It was just about a year ago that we were all learning about Zoom meetings and virtual events. While 2020 was the year of “Helen, you’re on mute,” there’s a pretty good chance 2021 will be the year of “Will you be attending in person or virtually?”
As widespread vaccination is helping to ease the impact of COVID-19 on our community and nation, some people are ready to go back to in-person group get-togethers — while others are a bit more reluctant.
The solution? Events that cater to both.
I’m on the Board of Directors for WIN Nevada, and we just had our first event at the Atlantis in more than a year. On April 30, about 60 people enjoyed eggs and bacon in person in a ballroom with social distancing, while another 60 joined in virtually (though we assume their breakfast was real), and the speaker presented from Las Vegas via Zoom. While May’s speaker will be presenting in person, attendees will still have the choice of attending IRL or remotely.
There are unique challenges that come with this hybrid idea, but there are also significant benefits. You can have unlimited virtual attendees, given that you don’t need to worry about room size, food, or other logistics. This also means that people can attend from anywhere. And if you can charge a small fee for virtual attendees, that revenue helps offset the hard costs involved with the in-person event.
Here are some things to consider as you plan your hybrid events:
- Do you need an in-person component?
The COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, meaning live events come with potential health risks. Is there a compelling need to meet in person when you take into account the safety procedures you’re going to need to put in place? One such reason would be networking, as many of us have experienced the limitations of trying to get to know someone through a video event. The last year proved (in case there was any doubt) that a significant percentage of WIN members come to meetings for the networking, with the speakers being a close second. What are your members looking for from your events? If most of them would prefer meeting with their slippers on, you might consider holding off on in-person gatherings.
- Can you segment your audience into “IRL” and “remote” subgroups?
Sometimes encouraging IRL attendance makes sense for certain segments of your audience For example, if you’re hosting an awards ceremony, and you know all of the award recipients and their families are vaccinated, you can invite them to an in-person awards ceremony, while everyone else watches virtually. I’m also on the board of the Cordillera International Film Festival, which hosted a hybrid Academy Awards party in April, with some board members and sponsors attending in person, while attendees from around the country joined in from their homes.
- Are you communicating properly?
There’s no way to give virtual attendees the exact same experience as those attending in-person, so it’s important that both audiences know exactly what to expect, and how best to prepare. Include this information on your website, email and social messaging to help people continue to adapt to this new world.
- Is it safe?
It’s critical that event planners continue to follow state and local mandates, as well as local health guidelines. For the WIN April breakfast, there were three people to a table, with no exceptions. Protecting guests’ health is critical for the reputation of the organization, and if you want people to feel safe coming back to an in-person event, you need to make sure that event is actually safe.
- Do you have the right people on your team?
While you need a crew on the ground to handle things like check-in, AV, greeting, hosting, etc., you’ll also need someone to moderate the online portion of the event. They can answer questions, make sure everyone is muted and route their questions to the speaker.
- Is this thing on?
While AV has always been an essential element of live events, it’s more important now than ever before — to ensure that both in-person and virtual attendees are getting the best experience possible. Do you have proper bandwidth to ensure virtual attendees can see what’s happening? If some people are participating with prepared videos, make sure you get those ahead of time and that they work.
- How are you handling your fundraising?
Rather than setting up a silent auction or raffle for a smaller group of in-person attendees, consider bringing everyone online through sites like 32Auctions.com or BetterWorld.org. Or consider what PRSA recently did when they partnered with Liberty Food & Wine Exchange and invited supporters to stop in the week of their online Silver Spikes event to see raffle prizes and buy tickets. If you have a program or promotional materials, mail them to your online attendees ahead of time, so they have an easier time following along. This also helps ensure your sponsors are seeing value for their investment.
The Bottom Line
Perhaps the most important thing is to be empathetic. Everyone is in their own place on this pandemic journey. Some have been vaccinated and feel completely comfortable venturing back out into the real world. Others, vaccinated or not, may not be quite as ready. This has been a very scary year, and events should accommodate everyone as much as possible. This includes asking before we assume someone is comfortable shaking hands or hugging.
By the way, event planning is something we love to help clients with at the Estipona Group. And if we’re being honest, it’s something we very much miss and would love to do more of this year. Give us a jingle if you’d like some help with your corporate or non-profit event. And yes, we realize people don’t say “give us a jingle” anymore, but we like the way it sounds. And we’re very excited to foster magical connections with people again — even if it’s mostly over the phone.