Make Room For The Hybrid Event Host

Let’s take attendance.

In-person events are starting to return. Yippee!

But before you run maskless into a ballroom or auditorium, pause on this:

Lessons learned are lasting, after more than a year of only virtual conferences and programs.

Association executive directors have told me that while they miss seeing newspaper colleagues in the flesh, their programs on Zoom and webinar platforms reached more people who, because of time, staffing and money constraints, probably would not have participated without the virtual connection.

No one wants to lose that wider involvement.

What’s ahead for events and programs is the three-headed organizer and host.

Virtual will remain.

Live and in-person will make a comeback (fingers cross on the virus).

But hybrid will join the options.

In all, the three-prong strategy will allow a maximum audience reach and the best chance to meet or exceed revenue goals. And the opportunity exists to shuck some previous expenses.

One authority is Gannett, which during the pandemic put on 146 events last year. That’s not a typo.

At America’s Newspapers’ 2021 Pivot spring conference, which was virtual, Gannet’s vice president for events, Lyndsi Lane, illustrated each of the options.

Information slide shown at America’s Newspapers’ Pivot 2021.

In 2020, virtual was used for the company’s many high school sports awards programs. These major events used to involve a meal and a high-profile professional athlete as the keynoter. During the pandemic, it was all virtual featuring pre-recorded video with sports stars on a screen celebrating local athletes. In the future, Lane said, the program will look to live-streaming so celebrities could “be there” while doing multiple programs without the scheduling hassles of travel and hotel accommodations.

Live remains the staple for something like a home and garden show. This year, the event will be smaller and will focus on retail vendors only, Lane said. Stage presentations and workshops will have to wait for better days. But at least you can smell real flowers.

The hybrid is used for versatile ventures, such as specialty races — until they can be run in-person at the same time. For now, virtual presentations explain the race and registrations; targeted emails update; swag (think T-shirts) is delivered; the running is done on the participants’ time; and an online hub records all of the facts, pictures and results. It all culminates with a virtual post-race celebration. Gannett’s example was something called the “Hot Chocolate 15k/5k” (think cold weather).

How do these options relate to associations?

A few thoughts:

The bedrock annual awards programs moved to virtual and video presentations. Many comfortably handled the announcement of winners, displays of excellence, and informative presentations that were later archived online. Did people really miss the dinner where the talk from the tables got louder and louder with each awards category, often drowning out the messages from the podium? Sticking with virtual on these types of productions could be the way to go.

Save the live approach for interactive programs and special occasions, where people MUST be with each other. Also, ask this question: Is it worth the added cost?

Use the hybrid for brainstorming or collaboration sessions, as well as a series of related programs. Information and overviews can be shared on Zoom with all participants, who then on their own develop suggestions and share them online for all to review. Then, you could use a live option to bring back everyone for an in-person conclusion on a project or recommendation. The hybrid also could be used for multiple sessions with a trainer or speaker, with the finale done in person for a big ending.

And this:
Collaborate with other associations on high-ticket speakers. Share the video (or live-stream) and then discuss the Relevant points in-person.

The pandemic forced us to work remotely and live on Zoom. We not only survived the change, in many ways we mastered it.

Sure there’s Zoom fatigue. But don’t lose what worked well.

The best is yet to come.

–Tom Silvestri

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