kinds of visuals should you add? Video, visual polls, infographics, and any other visuals that will reinforce the content presented are effective. Adding a tactile component along with engaging visuals can amplify the visual benefit.

 

Watch as Jenn Tontini, virtual meetings expert and VP of Global Business Development for Educational Measures, offers her savvy advice for event planners:

 

 

Jenn quotes:

“The key is ‘engagement’, but really, what you’re striving for is ‘meaningful engagement’. You’ll want to make sure that all of your audience’s interactions, whether in-room or remote, are purposeful and lend themselves to the greater goals and objectives of the program.” Tontini continues, “If you have something important that you want participants to remember, ensure that there is a visual component to reinforce it in their minds, like using a video or changing up the screen they’re viewing. Use an assessment like a polling question or survey before you present the information, ask them to read and answer it using technology like Educational Measures’ Virtual Array interactive meeting technology. That way, you reinforce the message through the tactile engagement of using their hands. Then, share the correct answer visually and use the presenter’s voice to share the reasoning behind why it’s the correct answer as part of the presentation. It’s the example from the best courses and meetings that you attended in college and paid the most attention to since. It’s the recipe for engagement.”

 

Generate excitement with gamification

Use gamification to create better experiences for everyone, in-person or virtual. Gamification introduces game-like experiences into situations or experiences not usually associated with playing a game. Adults, like children, can use games to build bonds, engage in healthy competition, learn new concepts and earn rewards.

 

There are three types of gamification you can incorporate into your meeting:

  1. Live gamification. The entire audience (in room and virtual attendees) participates in a moderator-hosted game during a live meeting
  2. Self-paced gamification. Each individual audience member plays at their own pace at any time
  3. In-app gamification. Incentive-driven engagement happens within the second screen or participants are motivated by rewards or recognition to engage.

 

If you’re hosting a meeting for highly competitive types, gamification is a great way to spur some healthy competition There are many approaches to gamifying your meetings using interactive meeting technology like Array. Here are a few examples:

 

  • Use leaderboards to engage in Jeopardy-like competitions with real-time results.
  • Interactive surveys that let people earn points not only for answering questions correctly but also by indicating their confidence level in their response.
  • Address down time during breaks by allowing users to participate in one of the 25 options for audience interaction.

 

Highlight audience members’ location during Q&A

One of the biggest complaints by remote participants of virtual and hybrid events is that they feel isolated. During Q&A, it’s critical that presenters address the senders of questions by name and note the person’s location. This will help them feel important, included, and part of the conversation.

Incorporating these best practices at virtual and hybrid meetings will go a long way in extending in-person engagement to remote audiences.

Measuring Virtual and Hybrid Meeting Impact

Ready to awe and inspire your stakeholders? Bring on the meeting insights! With technology, you can capture and analyze uniform engagement data from in-person and remote meeting participants and then provide stakeholders with insights into your meeting's effectiveness.

 

Polling questions and evaluation results provide quantitative assessments of presenters and content. Other user-generated data points, like numbers of questions asked, interactions from virtual participants and slide actions taken, provide measurable insights into what impact your content and interactive meeting technology had on your audience.

 

Interactive meeting technologies that come with intelligent meeting analytics and reporting like Array and Virtual Array offer a glimpse into attendees' thoughts and provide rich detail on sentiment, actions, and interactions with the presenter and content. It's also an effective way to evaluate messaging and knowledge transfer.

 

Now for the final step: Share your insights and recommendations for improvement with stakeholders in a visual report.

 

Array® is an ideal meeting technology solution for virtual or hybrid meetings. It’s simple, intuitive interactive features for speakers and participants keeps audience members interested and engaged throughout a meeting. Learn more at Educational Measures.

We have a new approach, one that is like no other remote, no other virtual meeting that you've ever attended. Not only will you be able to interact with the slides to take notes, to save content and engage with the group, it’s the same experience the in-room participants are getting,” - Jenn Tontini

Conclusion

You can leverage your newfound knowledge of planning virtual and hybrid meetings to strategically position yourself as one of the most valued members of your team. With resourceful planning and the right interactive technology, you can extend engagement beyond the meeting room to any audience member across the globe. Now it’s time to make it happen!

 

ABOUT ARRAY®

Array® helps you make ordinary meetings extraordinary. Turn distracted attendees into engaged, involved participants. Collect more data and gain actionable insights to improve meeting effectiveness. Proven with more than 6,000 events and 1,000,000 participants, Array brings excellence and reliability to every meeting. 

Learn more about Array and Virtual Array at www.educationalmeasures.com or contact us..

 

iPads® are a registered trademark of Apple, Inc.

 

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