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Hybrids Are Here to Stay

For years there has been a lot of talk about "hybrid meetings," but lately I have seen a big jump in the execution of mixing content for a live audience and an online community. While I have tuned in to watch several speakers at conferences over the years and even participated in full conferences online, I had a recent experience that proved to me hybrids are here to stay.

As an active volunteer and member of the National Speakers Association (NSA), I was asked to serve as the online hybrid meeting co-host for their annual convention. The organization sold online attendee packages to members and non-members, and instead of just streaming the general sessions and selected breakouts, they also incorporated specific educational content exclusively for the online audience during the coffee breaks and lunch time.

My co-host, Eliz Greene, who had experience hosting online conferences, conducted our "show" exactly like a television talk show (think The Today Show with Matt and Savannah). We had a full agenda of interviews with the conference speakers and other key members of the association. The idea was to provide extra content for the remote viewers and to keep them engaged during the conference breaks. Since online participants cannot network in the hallway conversations, we delivered the hallways to their computer screens.

The feedback from those who registered for the hybrid option was very positive. They liked how the show was geared directly to them and not just a broadcast of the regular program (although they got that, too). As a bonus for the online attendees, we asked the featured speakers to share extra ideas that were not part of their keynotes, and they had casual chats with people about their live experiences.

Over 250 people joined the broadcast over the four-day conference, and two or three dozen were present for the whole 25+ hours of the live stream. People were also active in the chat room, sharing their own ideas with us and each other. Additionally, the association is offering the whole conference simulcast for sale after the event, and those who watched live can re-watch sessions or catch up on any they missed.

I learned several things from the experience of hosting this hybrid offering:

  1. Make the broadcast of your event more than just an add-on to the existing conference. It takes a coordinated effort from several people to ensure the remote audience feels included. Having a dedicated host (or co-hosts) is worth the investment, as they can get the remote viewers engaged and provide a feeling of being connected to the audience. Eliz and I (and a couple of other association members who served as "roving reporters") became the eyes and ears of the online viewer.
  2. Encourage your speakers to talk directly to the online audience. While this did not happen in the NSA broadcast during the keynotes, the speakers did come to the studio before or after their presentations to provide bonus content. I saw from the feedback how much the hybrid viewers appreciated being included, and two weeks later I worked this strategy into a company meeting where I was the keynote speaker. When I looked in the camera during my speech and gave a nugget directly to those watching online, the chat feed exploded with positive feedback. The live audience was not off-put by this, and it helped to remind them of their co-workers who were not present on site.
  3. Do not leave the details of a hybrid meeting until the last minute. We scheduled most of our interviews in advance, but many of the speakers and association members did not realize that we were broadcasting live. If they happened to show up late, as co-hosts we had to scramble for replacements to fill the air time or we had to banter with each other. Lesson learned: the more you can have schedules and details confirmed in advance, the fewer times you will have to improvise.

People liked the simulcast, and many who had never been to this conference before said that their experience was positive enough to convince them to attend again next year. Often planners worry that a hybrid option will take away from live attendance, but in this case most attendees who viewed remotely would not have participated otherwise, proving to me that the hybrid experience (done well) is yet another effective way to allow more people to enjoy your event.

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He is a speaker, master of ceremonies and online hybrid meeting host who mixes meaningful content with a high energy presentation style that results in audiences gaining new knowledge and taking action on what they have learned. Thom is also the host of the "Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do" podcast. He can be reached through www.ThomSinger.com or (512) 970-0398.

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