Can We Bring Together The On & Offline Experience?
Creating an event that simultaneously delivers for an in-person and online audience presents a huge opportunity. But it doesn’t come without hurdles and plenty of logistics that need meticulous working out.
A hybrid (online and offline) model opens up events to bigger and more diverse audiences – the ones you may have got used to when online was the only way and a return to those in-person ones you’ve missed over the long months of the pandemic restrictions. It’s a new space for many but if you get it right, it opens up another whole new world of possibilities.
Those who moved their events online in 2020, started off slowly (myself included), finding their momentum in time. Looking at integrating both online and offline sides as we move forward could help audiences and organisers alike create more impact. Let’s look at two paths that can help us find our places in this hybrid space.
The Biggest Buzz
For anyone who has built something online in the past year, be that podcast, writing or video, or delivered any form of event, from a webinar, to a virtual conference, the times we find ourselves in now are full of potential. Hybrid delivery is an area that is ripe for innovation as you can bring people together in one live space, no matter where they are or how they prefer to experience an event.
If you put your mind to it, you can let your imagination run wild but whilst it’s currently an empty field, audiences are slightly different from how they were pre-Covid.
There are subtle differences in how learning happens From personal experience this, although subtle, is significant. An in-person conference means predominantly passive learning (you sit and take notes from someone on a stage). An online event is where those on the call can participate and be more active in their learning i.e. there’s seamless potential for breakout rooms, creating smaller groups, polls and feedback loops. We saw this with the April YATM Month Of Learning.
You need to understand the choice offered to others. When you bring a hybrid mix into the equation, you give people greater choice. They can get involved in person, or choose to be part of something, virtually. However, there may be some difficulty in pleasing everyone when the delivery is essentially the same to both online and offline audiences.
It’s more complex than you think. An option to deliver an offline and online event means you’re now effectively producing two events. Does this mean you will need more resources? Is there a difference between what the online and in-person attendees will pay?
It Has To Be Worthwhile
It all starts and ends with your audience. When we have our online YATM events (YATM Online and YATM Learning) people stay on at the end and just chat.
On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself asking, “When people can meet up in-person fully again, will we all ignore Zoom?” Whilst people have adapted and are happy to continue with the online interface, in-person events (how we used to do things) present a new dynamic.
People naturally crave connection, they want to meet up and feel in sync with others but for them to travel, events have to be relevant and valuable, making the journey feel worthwhile.
We’ve become more attuned to notions of time so questions such as, ‘what are we going to be taking from it?’ ‘how different is the event going to be from the other alternatives that are out there?’ come into play.
It’s shortsighted to think we can go back to how we all were, forgetting that the pandemic ever happened. Many of us have changed our outlook and attend something in person now involves more conscious decisions than previously.
Two Options To Think About
One thing I haven’t seen yet is a live, hybrid event, so I’m approaching this from a blank sheet of paper, taking my experience in delivering both in-person and online events into account.
To make an impact from your endeavours, hybrid presents two options:
— You create a separate occasion (online and offline)
— You create a shared occasion (online and offline)
This is where one event is dedicated to online and the other is delivered in person. Both are tied together by the same overall theme. When it comes to themes, have a read of this article on how to make your work timely.
You are delivering to two separate audiences, but everything is harnessed to the overall message. For instance, online could be dedicated more specifically to group learning and could be more interactive.
Offline could have a heavier slant towards creating companionship and being around others. For online learning, it could mean reaching out to experts on a global scale, whereas an in-person event could be more local and easier for the speakers to travel to.
Both would be about the experience delivered, but they would have different dynamics, one being focused on learning and action (online) and the other (offline, in-person) where people would find value in a sense of connection with others who attend the event.
This is where you try to cater to everyone at the same time. From an organiser’s perspective, you kill two birds with one stone which presents cost efficiencies and also a means to expand your audience to those who choose to, or might have to, watch remotely.
This is what is being delivered today (1st July) with the first You Are The Media Online/In-Person event following a year of restrictions and uncertainty. My aim has been to deliver an experience no one has ever had before:
🤩 It’s being held at a local theatre https://www.lighthousepoole.co.uk/
🤩 People attending will see the world’s biggest Zoom screen
🤩 It will be socially distanced i.e. plenty of space in the theatre
🤩 Sound will be courtesy of the theatre speakers, not a couple of amps on stage
🤩 Those watching remotely are the people who are effectively the ‘special guests’ who’ll be sharing their perspective on the main topic
🤩 We’ll still have our #winning section which Fleur Cook delivers and people will step up from the audience to the stage (and share on the screen)
🤩 We’ll end with our usual sing-song with Justin Cohen. Quite fittingly, as we’re all finding our feet again, it’s going to be the Beatles’ ‘Here Comes The Sun’
🤩 Those in the theatre can choose to watch on their screens, so everyone watching online can see them and be a part of the live chat
What I want to make clear here is that the whole emphasis will be on the experience created. I acknowledge it may be difficult to cater to both audiences at the same time i.e. those behind their screens as well as the theatre audience.
As this is the first event, it’ll be a benchmark and a basis to learn from. There is more of a lean towards the live audience in the room which is why the online ticket is half the price of the in-person one but it will still look and feel familiar, very much in the vein of the YATM Online events that everyone has become used to.
It’s a first for anyone who’s going to be a part of the occasion including myself, and I’d like to think, this shared online/offline experience from a theatre on the south coast of England, is a world-first too. Risky? Potentially. But risks are all part of it when something’s happening for the first time and it’s also where, if the risks pay off, something truly special can happen.
The hybrid event format presents a new way to take audiences somewhere they’ve never been before. There’s complexity and a whole raft of decisions that need to be made, but hopefully there’s ample reward too for those who make, and are part of, that move towards doing something that no one has seen before.
I’m pretty convinced it won’t just be a passing fad. It has to be seriously considered if you’re looking to gain and/or extend your audience as it takes how we’ve lived our lives over the past year (online) and brings it into play with a format that people have been used to for generations (offline).
So here’s to embracing that good scary feeling and taking people somewhere new –exciting times are just around the corner!