By Melissa Lagowski
Big Buzz Idea Group
The times we are in are certainly uncertain. Looking back a year ago, most event planners thought we would be back to in-person events and that virtual events would be a thing of the past. But the reality is that with Covid variants surfacing and the general population having an extremely wide range of what they are or aren’t comfortable with, nonprofits today are being forced to choose which type of event they want to plan for next year.
Many of our association clients found that a portion of their members are clamoring for the return of in-person events, while others found comfort in the remote meetings as they are not ready to gather in-person. These NPOs are faced with trying to serve two different segments of their populations without leaving anyone behind. What is an organization to do?
We recently helped one of our clients – who was facing this very dilemma – launch their first hybrid event. All things considered, the event went well. More importantly, we’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons that we hope will benefit you as you go forward.
Manage Both Experiences
It is important that you think about both event experiences from the attendee’s perspective. Communicate in advance what the schedule will be in person and virtually. With Zoom, you can easily create an online networking experience that allows guests to seamlessly connect with one another. You can manage multiple sessions and set time limits to keep the rotations happening much like you would at an in-person event.
You will want to have a dedicated Zoom manager who can focus on the virtual attendees. This person will be responsible for hosting your online guests in the same way that the onsite staff will manage your in-person guests.
Budget for Technology
Hybrid meetings can be as simple or as complex as one desires. For this client conference, we purchased an external microphone that will pick up the moderators and the speakers at a more consistent volume level than utilizing the microphone on the laptop. We then propped up the laptop from a side angle rather than in front to avoid blocking the view of any in-person guests, and we were in business.
The external microphone only cost us $25, a nominal expense to enhance the guest experience for our virtual attendees. It is important that you plan to use a panoramic view rather than each speaker using their individual cell phone or computer as that will cause a lot of feedback and distortion for all guests. You can certainly add microphone stands and external cameras for increased flexibility, more range and more recording angles.
Feel free to set a budget that is realistic for your organization, but there’s no need to overdo it with movie-grade production equipment because a basic laptop can easily meet your needs.
Confirm a Dedicated Zoom Manager
A dedicated Zoom manager is a must because inevitably it is easy to get distracted with guests and speakers onsite and inadvertently overlook your remote quests. The dedicated Zoom manager will see what the remote guests see and can advise you on the best angles and the sound quality from the virtual perspective. This ensures a better experience for everyone.
Set Up a Communication Channel Between the Remote Manager and In-Person Staff
Confirm in advance how the remote Zoom manager can contact the onsite staff to troubleshoot any issues in an expedited manner but be sure that the method you use doesn’t interfere with the main presentation by forgetting to silence your phone.
For the laptop to capture the front of the room properly, you will want to be relatively close to the speaker(s) without blocking the view of the in-person guests. Try different angles. We placed our laptop on a side angle that caught all the panelists and the moderators well.
If the technology budget allows, you can have some fancier filming equipment that may allow for more flexibility, but again, it is not a requirement to make this work. Play around with the various angles and check in with your Zoom manager to confirm what looks best from their end.
Allow ample time to set up and test the sound and the video details. Everyone will rest easier knowing you took the time to test out all the various options to ensure that all is working well.
Q + A Management
When questions are posed by guests, the microphone may not pick up the question that is being asked so it is advised that the moderator or the speaker repeat the question back to the audience before answering. This will ensure that guests at the back of the room, as well as your remote guests, know what the question was.
You will also want to stay in touch with your Zoom manager during this portion of the event to confirm that your virtual guests are able to ask their questions.
Utilize the Recordings
With the technologies available these days, it has never been easier to obtain video recordings at an affordable cost. You may wish to sell the video to members at a discount for those who missed the event or consider starting a resource library with the recordings you obtain as a value add for your members, sponsors and donors.
Hybrid events allow nonprofits and associations to serve their constituents regardless of one’s ability or desire to attend virtually or in-person. By leveraging technology, you can continue to strengthen relationships by serving your donors and members with their preferred method of participation.
This is certain to make your audience feel like you understand them and want to keep them involved with your organization in a meaningful way. We all want to feel seen and heard, and hybrid events are a wonderful way to stay connected to all your supporters.