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Reconnecting the Human Connection: The New Best Practices for Bringing In-Person and Virtual Attendees Together

By Leslie Blye, National Sales Director, L!VE

The human connection underwent an extremely challenging test during the pandemic. Events were cancelled. People hunkered down at home. Spaces closed their doors. From concerts to conferences, sports to trade shows, we lost our most communal experiences practically overnight.

But humans are nothing if not relentlessly creative and innovative. In the face of never-seen-before challenges, we not only adapted, but we also excelled. We created brand new ways of connecting with one another. We discovered new opportunities to seize. We passed the test.

Society is reopening, but after such a tectonic shift, it’s unlikely we will ever return to exactly how things were in the “before times.” And why would we? Over the last year, people have discovered how to attend a DJ set halfway across the world from their living room. People have attended conferences and events that, pre-pandemic, they never would have booked a flight, found a hotel room, and secured a rental car to attend in person. People have realized the size and scope of the opportunities available to them with the help of technology. And that genie is not going back in the bottle.

Now, it’s certainly true that the energy pulsating from an energized crowd at an in-person event is irreplaceable. But it’s also true that in-person events are logistically limiting. People are scattered across the country. Calendars fill up more quickly than ever. An event space can only hold so many people. Fortunately, during this era of resurgence, we can have it both ways. We can have our cake and eat it too.

Enter the hybrid event. To be sure, hybrid events are not new. You’ve probably attended numerous hybrid events already. You may have even attended hybrid events in the before times too. Hybrid events steadily increased in popularity over the last several years. But the pandemic greatly accelerated the state of things.

Prior to the pandemic, the virtual audience at a hybrid event was too often an afterthought. If you couldn’t attend in person, you had to settle for dialing in over the phone or viewing a livestream isolated from everyone else. The virtual audience was seen as a passive spectator, not an integral part of the event.

As the last year has taught us, we can do so much better. In fact, creating truly immersive hybrid events for both in-person and virtual attendees is something that was going on well before the pandemic. Now, wide swaths of people are realizing just how powerful a hybrid event can be. Not only can you create a spectacular in-person event, but you can also utilize people’s newfound familiarity with virtual experiences to reach a larger, broader audience than would ever be possible or feasible if you limited yourself to in-person events only.

The possibilities are exhilarating—if you have the right plan. The world is changing, and the best practices for creating a highly successful event are changing with it. Let’s take a look at the state of things.

Best Practice No. 1: One event. Two experiences.

You might think that creating a hybrid event, by definition, means compromising. Surely, you’ll have to sacrifice a few things to make an in-person event work virtually as well, right? Wrong. In fact, if you hope to make a true human connection, you can’t compromise. But don’t worry, it’s not as demanding as it sounds. The biggest requirement is a change of mindset.

Rather than trying to force the in-person portion to perfectly mirror the virtual portion, think of the two as distinct experiences. They’re part of the same event, but they’re different situations and they need to be treated as such. Why? Because the best ways to engage an in-person audience are not necessarily the best ways to engage a virtual audience, and vice versa.

There’s a marketing principle that goes like this: when you try to appeal to everyone, you wind up appealing to no one. The same holds true when creating a hybrid event. If you try to only use methods that simultaneously engage both audiences, you’ll wind up engaging neither audience.

When you treat the in-person and the virtual as two different experiences, you can leverage the strengths of each platform to create an event that truly engages everyone. That is the guiding principle to creating an excellent hybrid event: create an excellent in-person event and an excellent virtual event.

Best Practice No. 2: Take a page from the playbook of sports.

Think of a football game. When you’re actually at the game, what you see on the jumbotron is completely different than what you see when you’re watching at home. The TV broadcast utilizes more camera angles, a wider variety of shots and more dynamic direction to give you a sense of the overall experience. At the stadium, you can see the whole experience for yourself. What you need at the stadium is close-up shots to give you more detail than you can see from the stands.

The same principle holds true for hybrid events. If you show your virtual audience the same thing you show your in-person audience, you’ll quickly lose the attention of those at home.

How does that work in practice? Let’s take the video feed. The feed streaming to the LED screens in the event space may show a close-up of the speaker throughout the entire presentation. It makes sense—it ensures everyone in the audience can see them. But if you were to show that same feed to the virtual audience, it would be a total snooze fest. To keep the virtual audience engaged, you need to continually change what they see on screen—different angles of the speaker, wide shots of the audience, close shots of the audience, all dynamically working together to create an engaging visual display.

Best Practice No. 3: Get both audiences involved.

In hybrid events of the past, the virtual audience often wasn’t involved at all. And if you’ve ever watched an event that was simply livestreamed, you know how utterly boring it can be. Human connection is about engagement. If you hope to make a true, lasting connection with an audience you must engage them.

How? Bring the virtual audience into the event—literally. A collage of LED screens is the perfect way for remote participants to stream themselves into the event, and by simply having a physical presence at the event, their engagement has already increased. It engages the in-person audience too. They can watch virtual attendees react to what’s being said, ask questions or share insights.

That brings us to another tactic to involve both audiences: incorporate a Q&A. The question-and-answer sessions has been a stalwart of events since the first caveman gave a presentation titled “It’s Getting Hot in Here: The Secrets Behind the Magic of Fire.” And for good reason—Q&As are highly engaging, and they’re an excellent way to involve the virtual audience in the event. And remember that it’s a two-way street: people in the in-person audience can also ask questions of those in the virtual audience.  

Finally, breakout sessions enable people to form stronger connections through the intimate setting of a small group. And those sessions need not be in-person groups vs. Zoom groups. By utilizing LED monitors, breakout sessions can include both in-person attendees and virtual attendees within the same small group.

Best Practice No. 4: Enable audiences to connect across platforms.

Networking is an essential part of any successful event, and while it’s true that nothing can replace the value of in-person networking, we’re not talking about replacing it—we’re talking about expanding it. As we learned during the pandemic, people do not need to be in the same room to create true connections with others. They just need the tools to do so.

By providing attendees with an event app, you can bring everyone together on the same platform, even if they’re not under the same roof. You might think an app is just an app. But it’s really a shared experience. When both the in-person audience and the virtual audience engage with the same interface, you create a bridge where all sorts of connections can travel.

An app is also a great way for participants to connect and network with one another. Through group and private messaging, participants can make the connections they need to without being in the same room together. In fact, you don’t even need to know if the other person is at the event or at their office—you can schedule a time for a conversation right then and there within the app.

There’s an art and a science to creating memorable events, partner with a company that can help you create highly engaging events.

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