We facilitated a large European institution in designing their "hybrid event canvas": a set of standards for their hybrid events, a method to decide if it is worth it and methods to make it successful. Their conclusion: "Hybrid is a hype, but we only want to do it when we can deliver a great experience for both the on-site and on-line participants. So we most likely won't do it much, but if we do we'll make it great."
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The hybrid event challenge
Interact organises dozens of workshops, trainings and network events for local and regional administrations throughout the EU to support them with projects of the European Commissions Interreg. Before Covid, they were all in person. During Covid, they quickly adjusted to online. Now they wondered: "There is a lot of talk about hybrid events. But our events are all very interactive and intensive, and the networking part is often important. Should we want to do hybrid events and can we do them well?"
It all starts with why
We designed with them a 3 month project with a clear goal: during their annual meeting, 3 groups would prepare a 90 minute hybrid session to test methods, procedures and assumptions. But before diving in to the what and how, we discussed the why: Why do we organise our events and why should we be doing that - possibly - hybrid?
Organisation-wide awareness, discussion and shared believes.
Our training started with a session with the whole staff where we discussed: What are your standards for events, no matter if they are online, on-site or hybrid. Most people voiced high ambitions: boring lectures, participants nodding off in their after-lunch dip no interactivity, mediocre evaluations: not acceptable. But the common understanding organisation-wide could be stronger: what are the standards we can hold each other accountable to? On the need for hybrid events, there were some firm believers, some strong sceptics and some very undecided people. Time to set a bar, and set it high!
Hybrid event canvas: the manual and checklist to start. Or not.
Based on this, a small group designed their "Hybrid event canvass": a tool to
- set a definition of what hybrid is. To make sure we all understand the same.
- Set standards that all our events, and hybrid in particular, should adhere to.
- Assess if there is a desire for a hybrid event.
- If so, decide if it is worth the extra time, money, risks and downsides.
- A set of suggestions, tools and methods to make it a success.
Only do a hybrid event if there is desire for it, and the resources to do it good.
Is there a desire and need for it, within ourselves and with our clients? We decided that this is the starting point: don't do hybrid and try to make it work, but only do it when there is a strong desire of people to be there physically AND people to partake remotely.
If that is the case, the event should still meet all standards. And the more we talked, the higher they set the bar: always fully interactive, never boring, always meeting or exceeding expectations. That means it takes a lot of extra work, time and money: it is basically organising two events. So the conclusion was: we probably mostly choose to do our events either on-site or on-line, but if we go hybrid we go all the way.
Can you afford not to do your events hybrid?
For us as trainers and moderators this was a great experience: we often have to challenge our clients to set the bar high on experience, interactivity and effectiveness. And explain them hybrid is not two events for the price of one. No need for that here. We even had to challenge them the other way: Can you afford to not have hybrid events? Many people are fed up with endless zoomcalls and want to meet in person. At the same time, do people in the EU still want to travel to Brussels or the outskirts of Europe in times of climate change, apocalyptic chaos at airports and overcrowded and failing trains? Especially now they have seen it can all be done from home? And will companies and local authorities allow people to still travel? All in all: can you still afford to not do your events hybrid?
exceeding your own expectations
In the end, the 3 groups organised great workshops. In one, they had a circle discussion with half the participants in the room and the other half in Zoom, and it became so natural, lively and interactive that we almost forgot not everybody was in the room. "This experience was almost too good, now people will want to have to do it hybrid often and then we have to remind them that this session took a moderator, an online moderator, a stage manager and a big technical team and equipment to make it feel this natural."